Addiction is a chronic illness characterized by a neurological condition that leads to the continued behavior OR use of a mood or mind altering substance despite negative consequences.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM),
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.” http://www.asam.org/research-treatment/definition-of-addiction
When people have addiction, they do things to get their “fix” even when it goes against their own values. Not only are other people bewildered and disgusted by their behavior, the addict is too. This leads to blame from others and shame for the addict. No one understands why people do what they do or go to the lengths they go to because it is not rational. At first it starts out with feeling good, but it doesn’t stay that way. Soon you can’t rely on your drug or behavior to make you feel good all the time. Sometimes it does, sometimes not so much. Eventually you have to continue just so you don’t feel bad all the time.
Addicts are obsessed. As Narcotics Anonymous puts it: Our whole life and thinking was centered in drugs in one form or another—the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. We lived to use and used to live. Very simply, an addict is a man or woman whose life is controlled by drugs. (White Booklet, Narcotics Anonymous)
I believe that all addictive behavior is due to chemicals in one way or another. With substances like alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, or heroin the person is putting the mind & mood altering substance into their body so that it alters their brain chemistry. With behavior like gambling, sex, or shopping, the brain chemistry changes on its own. The use of substances can create a physiological dependence, where people go through withdrawal if they stop. With some substances, like alcohol or anti-anxiety medication, the withdrawal can be deadly. For others it is simply miserable.
There is hope.
There is recovery.