Recognizing Addiction

Recognizing Addiction

Addiction is a serious issue and manifests in a variety of different forms. 

It's also a word that get's used more frequently as a joke or hyperbole than an actual description of a struggle someone is battling.

Every day people tell their friends how they're "addicted" to Chipotle, Target, or a new show on T.V. 

And that's understandable, it's an immediately recognizable term associated with extreme like of something.

However, it can also inadvertently diminish what an addiction actually is.

Today's goal is to separate what people say they're "addicted" to from an actual addiction by learning how to recognize addiction

Available Addiction Counselors

What Addiction is Not

As mentioned above, addiction is not simply something that a person REALLY enjoys doing. 

You may LOVE a new show on T.V. or a certain restaurant or have a favorite store you enjoy going to, and enjoying something (a LOT) is often how addiction may start, but that alone isn't what addiction is.

This might be confusing as there has been a lot of pop psychology around video game addiction, shopping addiction, and even exercise addiction.

These certainly begin as activities that a person enjoys engaging in, and they are often referred to as Behavioral Addictions.

BUT, they aren't technically addictions at all.

As things stand right now, there simply isn't evidence to back up claims that behaviors like these fall into the category of addiction from a diagnostic perspective. 

These behaviors and others like them can certainly become detrimental- harmful to yourself and your relationships, but that's not what makes something an addiction, that's just a bad habit- a maladaptive behavior.

What Addiction Is

The video above does an excellent job diving into the neuroscience of addiction so I won't spend too much time on it here.

But, the key takeaway is that what marks addiction from a maladaptive behavior is how it changes your brain chemistry.

Diagnostically speaking, the ingestion of drugs like opioids, heroin, even caffeine, and marijuana, change the physical aspects of the brain and alter the brain chemistry.

These changes result in a type of chemical dependency in order for the brain to operate.

For example, an alcoholic goes through serious withdrawals after quitting; these withdrawals occur because the brain became dependent on the alcohol to function, and without the alcohol, it struggles. 

Opposed to behavioral addiction, like shopping, where there might be discomfort there is no change in the operational function of the brain if you don't shop, your brain is just looking for the activity that it enjoys. 

How to Recognize Addiction

So, now that we know what addiction is and is not, we can turn our attention to how to recognize addiction.

Regardless of what the person is addicted to, there are patterns that are common among all addictions.

Here's what those patterns look like:

1) The person can't limit or stop consuming the substance despite wanting to

2) More is consumed and more frequently than intended

3) More time is spent trying to get the substance or spent recovering from the substance

4) Recurrent use prevents the individual from performing important tasks and roles

5) The use continues despite causing or worsening physical or psychological issues

6) Important activities are given up because of the use

7) More and more of the substance is needed to achieve the desired effect

8) The individual experiences withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using

This list is not exhaustive, but it does provide highlights of how to recognize addiction.

Conclusion

Addiction is a serious issue and millions of people around the world battle it every day.

The understandable, but inappropriate use of the word as a joke can inadvertently diminish or belittle the severity of the addiction.

To recognize addiction is to understand that it is not simply something someone enjoys doing, nor is it just a maladaptive behavior.

Addiction does involve those, but what really qualifies it as a diagnostic category is the impact it has on the physical and operational components of the brain.

Now you know the signs and how to recognize addiction.

If you or someone you know struggles with addiction talk to your primary care or mental health provider.

There are more resources and help available to you and your loved ones than you may realize.

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January 28th, 2023