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Addiction - General

Addiction is a complex illness that can have associated physical, emotional and psychological symptoms, affecting the patient, their family, friends and co-workers. The general term ‘Addiction’ can encompass a wide variety of disorders and illnesses, from addictions like Alcoholism and Drug Addiction to Nicotine Addiction, and the lesser-known addictions like Sexual Addiction, addiction to foods or specific activities like Gambling Addiction. Patients can be addicted to chocolate, computer games and the internet. These addictions may not be substance-based but they are nonetheless disruptive to a person’s life. While the popular belief may be simply that a person with an addiction has an unhealthy habit the medical research community has specific diagnostic criteria for addictive behavior and doctors know that these addictions are serious disorders that can affect health, lifestyle and relationships. It is important to understand that addiction is different than a mere fondness for, or love of a certain food or substance. A person may love wine or chocolate but they are not considered an addict unless their need for the substance or activity is so strong that it consumes their thoughts and takes them away from other normal social and life pursuits. For more detailed information on a specific addictive disorder, please refer to the associated article on that topic.

What are the symptoms?

Every addiction has a specific set of symptoms related to the effects the substance or activity may have on the body or mind. The common addiction symptoms for most substances and/or activities to which a patient may be addicted are as follows:

  • Uncontrolled Craving or Desire for the substance or activity

  • Euphoria or a sense of well-being while using substance or participating in activity

  • Neglect of family, friends, avoiding activities you used to find pleasurable in order to participate in addictive behavior or to hide addictive behavior

  • Feeling empty, depressed, irritable when not using substance or participating in activity

  • Obsessive thoughts about the substance or activity to which you are addicted
  • Fatigue, both physical and mental, possible inability to sleep or trouble staying asleep

  • Lying to friends, employer or family about activities

  • Experiencing consequences because of behavior (missing work or calling in late, risk to relationship, loss of values, legal consequences)

  • Craving more and more time using substance or participating in activity

  • Inability to stop the activity or stop using the substance, in spite of wanting to stop and/or trying to stop

  • Change in behavior, withdrawn, moody, or frightened

How is it diagnosed and treated?

The diagnosis and treatment of addictions will vary, depending on the type of addiction and the consequences – whether to health, or emotional or mental well-being. For more detailed information about the diagnosis and treatment of specific addictions, refer to the related article on the specific addiction topic.

Generally, doctors will look for the following traits when diagnosing addictions:

  • Preoccupation with substance or activity
  • Significant consequences to family, job and lifestyle
  • Withdrawal symptoms when patient attempts to quit
  • Loss of willpower, inability to control behavior or use
  • Increased tolerance to and use of substance or activity

Treatment protocols vary, depending upon the addiction, but in general, medical, educational and social therapeutic modalities are required to address the addiction and the associated and secondary conditions that may exist. Treatments may include one or some of the following therapies:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Family and/or group therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Medication as appropriate (anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-addiction)
  • Organized groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 step and facilitated programs

Index of Articles


Researchers are just starting to collect statistical data on some addictions, like internet and computer addiction, and sexual addiction.

Nicotine Addiction:

An estimated 57 million Americans smoke, 7.6 million use smokeless tobacco, every day.

Internet/Computer Addiction:

In 1997 51 million Americans were online, and 20% spent 10 or more hours per week online. 40% said they used the computer more in the current month, than in the previous month.

Gambling Addiction:

1% of the American adult population is estimated to meet the diagnostic criteria for Pathological Gambling. Another 2-3% are considered Problem Gamblers.

Drug Addiction:

About 19.5 million Americans over the age of 12 use illegal drugs (3.6 million are teenagers). 19,000 people die each year of drug-related causes.

Alcohol Addiction:

1 in 13 American adults is an alcohol abuser or alcoholic. During the period from 1991 to 2002 the number of people who abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent rose from 13.8 million to 17.6 million. Alcoholism is one of the most common psychiatric disorders with a prevalence of 8%-14% in American adults.

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