Given that addiction impacts nearly 21 million Americans, you or someone you know likely suffers from an addiction. Rest assured; you are not alone if you’re suffering from an addiction. Millions can overcome their addictions with the right resources and live happy and fulfilling life.
The word “addiction” might bring up a different mental image for different people. There are several types of addictions, such as gambling or drug use. However, lesser-known addictions such as sex or internet addictions are on the rise. In this article, we’ll explore different types of addictions, the definition of an addiction, and resources for help.
An Overview of Addiction
So, what exactly is an addiction? The word is often misused in society today. For example, you may hear your coworker express her love for the new Strawberries and Cream flavored Dr. Pepper. To convey her enthusiasm for this drink, she might say, “I just tried it at lunch, and it was so delicious- I think I’m addicted!”. While this misnomer seems lighthearted, true addiction is a serious medical condition in the brain.
This complex and chronic issue involves pathways in the brain, individual genetics, life experiences, and the environment one is in. Despite negative consequences, individuals continue to partake in behaviors or consume products compulsively.
You may be wondering how to help someone with an addiction. Understanding how addiction works and local resources are a great step in supporting a loved one suffering from addiction.
How Addiction Works
When participating in a behavior or consuming a substance that gives the brain a pleasurable surge of dopamine, the brain remembers what caused that feel-good sensation. It begins to associate that sensation with the action.
In the early stages, someone may engage in an addictive action as a coping mechanism. After enough associations with the action and the dopamine surge, the craving to continue becomes so intense the individual loses control.
Types of Addictions
While several different types of addictions exist, they can all be classified into two groups. These groups are chemical addictions and behavioral addictions. The key difference here is to remember one type is action-based, and one type is substance based.
This classification of addictions focuses on the chemicals within substances. Generally, these addictions refer to problems with drug or alcohol use. This is a chronic and progressive brain disease that can be fatal if left untreated without addiction counseling. Substances involved in chemical addictions are often toxic to the body and especially harmful if ingested chronically and in large amounts.
Common Signs of a Chemical Addiction
There are several telltale signs of chemical addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you may notice that larger doses are required to get a buzz or high. Eventually, large doses of the substance may be required to feel good at all.
Other signs include intense urges to use and making plans to ensure a steady supply is always available. Participating in risky behaviors while under the influence and continuing to use the substance even when there are adverse consequences are other notable symptoms of a chemical addiction.
Common Types of Chemical Addictions
Chemical addictions can range from widely available, legal substances such as caffeine to illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin.
This article will discuss chemical addictions that affect millions of people each year. Among the most common substances that are abused include alcohol, tobacco, MDMA, methamphetamine, and inhalants.
Drug addiction can begin in a variety of ways. Often used as a coping mechanism to dull the pain of difficult environmental stressors such as finances, abuse, or mental illness, drug addiction can begin as a way to escape reality.
Addiction to a substance can also start in a seemingly innocent way. Drugs like club drugs may first be offered to teens and young adults in social situations. With enough exposure, addiction can quickly form.
Drug addiction can even begin with the help of your doctor. An injury at work can lead to a prescription for painkillers. These opioids can be quite addictive, and it’s estimated up to 5 million people in the United States alone abuse prescription painkillers.
No matter how drug addiction begins, the brain’s reward pathways are hijacked. A compulsive need to consume more and more of the substance to achieve the dopamine rush will subsequently follow.
Alcohol is the most commonly abused addictive substance in the world. This addiction affects nearly 18 million people in the United States, or 1 of every 12 adults. Long-term alcohol use negatively affects virtually every organ in your body, especially your liver and brain. This substance works as a depressant to slow down the central nervous system. This creates a relaxing “buzz” while impairing the brain’s use.
Alcohol’s effect on a person varies widely based on gender, weight, ethnicity, and amount of exposure. Some people are more susceptible to an alcohol condition based on their DNA makeup.
When an alcohol addiction takes root, the need for more is just as strong or stronger than the need for food or water. Alcoholism becomes a disease of the brain and is no longer about how strong or weak a person’s willpower is. Thankfully, professionals in addiction medicine specialists are trained to help individuals break this cycle.
An opioid addiction refers to a physical and psychological reliance on drugs commonly referred to as “painkillers .”This type of addiction is so problematic and widespread that the U.S. has officially declared an opioid overdose epidemic.
Opioids bind to receptors on cells located in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They block pain receptors in the body and, due to their effectiveness, often leave people wanting more. Chronic pain patients are especially vulnerable to these effective and highly addictive drugs.
