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What Does the Term Addiction Mean?


Addiction is a term used often in our society. It seems as if every week there is some news story or discussion about a newly recognized addiction that is plaguing our society. Within the past few years, a whole variety of new addictions have been identified: video games, internet/computer usage, exercise, pornography, sex, food, and gambling are just some examples. However, despite how often it is discussed, most people do not have a true understanding of what addiction actually is.

One of the main reasons for that is that addiction is not a diagnostic term. When someone seeks professional assistance for behavior they are concerned may constitute an addiction, the professional will do a thorough evaluation. After examining the behavior and what consequences are resulting from it, the diagnosis is made using the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV TR (2000) published by the American Psychological Association . That diagnosis is for abuse or dependence, not addiction.

Essentially, addiction can be any behavior that one engages in compulsively, that an individual is unable to control despite a desire to do so, and that has caused negative consequences within one's life. In the purest form of addiction, drug or alcohol use, it is easy to see the multiple aspects of the issue. Within the dependence category, one can have psychological dependence, physical dependence, or quite commonly, both.

Research has now shown that addiction changes the brain. The brain's production and usage of a variety of neurotransmitters is affected. The good news is that with most addiction, after enough time has passed without usage, the brain will begin to recover (this is NOT true if the individual is abusing inhalants). This is a huge advance in science, as for many years it was believed that the brain could not repair the damage done to it. Of course the longer and the more severe the usage, the longer it will take the brain to begin its recovery.

The best recognized and most common treatment for addiction is the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) model. AA was originally formed in 1937. While it has been widely successful, the understanding and treatment of addiction have come a long way. However, in examining the 12 Steps of AA, it is clear that a good base knowledge of addiction existed even back then.

It is important to remember that addiction isn't about weakness, moral failings, or being a bad person. No one sets out with the intention of becoming addicted. It is also not a matter of the individual having will power and just saying no. Addiction develops when people seeks to change their normal way of being the way they feel or think about things. As a result, treatment involves directly addressing these underlying issues and helping the individual to develop skills for coping with the situations in their life, rather than turning to something to numb it away.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, or you are concerned that you might be, please seek help. Addiction can be treated.

By April Wilson, LSW
Counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Center