Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on August 3, 2020
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disorder that affects the brain’s pleasure, reward, motivation and memory systems. Generally, people with an addiction will experience compulsive cravings toward a behavior or substance. Sometimes, this craving is coupled with a lack of concern for the resulting consequences.
Some general signs of addiction include:
- A lack of self-control
- Inability to stop the behavior or to stop using the substance
- Continuing to engage in the behavior even when it causes problems
Addictions are lifelong conditions. You do not have to act on your addictive cravings to have an addiction. For example, just because an alcoholic has been sober for 5 years does not mean they are no longer an alcoholic.
Addiction is also not a choice. For people who have little to no personal experience with addiction, it might seem like an addict could simply ‘stop’ their behavior. But like other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, people with addictions don’t have control over their condition.
Is Addiction Hereditary?
Yes and no. Addictions tend to run in families. However, there is no guarantee that someone will or will not have problems with addiction based on their family history.
In terms of genetics, the only thing that can be passed on is a predisposition for addictive behavior. This is also called an ‘addictive personality’. But having parents or relatives with addictions can make you more likely to develop one in ways other than genetics.
For example, a child with two alcoholic parents is more likely to develop an alcohol addiction later in life for 3 main reasons:
- Genetics: The child may inherit an addictive personality from their parents.
- Exposure: The child will be exposed to alcohol more than normal and will have more opportunities to try drinking.
- Behavior: Kids with alcoholic parents are more likely to develop behavioral issues, which can increase the likelihood of drug and alcohol addiction.
What Are the Different Types of Addiction?
Addictions can come in the form of any substance or behavior, but some substances and behaviors are more addictive than others.
More importantly, some types of addiction are much more harmful than others, e.g., a coffee addiction will have fewer consequences than a cocaine addiction.
Some of the most common drug addictions are:
Other common addictions involving behaviors or milder substances include:
- Coffee or caffeine
There can be a fine line between behaviors that look like addiction and actual addiction. There is no universal rule for defining all addictions. But there are concrete methods to diagnose more serious ones, such as drugs or alcohol.
Why Do People Have Addictions?
Remember, addictions are serious brain disorders. The causes for addiction vary greatly and can change depending on what the substance or behavior is.
In general, all addictions follow a cycle of reward and ‘coming down’. The affected person experiences a ‘high’ when they engage in the activity or substance they are addicted to. Eventually, this high wears off, and the person is left wanting more of that rewarding, pleasurable feeling.
Because of genetic and environmental factors, some people are more predisposed to develop addictions over others. If you give two different people a cigarette, one of them may never smoke again while the other becomes hooked.
The factors that influence who gets addicted and who does not include brain chemistry, life experience and genetics.
Drug and Alcohol Addiction — What Is It and Is There Hope?
Millions of Americans suffer from drug and alcohol addiction every day. People addicted to these substances continue to use them even when they know they’re harming themselves and others.
Many drug and alcohol addicts will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using. This is one reason why it can be so difficult to stop without help. Withdrawal can act as a barrier between addiction and sobriety.
Fortunately, there is hope for people with drug and alcohol addictions. Professional treatment centers all across the country are well-equipped to care for patients who suffer from these conditions. Many health insurance plans will even pay for addiction treatment.
If you or someone you love is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, you should seek treatment immediately.
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