Addiction Definition – What is it?

Addiction Definition-1

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The origin of term “addiction” means “giving over” or being “highly devoted” to something or someone, or it means engaging in an activity that may lead to positive or negative implications. Over time, the meaning of addiction has changed. Now, addiction is defined as something that is associated with a chronic condition that leads to compulsive behavior being engaged in an activity or substance despite being aware of the negative consequences.

The term “addiction” has been stigmatized and criticized among individuals. It comes from a combination of misconceptions and attitudes among people. Rather than viewing it as a complex health issue, addiction has been considered an immoral perspective. Addiction is a serious issue that has psychological and physical effects.


This article defines addiction, types of addiction, cases of drugs and alcohol, key reasons why people lead to substance use or engage in behaviors that become uncontrollable and how often they continue depending on substances despite harmful consequences.


Types of Addiction

Addiction is classified into two types by The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). They are as follows:


A) Substance Addiction

Substance addiction, also known as substance use disorder. It is a disorder characterized by obsessive drug-seeking or substance. People with addiction use substances like drugs and alcohol, prescription drugs, e.g., opioids, anxiety drugs, etc. Caffeine also falls under substance addiction, as people are becoming addicted to highly caffeinated drinks.


B) Non- Substance Addiction

Non-substance addiction is also known as a behavioral addiction. It is engaging in behavior that becomes obsessive which and often continuing this leads to negative consequences. Activities such as gambling, day and night surfing the internet, gaming hours each day and night, compulsive eating and shopping become an addiction when done excessively.

Addiction Definition

Symptoms of Addictive Disorders


Addiction is a chronic condition that extends far beyond momentary lapses in judgement, making individuals in a continuous cycle of craving. This becomes compulsive and often continues despite harmful consequences. The following signs of addiction include:


  • Constant failure to resist the impulse to engage in certain behavior.
  • Increase in restlessness or tension before engaging in the behavior.
  • Sense of relief or euphoria at the time of engagement.
  • The feeling of losing control while engaging.
  • Frequent engagement of behavior for an extended period.
  • Repeated efforts to reduce or stop the behavior.
  • Devoting a significant amount of time to recovering from the effects of the substance or behavior.
  • Continuation of the behavior even though they are aware of the consequences.
  • Needing more substance or engaging in the behavior over time to achieve the effect.
  • Restlessness or irritability when not engaged in the behavior


The signs and symptoms of addiction might be different from person to person. However, to summarize these symptoms, they have been categorized into five elements. These five elements, which have been most popularly suggested reasons why addiction begins in an individual. They are being discussed next.


1. Sense of Change


Addiction to any material is not something which is developed overnight. It is formed over a period of time, and the time differs from person to person. It is a process that begins with a desire for appetitive effects or motives like pain reduction, fantasy or arousal manipulation and later develops into a habit. However, some of the addiction behavior is to serve their pursuit of pleasure. Exposure to substances and specific behavior can lead to addiction.


Different addictive behaviors are grouped as


  • those serving hedonistic (using drugs, sex, gambling),
  • those providing physical and emotional care and nourishment(over-helping, work addiction, shopping addiction, love, exercise).
  • Additional motives (to achieve fantasy oblivion) share a common function to shift their subjective experience to self.

The addiction process unfolds for some individuals not for all. In this fast-moving world, people have less or no time to listen to others’ personal problems, and neither do they have the courage to open up or seek help from their peers and friends.


Over some time, people tend to have a feeling that not thinking about their problems will help them find mental peace and try to find a substance or activity which will make them feel different. The process of addiction starts, followed by feeling after engaging in addictive behavior.


2. Obsession with Actions


Another aspect of addiction is the obsessive focus on indulging in activities where the addictive habit becomes part of the person’s habituation, thus affecting the daily life routine.


Multiple factors can contribute to the state of preoccupation, such as stress, emotional issues, peer pressure, social isolation, and environmental factors. These factors play differently in individuals, significantly affecting their social well-being and seriously affecting their physical and mental health.


