What Is Addiction?

Addiction, according to numerous sources, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a primary, progressive, chronic, debilitating, and often fatal, disease. A person can become addicted to, or dependent upon, substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs used nonmedically, nicotine, caffeine, or food, or behaviors, including sex, gambling, work, shopping/spending, or relationships.

The development and manifestation of addiction is influenced by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors. Without treatment, addiction becomes progressively worse and, in the case of substance addiction, can result in death.
Addiction is characterized by impaired control over the use of an addictive substance, distorted thinking, preoccupation with use of the substance, and use of the substance despite mounting adverse consequences. When someone is addicted, they have lost all control over their ability to refuse the substance. Their lives are consumed by compulsive drug-seeking behavior, or the pursuit of the addictive substance or behavior beyond all rational thinking.
In addition, addiction affects more than just the addict. Addiction is also called a family disease, since everyone close to the addict is affected by the addiction.

Addiction has Many Factors

Addiction is a complex and chronic disease similar to other chronic diseases like Type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Like other chronic diseases, addiction has a tendency to run in families (heritability), has an onset and course of development that is influenced by both environment and behavior, and the ability to respond to appropriate treatment, which may include significant and long-term lifestyle changes.

Genes play a role in an individual’s vulnerability to addiction, and genes can also play a role in protecting someone from addiction. As with all chronic diseases, environmental risk and protective factors interact with genetics to determine addiction’s course and outcome. It is important to note that no one chooses to be an addict – just as no one chooses to have heart disease or cancer. However, a person’s choice of behaviors can and does influence the development of addiction, particularly if the person deliberately and consistently chooses behaviors that have undesirable effects.

Addiction Leads to Other Medical Conditions

Addiction, by itself, is bad enough. But it often leads to deterioration in a person’s physical condition. This is particularly true in the advanced stages of drug or alcohol addiction, where liver and kidney functions shut down, or other major organs suffer irreversible damage. The combination of multiple system failures, malnutrition, cognitive impairment, loss of motor control, and other debilitating symptoms often leads to death.

Addiction is Treatable

Addiction doesn’t need to be a death sentence. It is treatable, and millions of addicts are living proof that appropriate treatment works. While addition can be treated, and the patients can learn to overcome their addiction and go on to enjoy fully productive lives, it can never be cured. Beware of programs that claim they have an addiction cure. Once you are an addict, you are always an addict. Maintaining a life of sobriety requires constant vigilance, adoption of and practicing healthy coping behaviors, changing to a positive lifestyle, and creation of and reliance upon a strong and caring support network.