An addiction is an irresistible compulsion to engage in a particular behaviour. The person with the addiction experiences a gradual loss of control over the degree and frequency of the behaviour, often believing that it is essential to his or her life or ability to function. In many cases, there is little regard for consequences: the individual may risk his or her life, or the lives of others, in order to engage in the behaviour.
Addictions can be damaging in many ways. They often come at a great financial and emotional cost. Relationships become strained as the individual alienates loved ones and neglects financial, work and school responsibilities.
In many cases, the addiction is physically harmful, and can even result in the death of the individual or someone close to him or her.
Why do people develop addictions?
It is important to note that simply engaging in a behaviour does not make someone an addict. Most people who drink alcohol do so responsibly, without becoming alcoholics. Most people can visit a casino without developing an addiction to gambling. Even in the case of illegal street drugs, occasional experimental use, while not wise, does not always lead to addiction.
Some addictions do start moderately enough, with the odd glass of wine or legitimate use of prescription pain medication. As the individual becomes accustomed to the substance or the behaviour, physical and psychological dependencies can develop.
Other people’s addictions begin as a result of stressful or traumatic events – death of a loved one, job loss, physical or mental illness and other events. Individuals engage in the addictive behaviours as a coping mechanism, particularly when they lack the social supports to help them through the difficulties they are experiencing.
What do people become addicted to?
Almost any substance or habit has the potential to become addictive. Even everyday behaviours can be regarded as addictions if the individual focuses on them to the extent that they interfere with other aspects of life.