Common opioids that can be prescribed include hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. Other examples of opioids that can be purchased illegally are known as heroin and, alarmingly, fentanyl-laced drugs. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous and 50 times stronger than heroin. This drug is odorless, tasteless, and indistinguishable from other drugs.
Treatment options such as addiction rehab are proven to be effective measures to combat opioid addiction.
Some people might be surprised to see caffeine on this list. Given its widespread use, it might not seem that dangerous. 93% of Americans report ingesting caffeine, while 75% report ingesting it daily. Many people couldn’t imagine getting through the workday without the help of their daily cups or cups of coffee.
Caffeine’s ability to work as a stimulant, boost mood, and improve concentration all sound like great reasons to reach for that espresso. And, if so many people incorporate caffeine into their daily lives, could it be so bad? Just like other addictive substances, repeated exposure leads to tolerance. And, just like other drugs, caffeine withdrawal can lead to some significant and even painful symptoms.
Thankfully, the good news with a caffeine addiction is that recovery periods are relatively short. It’s recommended to gradually decrease daily caffeine ingestion rather than go “cold turkey .”This will help relieve some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, and fatigue.
Let’s discuss the second category of addiction; behavioral addictions. These types of addictions refer to a person’s compulsive need to engage in behavior that negatively impacts their life or health. These actions or behaviors mimic how chemical addictions work in the brain.
Common Signs of a Behavioral Addiction
Because behavioral addictions are a relatively new concept, scientists are still trying to understand everything there is to know about this category of addictions. If you or someone you know is struggling with a behavioral addiction, a specific action that brings comfort or pleasure may be performed repeatedly.
Feelings of guilt or shame may follow the behavior. An extreme compulsion and obsession with completing the behavior is another sign. These symptoms can lead to relationship tension, financial losses, and mental health issues.
Common Types of Behavioral Addictions
Like those who may be addicted to substances, those suffering from a behavioral addiction seek actions or behaviors that numb or alleviate physical or emotional pain.
Some common types of behavioral addictions include everything from sex to plastic surgery. Eating and video games can also become an addiction. Let’s discuss some of the most common behavioral addictions.
Usually characterized as a lack of control regarding sexual thoughts, urges, and acts, sexual addiction can develop like a chemical one. Sexual urges are naturally occurring, but most people can ignore or respond to those urges in a socially acceptable way. Someone wanders into the sexual addiction realm when these thoughts and urges become obsessive and uncontrollable, negatively affecting their life.
Those suffering from a sexual addiction usually find it hard to live a normal life. It can interfere with their job and interpersonal relationships and even impact their safety.
Another sign that someone may be addicted to sex is that they cannot concentrate on other activities. Instead, they fixate on acquiring and having sex. This may lead individuals to participate in risky sex.
There are a variety of treatment options, such as addiction support groups, that exist to help individuals on their journey to overcoming sexual addictions.
Someone with a sexual addiction may consume a lot of pornographic content, but someone with a pornography addiction won’t necessarily go to the extremes of having sex like someone with a sex addiction.
A pornography addiction is defined as a compulsive need to view pornography even when one may not want to. Whether this can be classified as a true medical addiction is still being debated in the medical world.
However, whether it’s classified as a true addiction or not does not deter from the negative effects of compulsively viewing pornography. Some detrimental effects include pushing aside work or school duties to spend more time viewing sexual content. It can also be a problem when one can’t resist viewing it, even in inappropriate places such as work, school, or social situations.
Perhaps the most widely recognized behavioral addiction, gambling addiction, affects millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, it can have disastrous effects not only financially but on personal relationships as well.
A gambling addiction is defined as the irresistible urge to continue gambling, despite the negative impacts it may have. It’s characterized by a need to chase the high of winning big, even though it’s inevitably followed by steep lows.
Gambling is known to stimulate the brain much in the same ways that drugs or alcohol can. Symptoms of gambling addiction include obsessively thinking about gambling, wanting to stop but can’t, and lying to family or friends about the extent of your gambling.
Fortunately, there is hope for those suffering from a gambling addiction. Participating in addiction therapy is found to be successful in freeing individuals from the compulsive need to gamble.
Another behavioral addiction seemingly on the rise, social media addiction, is characterized as being overly concerned with social media. Constantly scrolling, worrying about social media presence, and feeling an uncontrollable urge to log onto social media sites or apps are all symptoms of social media addiction.
Whether or not you can be truly addicted to social media is another topic that medical professionals and scientists are currently debating. However, the dopamine that users experience when receiving “likes” or when scrolling through their feeds is very similar to what happens in the brain when people gamble or use recreational drugs.
Psychologists estimate that as high as 10% of the American population use social media enough to warrant a social media addiction diagnosis.
