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Defining Addiction: What It Is and What It Isn’t

We throw around the term addiction relatively haphazardly, using it to describe anything from someone's relationship to drugs to how often they like watching TV. In fact, people often use the word to illustrate anything that seems problematic.

This isn't because people are cruel or lazy. Most of the time, they just don't really understand addiction. They might assume they know how it works without really recognizing the role it plays in our society.

Addiction, of course, is a severe and life-threatening issue. With that in mind, when defining addiction, it's essential to understand the nuances of how it works (and how it doesn't).

Having this insight can help you feel more informed and empowered. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind.

Addiction Is a Brain Disease

Research shows that addiction is a pervasive disease that stems from the profound impact of substances on the brain. Therefore, addiction is rooted in neurobiology (and isn't just a cluster of chosen behaviors).

As we know, addiction fundamentally changes how the brain responds to pain and pleasure. Subsequently, repeated substance use impacts the parts of the brain responsible for motivation, memory, and emotional processing.

What does this all mean?

Using substances creates a domino-like reaction. Your brain continues to crave the substance- despite the substance's harmful consequences. Additionally, your brain also habituates to the substance in a process known as building tolerance.

As a result, you need to take more to achieve the desired effect. At this point, your brain (and body) essentially become dependent on the substance to function. Even if you want to stop, it becomes very difficult.

Addiction Is Not a Matter of Willpower

It's easy for heartbroken people to look at their loved ones and wonder why they can't just stop using drugs. After all, why would someone continue putting themselves (and others) into such devastating situations? Why would someone choose to continue harming themselves in that way?

As it turns out, addiction isn't much of a matter of choice. Yes, people have autonomy over their lives (and they are responsible for their recoveries), but nobody actively chooses to suffer from addiction. It's just like nobody chooses to suffer from depression or anxiety.

Therefore, willpower alone isn't a sufficient goalpost for recovery. Willpower is often a manifestation of motivation, and motivation can fluctuate depending on the day.

Solely relying on willpower often results in a crash-and-burn effect. In other words, people initially feel empowered in their sobrieties. But various obstacles (withdrawal symptoms, cravings, or euphoric recall) can trigger feelings of helplessness just hours or days later.

Addiction Is Still Largely Stigmatized

Although we have made significant strides in how we understand addiction, it is still a taboo and shameful topic within our society. We often criminalize and penalize people for their mental health- rather than try to understand or support their recoveries.

These stigmas- even when they are subtle- affect everything. They impact healthcare systems, laws, professional resources, and recovery options.

Likewise, stigma even exists in close-knit families. For example, you might feel ashamed of your loved one's behavior. You may also find yourself lying or downplaying their problems on their behalf.

Or, if you're the one struggling, you may singlehandedly blame yourself. You might assume that something is fundamentally wrong with you, and you might believe you deserve all the pain and anguish in your life.

Addiction Is Not Just Drugs or Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol tend to receive most of the spotlight in the addiction sphere. This phenomenon isn't random. These mood-altering substances can profoundly impact someone's life. Moreover, if left untreated, such addictions can cause irreversible consequences and ultimately lead to premature death.

But those aren't the only types of addiction. Process or behavioral addictions can be just as damaging, even if they don't appear as outwardly destructive.

A process addiction doesn't involve substance use, but people with these addictions exhibit the same symptoms (lack of ability to control themselves, experiencing heightened cravings, having withdrawal symptoms). Process addictions can include addictions to:

  • gambling

  • food

  • Internet

  • video games

  • porn

  • shopping

  • money

  • work

Sometimes, these other addictions coincide with other substance addictions. They can also correlate with various mental health conditions.

That's why it's important to consider a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to recovery. Only focusing on one issue at a time can be shortsighted- it may inadvertently cause relapses in other parts of your well-being.

Final Thoughts

Addiction is a complex issue, and recovery can be even more complicated. There are no one-size-fits-all answers, and it's crucial to find a recovery plan that works best for you.

At The Resurface Group, we work with each of our clients to find the support, resources, and skills they need to thrive. We are here to help you turn your life around! Contact us today to get started.

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