General Addiction

man pouring alcohol into a glass because he is addicted

What is addiction?

<<Back to Traditional Psychiatry

Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. Those who suffer from addiction typically engage in repeated, uncontrollable behaviors that progress in frequency and intensity, often resulting in destructive consequences. Read more here.

blurred image of a group therapy session

What are common symptoms of addiction?

Addictive disorders generally involve recurring behaviors or substance use that lead to a state of anxiety or dysfunction. Of course, we all experience repetitive actions in the course of our daily lives. However, addictions will fit multiple criteria that result in some form of impairment. These factors include:

  • Increased physical risk when engaging the behavior
  • Ignoring resulting problems in the body or psyche to pursue the action
  • Significant craving of the activity, despite its effect on work, school, family, etc.
  • Prolonged involvement in the behavior, beyond its original intent
  • Elevated tolerance, resulting in increased need for more of the addictive substance or behavior
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when behavior is stopped

What causes addiction issues?

Addiction is a wide category of disorders that includes more specific disorders such as behavior, drug, and alcohol addictions. Any of these may be influenced by factors ranging from genetics to psychological to environmental factors. However, these factors all generally play into how the brain processes information and stimulation. Ultimately, addictions essentially result from some form of brain dysfunction. That’s why efforts to “just stop” the addictions usually fail on their own. To successfully treat and heal addictions, we must identify and eliminate the true source of the problem in the brain. Learn more on how addictions get stuck in your brain.


How does brain function affect addiction?

Certain neurobiological factors result in reward and reinforcement functions inside the brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a significant role in this area. The brain processes information and receives rewarding effects from certain actions. Of course, these rewarding effects create a desire to repeat the action, sometimes without regard for consequences.

Fortunately, it is possible to reverse course once addiction begins. Studies have revealed crucial data that we can apply toward our understanding of the brain and how addictions develop. By getting to the root of an individual’s addiction, we can begin restoration of proper brain function and the healing process.

Here are some general findings that guide our analysis of brain function and addiction:

  • Male addicts experience lower brain activity. Compared with women, men are more prone to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. This finding reveals low levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where decisions and impulses are regulated. Lower activity in this region leads to increased risk and impulsive behavior. As a result, men tend to pursue substances that will stimulate their brain activity, from caffeine and nicotine to elicit drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.
  • Female addicts have often experienced trauma in their past. Because women are more likely than men to suffer abuse of some form (e.g., childhood abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault), they are also more prone to post-traumatic stress disorders. When these occur, women often self-medicate to relieve their stress with a range of substances including drugs, alcohol, and food.
  • Teens regularly experience coexisting conditions. Often, teens who suffer from a form of addiction also deal with other mental health disorders found commonly in teens, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. Correctly diagnosing any and all mental health conditions will put us on a more stable path for recovery.
  • Elderly patients are equally at risk for addiction. Even beyond the developmental and adult years, senior adults engage in several factors that can lead to addictions. Increased medications with advanced age can upset normal brain function and increase risk for addictive behaviors. Similarly, early dementia can affect the prefrontal cortex of the brain and initiate addiction issues.
  • Reducing brain activity can lead to addiction at any stage of life. There are a number of ways we can accidentally decrease our brain activity, which can result in increased risk for addiction. These factors include low exercise, lack of sleep, low blood sugar, and exposure to toxins. Our brains need healthy conditions to work properly. When they don’t receive the rest and energy they require, we can fall victim to addictions that seek to compensate for our lower brain function.

How are addictions treated?

A solid treatment plan will incorporate several aspects of the patient’s life. These components include mental health, family roles, and physical recovery. Specific treatment options will differ, depending on the addiction (e.g., behavioral addictions will require different treatments than substance abuse addictions). These options may include detoxification, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other forms of family/group therapy.


What do I do if a loved one has an addiction?

While we always encourage support for anyone suffering a disorder, we also recognize the urgency for healing. To initiate a path toward recovery, we recommend an interview with a member of our staff who is trained to conduct a thorough evaluation for a proper diagnosis. We are ready to help you and your loved one begin the process of rehabilitation. Contact us today to secure an appointment, so we can work together and facilitate a prompt recovery.

Contact us today to receive some encouragement and initial steps. We will need to schedule a visit with one of our staff members, who will work with you to identify the proper strategy for your recovery and healing. Don’t wait – the prompting you are feeling now reflects the urgency and the desire to get help. We will work with you to build on these feelings to restore a healthy balance in your life.