Addiction is a chronic mental illness that can be hard to treat, but there are resources and treatments that can help. But before you can address the problem, how is addiction defined? Addiction means different things to different people. Some of us use the word to describe our affection for designer shoes or our inability to put down our Blackberries. But while it may begin as a bad "habit," real addiction goes far beyond that. Addiction is the compulsive need to engage in a certain activity or use a substance. Alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive overeating, workaholism, and compulsive over-exercise are all examples of addiction. The use of said substance or activity creates a feeling of euphoria, or a "high," for the addicted individual. Addictions have a dual nature: On one end, the addiction is physical. The individual engages in the activity or takes in the substance to get the rush of brain chemicals needed to feel high. On the other end, the addiction is psychological. The addict needs their activity to help them cope with life, and intense anxiety is felt in the absence of their addictive substance or activity. While we tend to think of people being addicted to substances like narcotics or nicotine, other common addictions include: sex, shopping, eating, or gambling. And many addicts have more than one addiction. An addict will engage in their addiction even when it's clear that using the substance or engaging in the activity is against their own best interests. Addiction is often seen as a moral failing by the general public, but is understood as a disease by the medical establishment. Control is the central issue. An addict reaches a point at which they can no longer "control" how often or how much they will engage in the activity or use the substance, no matter how strong their willpower. Like other chronic diseases, addiction tends to grow worse over time. When addicted to something, the body becomes dependent on the substance or activity and needs increasing amounts to feel the same kind of rush. For people with severe addictions, a rehabilitation program can help overcome the initial stages of addiction. Conquering addiction is a challenging lifelong process. It's not impossible-but it can take time. Many addicts relapse more than once before getting sober for good. Much like dealing with diabetes, heart disease or other chronic diseases, recovering from addiction sometimes requires full lifestyle modification. That means adopting healthy habits and steering clear of destructive ones, often requiring an addict to make new friends, in order to remove themselves from the people and places associated with the addiction. It also means dealing with the emotional difficulties that drove you to drink or gamble or do drugs in the first place. Counseling sessions and 12-Step recovery programs can help. Peer-support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have some of the highest rates of continued recovery. If you think you, or someone you love, may have a problem, speak with a trusted health professional, or contact your local AA chapter they can help you find resources in your community, to help battle your addiction.
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012