How Addiction Works

Addiction Symptoms

One symptom of addiction is using more of a substance or using
One symptom of addiction is using more of a substance or using
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Through extensive study of addicts and what makes them tick, science has narrowed down behaviors and traits that are symptoms of addiction. These symptoms are divided into two types: physical and behavioral.

Compulsive behavior, like a sex or gambling addiction, relate only to behavioral symptoms. But substance abuse can include both types:

  • Physical: In an addicted person, tolerance for a substance will increase (meaning he will need more of a substance to get the "high" he seeks), or it will decrease (meaning it will take less of the substance to obtain the high). The addict will also display withdrawal symptoms when he discontinues use of the substance. These symptoms include sweating, hand tremors, trouble sleeping, nausea, physical agitation, anxiety, hallucinations and seizures. Or, the addict will use more of the substance (or another substance) to reduce or eliminate these symptoms.
  • Behavioral: The addicted person will most likely have a history of attempting to stop using the substance (or engaging in the behavior) without much success. He will also use more of the substance or spend more time using the substance than he intends to, and will also spend a lot of his time getting, using and recovering from the substance. Another symptom is discontinuing other activities that once brought him pleasure (like walking in the park), or are his personal responsibility (like going to school or work). Lastly, the addicted person will continue taking the substance or engaging in the activity even though he knows that it's having a harmful impact on him.

Taken together, these symptoms constitute addiction. In conjunction with the "brain disease" model, these symptoms of addiction have created the view that addiction is a chronic disease, just like asthma. Based on this, researchers have determined that addicted people, like asthma sufferers, may experience relapses and that rehab programs for addiction should include "booster sessions."

While these are the symptoms of addiction, it has been shown that some people are more susceptible than others to falling prey to it. It has been long-held that initial drug use is a voluntary act, but behavioral psychologists point out that isn't necessarily the case. There are a variety of risk factors that have been identified which can lead a person into addiction. Variables like genetics (more on that coming up), peer pressure, existing psychological disorders, anxiety and depression and the quality of a person's home life can all lead him to becoming addicted to a substance or behavior.

A person who is depressed, for example, may try drugs in an attempt to self-medicate, or he may engage in sexual behavior to try to improve his sense of self-worth. Both of these behaviors can lead to an addiction to the substance or behavior. In the next section, we'll look at a few of the substances and behaviors people can become addicted to.­ ­­