What is Addiction? - Stairway To Freedom

Stairway to Freedom Sober Living Blog

What is Addiction?

Are you addicted to drugs or alcohol?

When a person has an addiction, they are no longer in control of their actions or their use. It may get to a point where the addiction becomes destructive, unsafe, or dangerous. Addiction can cause serious problems with family, work, school, and friends.

Addictions can be anything, not just substances like drugs and alcohol. It can be anything, from gambling to Oreos. We can then differentiate addiction into two main categories: Substance dependence (drugs or alcohol) and behavior addiction (sex, work, internet). We are going to focus on the Substance Dependence and abuse. In years gone by, addiction was categorized by the abuse of chemicals that change the natural state of the brain, like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Health care professionals today now include the behaviors because the same effects happen within a person for both substance and behavior abuse. A person may become anxious or humiliated, feel hopeless, shameful or guilty. Failure and rejection permeate daily life. The ultimate mark of an addict is to use in desperation, despite the obvious wreckage of continued use.

Medilexicon’s Medical Dictionary defines addiction as: “Habitual psychological or physiological dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control. Withdrawal has many meanings, one of which is a psychological and/or physical syndrome caused by the abrupt cessation of the use of a drug in a habituated person.

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, defines Substance dependence as: “When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance, substance dependence may be diagnosed. Compulsive and repetitive use may result in tolerance to the effect of the drug and withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped.”

Habits sometimes build up into addictions. When someone is addicted, they are unable to control their use, and are dependent on the substance to deal with everyday life. Many people can use a drug or do an activity without it causing major problems. However, there are those who may have negative and lasting mental or bodily repercussions of usage once a habit changes into an addiction. If a habit crosses over into addiction, the person can no longer control the usage without help because of the mental or physical compulsions that develop along with the addiction. Habit, on the other hand, remains a choice. Someone with just a habit may choose to stop at any given time, and is able to successfully without outside influence.


Substance dependence often leads to a chemical tolerance, when a person requires greater and more frequent doses of the substance or activity they are addicted to in order to have the same effects. In many cases, the initial “high” is no longer felt, and a person keeps using simply to avoid painful withdrawal, which can be quite severe.

Physicians believe there is a connection with the repetitive use of a drug or addictive substance and how a person’s brain perceives pleasure. The use of the substance is rewarding and pleasurable, leading to increased frequency of usage. The chemical composition of the substance, over time, will begin to make physical changes in some of the neurons, or brain cells. Many drugs mimic the neurotransmitters, or chemical signalers, in the brain that transmit good feelings of pleasure or euphoria. As tolerance increases, a person will need to use more often and a greater amount to get the same good feeling. After a while, the pleasure fades altogether and the addicted person needs to use just to feel normal. Once a person develops some sort of tolerance, the chances of addiction increase greatly.

Risk Factors

Anybody can become addicted, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. There are certain factors, however, that increase the likelihood of a person becoming addicted.

Genetics. It is widely acknowledged that there is a predisposition among families for addiction and alcoholism. If there is addiction within a family, a person is much more likely to engage in drug use and therefore more likely to become addicted.

Age of initial drug consumption. Studies show that those who use at an early age are more likely to become addicted

Use of more addictive substances. Some chemicals found in cocaine, heroin, and some prescription drugs are more likely to cause addiction from the first use.

Preexisting mental illness or disorder. People with abnormal mental conditions are more likely to become addicted.

Sustained high stress levels. A person experiencing regular stress may develop addiction to cope with their experience

Loneliness. Again, addiction can arise from a person using a substance to cope with their feelings.

Peer Pressure. Addiction may arise when a person uses regularly in order to gain acceptance into a group, sometimes of addicted persons.

Gender. Studies show males are twice as likely to develop addictions.

Family Ties. There is a correlation between the bonds of family and the tendency towards substance abuse. The stronger family attachments are, the less likely a person is to become addicted.

Warning Signs

Signs and symptoms vary from person to person, based on substance, tolerance, genetics, or other circumstances. Symptoms are effects of addiction a person may notice themselves. Signs are effects that others, like physicians or family members, may notice. Here are some signs and symptoms of addiction:

Substance withdrawal. This is when the amount of a substance falls below a certain level within a person’s body, and the body and mind ache for more. It can manifest in lack of sleep, increased apatite, drug cravings, moodiness, depression, anger, frustration, and violence. With more addictive substances, withdrawal can sharply affect a person physically with diarrhea, shaking, sweating, vomiting, or seizures

Unsuccessful attempts to quit – a serious attempt is made and a person finds that they are unable to stop

Denial – a person will not talk about, admit, or acknowledge any substance problem exists

Problems in relationships – Sudden changes in behavior, lack of caring, and meanness or seclusion can coincide with addiction

Problems with the law – Impaired judgment, desperation, and increased risk taking lead to addicted persons often having trouble with authority and law, and increase chances of incarceration for drug related crimes

Problems with finances – when a person is addicted, the substance becomes more and more important no matter how much it costs, and other necessities become less necessary as the need to use increases

Ingesting or using large quantities – this indicates that use is for a desired effect of being high or drunk, not for recreation

Secrecy and isolation – often those addicted use by themselves and hide it from others

Awareness of health problems arising does not stop the use

Giving up things or people in their life to continue to use – a person may not want to go on vacation because they don’t know where they are going to get drugs from. A smoker may not want to go out with friends to a smoke-free bar or restaurant.

Obsession – increased time spent thinking about using, drinking, or the circumstances surrounding it

Taking risks – addicted persons take unreasonable risks to get the substance they need and also when they are under the influence. They can become dangerous to themselves and others in pursuit of the next high

Keeping a stash – if there is a supply of drugs or alcohol kept safe, and the person is constantly aware of the state of this reserve, there is a very strong likelihood of addiction. An addict will keep stashes in secret, hidden places so that no other person would happen upon it.

If you are suffering from an addiction in Chicago or anywhere, consider entering into a recovery program

Start Your Journey to Sobriety Today

Get back the life you deserve and take the first step

Start Your Free Consultation