Defining and Recognizing Addiction
Is addiction a moral problem or is it more of a health issue? The jury may officially still be out on the subject but scientists agree that, although influenced by biological, social and environmental factors, addiction is most effectively treated as a disease rather than a moral deficiency.
Addictive disorders generally refer to physically and psychologically intense desires that are directed towards substances like tobacco or alcohol or behaviors such as shopping or gambling. These addictions are harmful to the addict socially, psychologically and physically. Additionally, an addiction is usually typified by its chronic and progressive nature.
Although there are many ways to define addiction, the American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary defines it as the “habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one's voluntary control.” In the worst cases addictions have a few devastating similarities can be agreed upon by all:
• Addictions separate an individual from reality.
• Addiction can inflict significant damage to the addict immediately or over time.
• Addiction often damages others that are close to the addict.
Addictions involving cocaine, heroin or other drugs are not only illegal but are socially unacceptable as well. Other addictions like smoking and alcohol use or gambling can be equally as damaging but are much more socially acceptable or even encouraged in some circles. Addictions such as shopping and eating are simply normal activities that evolve to distorted levels. Still others such as an addiction to coffee, tea or chocolate in most cases do not even resemble the more serious addictions and are generally considered non-problematic and thus, benign.
Nobody intentionally sets out with the outright goal of becoming addicted to harmful substances or behaviors, however many people find themselves hopelessly addicted. The quicker a person can identify that there is an addiction problem, the more of a chance they have of effectively doing something about it. Here is a short list of some of the more prominent warning signs that may indicate an addiction problem is present:
• Abandonment of social or occupational activities in order to engage in the addictive behavior, i.e. drug use, shopping, overeating, gambling.
• Inability to abstain from using substances or engaging in damaging behavior despite the knowledge of its dangers.
• Extended amounts of time expended obtaining, using or recovering from substance abuse or damaging behavior.
• Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop substance use or refrain from addictive behavior
The statistics surrounding addiction are quite staggering and suggest a growing problem:
• One in five Americans smoke and smokers die an average of about 14 years before non-smokers.
• 50% of Americans drink regularly and 1/3 of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol.
• According to 1988 statistics, 300,000 babies were born addicted to cocaine.
• 2005 statistics indicate that 10.4 million Americans who were 12 years or older had tried methamphetamines.
• People addicted to heroin spend $150-$200 a day to support their habit.
• Gambling problems are prevalent in about 2-3% of the population.
• 3-5% of the population suffers from disorders stemming from some form of sexual compulsion.
• About 5% of young women under 30 have an eating disorder.
• About 72% of alcoholic women under 30 have an eating disorder.
It seems that a large segment of our population deals with addiction issues on a daily basis. Addiction can be very subtle and often the addict does not realize that he or she has become dependent. Defining and recognizing the face of addiction is the first step in resolving this growing problem.