Addiction: Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

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Addiction is a complex, chronic condition that affects your brain and behavior. It is often characterized by continued substance use or compulsive behaviors despite dangerous outcomes.

In the past, the concept of addiction was limited to the obsessive use of alcohol or drugs. Today it has expanded to cover other compulsive actions like gambling or gaming.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), various psychoactive substances such as medications may be potentially addictive. However, it’s important to note that the DSM-5 does not officially consider addiction as a diagnosis. A doctor may officially diagnose such conditions as either substance use disorder or behavioral addiction disorders. The DSM-5 identifies these disorders as problematic patterns of actions that result in alarming impairment and distress.

Substance Use vs Behavioral Addictions

Substance Use Disorders

These involve serious misuse of alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs, and other substances.

Commonly misused substances that can progress to addiction include:

  • Alcohol
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids
  • Prescription drugs
  • Hallucinogens
  • Steroids
  • Nicotine or tobacco
  • Inhalants
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Ecstasy

Behavioral Addiction Disorders

The DSM-5 and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes two types of behavioral addiction:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Internet gaming disorder

Signs of Addiction

Symptoms differ from one addiction type to another. Genes and the environment can also influence how the body responds to substance abuse.

That said, common symptoms of addiction include:

  • An inability to stop or reduce one’s compulsive actions
  • Drastic shifts in mood, appetite, and sleep
  • Denial
  • Rebellious behavior
  • Intense preoccupation with the substance or behavior
  • Financial and legal problems
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, friends, and enjoyable activities
  • Neglecting family, work, and other responsibilities
  • Secrecy
  • Increased intake of a substance
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, dehydration, seizures, and nausea

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The difference between addiction and dependence

When a person becomes dependent on a substance, they exhibit symptoms of drug tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance develops when a drug is used repeatedly until it no longer works as well as before. Over time, the body adapts to the continued presence of the drug and as a result, dosage must be increased to attain the same effects.

Withdrawal occurs when a person stops or lowers their intake of the substance. It is characterized by a series of physical and psychological symptoms that range from vomiting to insomnia and hallucinations. Withdrawals can be harmful, but they are an inevitable first step towards recovery.

While a person can develop dependence on a substance without getting addicted, their condition may evolve into addiction in the long run.

Addiction is manifested through irrational actions triggered by biochemical changes in the brain as a result of repeated substance abuse. A person with addiction clings to the substance or addictive behavior regardless of the dangers it may pose to themselves and other people. Unlike dependence, addiction is manifested not just in physical and mental symptoms, but also in highly uncontrollable behavior.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, the first step is to be examined and diagnosed by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a registered alcohol and drug counselor. This involves a comprehensive assessment of one’s health and a thorough inquiry about one’s uncontrollable behaviors. Blood, urine, or other lab tests may be performed to evaluate drug use and track treatment and recovery later on.

Most rehab programs for heroin and alcohol include psychotherapy and counseling sessions. Individual and group therapy sessions can help you develop ways to cope with your urges and prevent relapses.

Overcoming an addiction requires persistent effort. Mastering coping skills and seeking professional help are critical steps. Lastly, surrounding yourself with a caring and supportive group of people is key to successful and long-term recovery.

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