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Basic Information
What is Addiction?What Causes Addiction?How Do You Get Addicted?Signs and Symptoms of AddictionTreatment for AddictionReferencesResourcesFrequentlly Asked Questions about Addiction
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What is the Definition of Addiction?
Is Addiction a Disease?
When People Have an Addiction, Why Can't They Just Stop?
How Do I Know if I Have an Addiction?
How Can Parents Help Their Children Avoid Alcohol or Addiction Problems?
What is the Difference Between 12-Step, Self-Help Groups like AA, and Professional Addictions Treatment?
What Are the Key Ingredients for Successful Addiction Recovery?
Is There an Addictive Personality?
Is Food An Addiction?
I Need Help With My Addiction. What Should I do?

Related Topics

Anxiety Disorders
Depression: Depression & Related Conditions
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction

C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Below are some frequently asked questions about addiction.

Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.

This definition includes 4 key components:

1. Addiction includes both substances and activities (such as sex and gambling).
2. Addiction leads to substantial harm.
3. Addiction is repeated involvement despite substantial harm.
4. Addiction continues because it was, or is pleasurable and/or valuable.


There are at least four primary ways to understand addiction:

1. Addiction is a biological problem.

2. Addiction is a psychological problem

3. Addiction is a social or cultural problem

4. Addiction is a spiritual problem

Each of the above ways is described in detail in the \"What Causes Addiction\" section of the main article.

Recent research suggests the causes of addictions are heavily influenced by our biology. When viewed in this manner, addiction is sometimes called a disease. However, there is no medical \"cure\" for addiction. Yet, every day people recover from addiction. The different ways that people recover from addiction rely on psychological, socio-cultural, and spiritual solutions. Therefore, viewing addiction as a disease is too simplistic. For more information, visit \"Is Alcoholism a Disease?\" under What is Addiction.


Of course, people do indeed stop, but it can be quite difficult for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are due to the way addictions cause changes to the brain. Stopping an addiction requires significant behavioral change. Behavioral change of any sort can be quite difficult. There are psychological reasons for this difficulty. For more information, see \"Why Don\'t They Just Stop? Addiction and the Loss of Control\" under What is Addiction in the main article.


There are a number of different ways to decide if you might have an addiction. First, you might review the definition of addiction(see \"What is Addiction\" in the main article). Addiction differs from \"behavin\' badly\" because it means someone is repeatedly involved with a substance or activity despite substantial harm .

Sometimes people don\'t realize they have an addiction because they don\'t accurately tally up the costs of their involvement with a substance or activity. In other words, they may be unaware of the degree of harm that is caused by the addiction. You may wish to review a list of these costs to decide if you might have an addiction (see \"What is Addiction\" in the main article).

Another way to decide if you have an addiction is to review the signs and symptoms that healthcare professionals use to make a diagnosis of an addictive disorder.

If you are concerned about the possibility of an addiction, it may be wise to ask your healthcare provider or EAP specialist for some guidance. They can refer you to an addictions specialist who will help you make an accurate assessment. Here are some guidelines for choosing treatment options. However, not everyone requires professional treatment. This is called natural recovery.


A leading and highly respected addictions expert, Stanton Peele (2007) has suggested that a guide for raising children to become moderate, not excessive, drinkers can be found by observing the cultural norms of the Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, Jewish, and Chinese cultures. Relative to the United States, these cultures have very low rates of alcoholism. In these cultures, children are socialized into approved, moderate, and social drinking. This means drinking occurs with meals, and during celebrations and religious ceremonies. Furthermore, children are socialized to disapprove of drunkenness.

How well this recipe would translate to other cultures, or to a specific family, would depend on many factors. SAMHSA (2011) reported that adults aged 21 or older who had first used alcohol at age 14 or younger were more than 5 times as likely to be classified with alcohol dependence or abuse than adults who had their first drink at age 21 or older (15.1 vs. 2.7 percent). Given these statistics, a family in the United States would need to carefully consider several questions. Can a typical American family environment sufficiently influence children toward moderation, as is done in some European countries or Jewish culture? Is the family's influence powerful enough to supersede the larger cultural acceptance of alcohol misuse and drunkenness? Parents should be sure to check the laws in their own state regarding parents serving alcohol to their own children.

More information about protecting children from alcohol and other drugs is available here.


First, there are two basic types of self-help support groups:

1. Self-empowering support groups

2. 12-step support groups

The differences between these groups are discussed in the Treatment for Addiction section.

Addiction is similar to many other types of problems. Some people require professional assistance while other people do not. 12-step groups (e.g., AA) are non-professional groups. One of the primary differences between 12-step groups and professional treatment is the issue of confidentiality.

Professional healthcare providers are required by law to maintain confidentiality. No such assurances exist in non-professional groups. Another significant difference is that professional healthcare providers rely on science and research to guide their methods. 12-step support groups rely on spiritual solutions. These differences have led to a great deal of unnecessary controversy between supporters of science and supporters of 12-step groups. It is perfectly fine to integrate spiritual and scientific solutions. We developed a guide to help you set up your own personal program of recovery (see under Treatment for Addictions section).


There are four key ingredients LINK to Chap5: I.A for successful addictions recovery. This is true whether someone is attempting independent recovery, or relying on professional help. These are:

1. Humility
2. Motivation
3. Sustained effort
4. Restoring meaning and purpose to life

Of these, motivation is perhaps the most essential.


Personality refers to a unique and enduring pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Contrary to popular belief, research has been unable to identify an \"addictive personality.\" However, some personality traits are more commonly observed in people with Substance Use Disorders. Most of the research regarding addiction and personality traits has been conducted with people who have Alcohol Use Disorders. Nonetheless, we observe many of these traits in people with other Substance Use Disorders as well. The most common of these personality traits include nonconformity; impulsivity; sensation- or thrill-seeking; negative affect (e.g., depression, anxiety); low self-esteem; and an external locus of control.


One place to obtain data about the food and overeating problem in the United States is through the United States Centers for Disease Control

Data reported for 2007-2008 in Ogden & Carroll (2010a, 2010b):

68% of the US population age 20 and older was either overweight or obese (Ogden & Carroll, 2010a)

18% of adolescents age 12-19 years are obese Ogden and Carroll (2010b)

20% of children age 6-11 are obese Ogden and Carroll (2010b)

10% of children age 2-5 are obese Ogden and Carroll (2010b)

While addiction to chemical substances seems to rise and fall in cycles, the rise in obesity has been quite dramatic in recent decades, and does seem to indicate a heightened degree of addiction. Nonetheless, with the exception of obesity, it remains unknown whether addiction is on the rise. However, it is reasonable to suggest that addiction is a problem of modern society if we assume that 1) addiction is a response to stress, and 2) the world has become an increasingly stressful place. Then it seems likely that more and more people would escape stress by turning to addictive behavior. The similarities of food, eating and addiction are discussed in Signs and Symptoms of Addiction area.


There are many different types of help available from self-help groups to professional treatment. We have created a personal action plan for recovery for those people who would prefer the self-help approach. We have also developed guidelines for choosing treatment options for those people who prefer professional assistance. Please see the Treatment for Addiction section for those resources and more.