This affects the person in situations where they try restricting the habit; for, e.g., a person who smokes will keep thinking about smoking when that activity is prohibited or think about anti-smoking controls or if their significant others tell them not to do so. This triggers them to smoke more and face difficulty in cession of smoking.

Tolerance and withdrawal are two criteria that affect the individual psychologically. Tolerance refers to engaging in the behavior at a greater level to achieve that euphoria. Withdrawal is the extreme discomfort experienced with the abrupt termination of that indulging behavior. If withdrawal symptoms exist, one is likely to be spending more and more time recovering from the after-effects of the addiction and focused in thought and action on how to cope.

While tolerance and withdrawal, the person may experience craving. Craving urges the person to have an “intense” or “uncontrollable” desire to engage in a specific act. This may result in a relapsing disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to use drugs.


3. Temporary Satisfaction


Temporary satiation is the feeling of relief for a brief period from using a substance or engaging in activities. The relief obtained is short-lived, and the issues will resurface, leading to repeated behavior.

There may be a typical case in which a person with addiction no longer being able to achieve satisfaction. They seek satiation but are unable to complete it. This leads to harmful consequences.


4. Losing Control


The difficulty in refraining from an addictive behavior even after trying to control their impulses escalates to an individual’s loss of control. It’s a characteristic of addiction where the individual is aware of the consequences but finds it difficult to limit their actions, leading to a habit that becomes very hard to stop. Loss of control due to addiction can seriously damage brain circuits, disrupting the ability to reward and make decisions.


5. Negative Repercussions


Negative repercussions are the fifth element that characterizes the concept of addiction. One common manifestation of dependence on addictive behavior is the persistence of the conduct after experiencing multiple adverse outcomes.


6. Addiction from Compulsion: Difference


Addiction is generally associated with an unhealthy relationship with substances or behaviors, whereas compulsive acts motivated by thoughts characterize compulsion. It is essential to realize that compulsive behaviors are not always caused by substance abuse.

Some individuals consider behaviors like pathological gambling or shopping as “compulsions” characterized by spontaneous desires, a temporary loss of control, psychological conflict, settling for less, and a disregard for consequences.

The term “compulsion” may also be narrowly defined as an intense ego dystonic urge to engage in a repetitive activity to alleviate anxiety. This could include actions like hand washing or shoe tying. Unlike addiction, compulsion does not necessarily involve higher-order cognitive processes or a pleasurable experience. Addiction, on the other hand, is in pursuit of appetitive effects and satiation through purposeful behaviors.


Treatment for Addiction


Addiction can be treated with the help of medical community. Customized treatment plans are developed as per the individual’s needs and challenges. Addiction is treatable, and the standard addiction treatment methods include:

  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Counselling ( Individual or Group)
  • Medication to help with withdrawal
  • Support Groups
  • Holistic Approaches like Yoga and Meditation.


Addiction is commonly defined as involuntary engagement in behavior or by consumption of drugs. It is a serious health disorder that may affect an individual physically and psychologically.

Addiction is considered a chronic relapsing disorder because of its enduring nature and the likelihood of individuals falling for cravings thus returning to addictive behavior even after the termination of that behavior. Addiction is characterized by changes in brain structure and function, which impacts decision-making, impulse control and reward.

The five elements that have been most popularly suggested as reasons why addiction begins in an individual are as follows: sense of change, obsession with action, temporary satisfaction, losing control, and negative repercussions.a

Yes, addiction is classified as a disease to destigmatize the issues, to get rid of guilt and shame regarding substance abuse, and to seek medical health. The medical community recognizes addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive seeking of drugs. Prolonged engagement of addiction, despite its negative consequences, leads to long-lasting changes in the brain.

There are several risk factors regarding addiction and substance abuse. These include factors like genetics, mental health, environment, social influences, peer pressure, lack of family support and easy availability of substances.

Contributing Editor

Troy Wakelin – Co-Founder and Contributing Editor

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