Sometimes referred to as an internet gaming disorder, this addiction is characterized by a lack of control over gaming habits. The playing of video games begins to impact other areas of life, such as work, personal relationships, school, and even health.
However, despite these adverse consequences of extended gameplay, those suffering from a video game addiction can’t cut back.
Researchers are still trying to determine how closely related a video game addiction is to gambling addiction. Some experts argue that the surge of dopamine when winning is very similar.
However, others argue that the use of skill and reflexes in video games puts this addiction in a different category, as a gambling addiction has to do with the thrill of chance.
For most people, falling in love is an exciting and fulfilling experience. However, some people may develop a love addiction, sometimes referred to as pathological love. This is defined as when someone’s affection for another person crosses over into obsession, and they are unable to function in other areas of their life.
Experts aren’t entirely sure about why love addictions can occur. They can be difficult to diagnose and are often misdiagnosed as mood disorders or other mental health disorders.
Psychologists think a love addiction may be due to an impulse control disorder when the brain becomes accustomed to the dopamine flood when pursuing and showing love.
This addiction is characterized by someone who feels out of control with their spending and can’t stop shopping. There are several different types of shopping addictions. Here are the most common motives behind shopping addicts.
- Those who shop to cope with emotional distress
- Those constantly in search of the perfect item
- Those who like the image of purchasing big-ticket items
- Obsessive bargain hunters who can’t pass up items on sale
- Collectors who feel compelled to complete collections
This addiction occurs when the brain becomes accustomed to the feel-good rush of dopamine when purchasing a new item. This addiction can wreak havoc on finances and personal relationships.
In addition to spending large amounts of money, large amounts of debt can be accumulated to maintain the addiction. This can lead to shame, lying, and a general sense of distrust, all contributing to strain on personal relationships.
In the United States and Europe, an alarming potential 8% of residents may meet the conditions for an internet addiction diagnosis. This addiction looks like spending excessive time online, even at the detriment of personal relationships and obligations.
This addiction can easily co-exist side by side with a video game or social media addiction. This problem is usually made known to individuals when they want to spend less time online but find they can’t. They use the internet to achieve a desired mood and experience withdrawal symptoms when not online.
These are the recommended diagnostic criteria in order for behavior to be classified as internet addiction.
- Total preoccupation with internet use, including past and future sessions
- Increased time spent on the internet is needed to create the same satisfaction
- The individual is unable to control time spent online, even when trying to cut back
- Feelings of restlessness or moodiness when time on the internet is cut back
- Often stays online longer than intended
- The individual has significantly jeopardized their job, schooling, or relationships in order to maintain internet use.
- Has lied to others about the extent of internet use
- Uses the internet as an escape or coping mechanism
This addiction describes an unhealthy obsession or fixation on fitness and exercise. This condition can often but not always coincide with eating disorders or other mental health issues. Those suffering from this condition engage in excessive amounts of exercise to the point of causing harm.
Like other addictions, exercising releases chemical rewards to the brain. Dopamine and endorphins are released during exercise, the same transmitters released during drug use. Exercise addiction may be in part related to this chemical reward. However, unlike other addictions, body dysmorphia or other issues may be contributing to exercise addiction.
This addiction is characterized by the obsession with using one’s smartphone. In today’s society, it can feel disorienting to leave the house without our cell phones. However, for some people, the preoccupation and total dependence on their phone reaches an unhealthy level.
This addiction can be diagnosed if someone spends excessive time on their phone. They may be using their phone for other addicting activities such as gaming, social media, or online gambling.
Excessive time spent on a smartphone can have negative effects. These effects include poor sleep, anxiety, insecurities, and stress.
Symptoms of a cell phone addiction include lying about the time spent on a smartphone, wishing to spend less time on their phone, and isolation from loved ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions regarding the most common types of addictions.
Can You Stop an Addiction?
Yes! Research-backed treatment plans are available for any type of addiction. Millions of people suffer from addictions, and help is out there to find a path to recovery. Freedom from addiction is possible.
What is the Most Common Type of Addiction?
It can be hard to say what the most common addiction is, but one of the most common chemical addictions is associated with alcohol. Alcoholism can affect any gender, race, and age. Fortunately, rehabilitation and help are possible to break free from addiction.
Addiction can be a complex topic, but education and understanding are key to recovery. This is true whether you may be struggling with an addiction or if you are trying to help a loved one. It’s important to understand addiction is a disease of the brain, and help is required to break free from the cycle of addiction. Learning the differences between a chemical and behavioral addiction is key for providing a baseline understanding of what happens when a substance or action floods the brain with dopamine.