What is Addiction?

So, what is Addiction anyway?

I was recently doing a workshop on Understanding Addiction. During the workshop, a gentleman wondered out loud whether addiction to mind and mood altering substances is really a disease. His question gave other people, in the audience, the opportunity to share their opinions about addiction. It became obvious to me that there are, still, many people who have difficulties accepting the fact that addiction is a disease. The misconception that addiction to drinking and other drugs happen to those who do not have willpower or are morally weak is still very common, even among those who suffer from the disease. This misconception often heightens denial, induces shame and guilt, and prevents people from seeking timely treatment.

We now know a lot more than we did about addiction.

It is indeed, a primary, progressive, and chronic disease. Addiction is a disease because it creates physical, emotional, and spiritual impairments. It has signs and symptoms and a predictable progression just like any other chronic diseases. Because addiction is a primary disease, the cessation of the addictive behaviors must be the focus of treatment. Before any progress can be made, the individual has to stop abusing the substance/s of choice.

Another misconception about addiction is that a person can only be an addict or drinking when he/she uses/drinks everyday and has developed withdrawal symptoms (e.g., shakes, vomiting, cramps, etc). The truth is addiction is actually characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drinking and other drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite negative consequences, and craving.

Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. It affects people from all walks of life. It crosses racial, ethnic, cultural, gender and economic barriers. Although many still have an image of an addict or drinker as a “skid row bum”, the reality is there are many different faces of addiction. The development and manifestation of addiction may vary from person to person. However, there are four factors that can contribute to addiction. They are:

  • genetic factors: addiction tends to run in families
  • personality factor: some personality types are more vulnerable to addiction than others
  • some form of trauma: emotional, sexual, and/or physical abuse can make a person vulnerable to addiction
  • stress and availability:stress combined with other environment factors can lead to addiction.

Any one of these four factors or a combination thereof, can contribute to the development and manifestation of addiction.

Addiction is a very complex disease. Thus far a cure for addiction is yet to be discovered. But the disease is treatable and an addicted person can learn to cope with life without the use of mind and mood altering substances. Here at The Summit Counseling Center, our approach addresses not just the physical, emotional, and mental dimensions of addiction but also the spiritual and relational  dimensions of the lives of those struggling with addiction. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or have questions. There is HOPE!

Ewell Hardman, M.Div.
The Summit Counseling Center