What is Addiction?

An Introduction to Addiction

When people who uses alcohol or drugs and can’t stop taking drugs or alcohol even if they want to do so, it’s called addiction. The urge of taking drugs or alcohol is too strong to control, inspite of knowing that it is causing harm.

When people start taking drugs or alcohol, they don’t plan to get addicted. They like how the drugs or alcohol makes them feel. They believe they can control how much and how often they take the drugs or alcohol. However, drugs and alcohol changes the way we think.

Any addiction must meet at least 3 of the following criteria. This is based on the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) and World Health Organization (ICD-10).(1)

  1. Tolerance. Do you use more alcohol or drugs over time?
  2. Withdrawal. Have you experienced physical or emotional withdrawal when you have stopped using? Have you experienced anxiety, irritability, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting? Emotional withdrawal is just as significant as physical withdrawal.
  3. Limited control. Do you sometimes drink or use drugs more than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Does one drink lead to more drinks sometimes? Do you ever regret how much you used the day before?
  4. Negative consequences. Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
  5. Neglected or postponed activities. Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational work, office or household activities because of your use?
  6. Significant time or energy spent. Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spend a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
  7. Desire to cut down. Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?

How Common is Drug or Alcohol Addiction?

Approximately 10% of any population is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Addiction is more common than diabetes, which occurs in approximately 7% of the population.

Addiction crosses all socio-economic boundaries. 10% of teachers, 10% of plumbers, and 10% of CEOs have an addiction.

The terms alcohol addiction, alcoholism, and alcohol dependence are all equivalent. The same is true for the terms drug addiction and drug dependence.

The Consequences of Addiction

People only stop using drugs and alcohol when they have suffered enough negative consequences. When you’ve suffered enough pain and enough regret you are ready to stop.

You are ready to stop when the two sides of addiction collide. On the one hand, addiction feels so good that you want to use more. On the other hand, addiction leads to negative consequences. After a while, something has got to give.

The most important consequences of addiction are social, emotional, and psychological. People usually think of the physical and economic consequences of addiction. “I don’t have a serious addiction because my health is fine, and I haven’t lost my job.” But those are very late stage consequences.

As far as work is concerned that’s usually the last thing to suffer. You need your work in order to pay your bills, so that you can continue your addiction. When your work begins to suffer, you’ve slipped from being a functioning addict to a non-functioning addict.

The damage addiction does to your relationships and self-esteem is far deeper and takes longer to repair. You’ve hurt friends and family. You’ve disappointed yourself. You’ve traded important things in your life so that you could make more time to use. You’ve lived a double life. You’ve seen the hurt in your family’s eyes, and the disappointment in your children’s faces. Those are the consequences that can motivate you to begin recovery.