Addiction and Warning Signs
Like most other conditions or illnesses, addiction (or substance use disorder, as defined by the DSM 5) presents itself on a spectrum that ranges anywhere from mild to severe. Some people can manage to use addictive substances recreationally that does not interfere with their ability to function and does not meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. For others, however, substance use can progress into full blown addiction and have catastrophic consequences. Despite the seriousness of negative consequences in virtually every aspect of the person’s life, the frequency and severity of the individual’s pattern of use only increases over time, which ultimately leads to full-blown addiction (Perkinson, 2012).
Despite the many different kinds of addiction that are developed over time, addiction can be conceptualized into two categories: substance use addiction and behavioural or process addiction (or, substance use disorders and non-substance use disorders, as defined by the DSM 5) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Some of the common substances that individuals become addicted to (but are not limited to) are: alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, hallucinogens, ecstasy, nicotine, caffeine, and/or prescription medications.
Non-substance use disorders are classified as such because the ‘rush’ or ‘high’ that is experience by the individual is a result of a release of ‘feel good’ chemicals from the brain. These ‘feel good’ chemicals are released from the brain and into the body as a result of engaging in certain behaviors that the individual becomes addicted to.
Some of the more common behavioral or process addictions include sex, gambling, exercise, internet, shopping, video games, food/eating, and risky behavior addiction (Grant, Potenza, Weinstein & Gorelick, 2010). Evidence in the literature has supported the premise that many features of substance use disorders are shared with those of non-substance use disorders, such as etiology, phenomenology, tolerance, co morbidity, overlapping genetic contribution, neurobiological mechanisms, and response to treatment (Grant, Potenza, Weinstein & Gorelick, 2010).
Two of the most widely recognized and accepted signs of addiction are harmful consequences and loss of control (Perkinson, 2012). Although the harmful consequences of addictive behavior may appear to have little impact, the cumulative effect of harmful consequences overtime can be devastating. Harmful consequences experienced in the ‘early days’ such as feeling hung over or late for work tend to increase in severity overtime as one’s addiction progresses and consequences become catastrophic such as homelessness or disease.
Other commonly recognized harmful consequences for someone in active addiction include injury while under the influence, anxiety, irritability or depression, blackouts, relationship problems, spending money on maintaining the addiction rather than food or other essentials, legal problems, and/or feelings or despair and emptiness (Volkow & Li, 2005). Another universally accepted sign of addiction is when the individual experiences a loss of control. This happens when the person recognises that he or she may have an addiction problem, wants to decrease or stop the addictive behavior, but cannot. The individual may use more than they intended, or in situations where they did not intend to use. Some may not realize that their addiction is out of control and is causing major problems in their life. This is often referred to as being in denial (Volkow & Li, 2005).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
- Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Grant, J. E., Potenza, M. N., Weinstein, A., & Gorelick, D. A. (2010). Introduction to behavioral addictions.
- The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36, 233-241.
- Perkinson, R., R. (2012). Chemical dependency counseling: A practical guide (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks,
- Volkow, N. D., & Li, T. K. (2005). Drugs and alcohol: Treating and preventing abuse, addiction, and their
medical consequences. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 108, 3-17.