An addict is someone who is physiologically or psychologically dependent upon a potentially harmful drug or substance or form of compulsive behavior. An addict is said to suffer from the disease of addiction, a chronic and relapsing disorder characterized by persistent drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors. Physicians recognize two levels of substance-related disorders: dependence and abuse. Substance dependence is what laypeople would call addiction, in that the person is physically dependent on a substance such as heroin or alcohol, and develops withdrawal symptoms when they quit. Other symptoms of substance dependence are tolerance, persistent efforts to control the abuse, losing out on social, occupational or recreational activities because of the abuse, and spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the substance. With substance abuse, the person has all the problems mentioned but without withdrawal and tolerance. The definitions of alcohol abuse and alcohol tolerance are similar. To doctors, pathological gambling is an impulse-control related disorder, and is in the same category as kleptomania (compulsive stealing) and pyromania (compulsive fire-setting). Binge-eating disorder is recognized not as an impulse-control disorder or substance-related disorder but placed in the same category with anorexia and other eating disorders.
A person can become addicted to many different kinds of substances, including alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, street drugs (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, marijuana, etc.), and process behaviors (including compulsive gambling, compulsive sex, and compulsive use of pornography, Internet, texting, workaholism, compulsive overeating, and overspending). Since addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by persistent drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors, or compulsive behaviors, the process of becoming an addict generally occurs over time. Some substances, such as methamphetamine, are so powerful and dangerous that a person can become addicted after the first use.
First, there’s experimentation, followed by continued use in order to again achieve the euphoria or high of the drug, substance or behavior. With repeated use, tolerance builds, meaning the person needs to consume more of the drug or engage in the behavior more often just to achieve the desired effect. This becomes an all-consuming activity, which the person engages in despite mounting and serious negative consequences to health, mental state, finances, family life, employment, friends, and problems with law enforcement, legal issues, and loss of stature in the community. Once a person becomes an addict, they will typically go through many cycles of relapse and remission. There is no cure for addiction, but the addict can learn how to overcome addiction through professional treatment or rehab.
Self-help groups, also called 12-step fellowships including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Compulsive Spenders Anonymous, and the like, are a critical source of ongoing support for those in recovery and seeking to live a life of sobriety. Without treatment or consistent engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability and premature death