What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, but treatable disorder affecting the reward centre of the brain. Once it takes hold, it causes sufferers to seek out substances or processes that are pleasurable, but ultimately harmful, to them. Addiction affects every culture and socioeconomic bracket. About 10% of the population is currently grappling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol – a figure which is consistent across any given community or subgroup (eg, 10% of CEOs are struggling with addiction, as are 10% of those in poverty). Given its prevalence, understanding it – and knowing the signs – is imperative.

Addictions are separated into two subtypes. Treatment is roughly the same for both types, but they are distinct in definition. They are:

Substance addictions

  • Things you consume – this is a chemical, physical addiction
  • Examples include: alcohol, marijuana, pain killers, and cocaine

Process addictions

  • Things that you do – these addictions involve behaviours that stimulate the reward centres of the brain
  • Examples include: gambling, sex, and the internet


Whether substance or process driven, addictions tend to develop along a continuum, progressing over time from occasional experimentation to eventual loss of control, paired with chronic overuse. At the beginning, using feels good and is ostensibly under control. However, as the addictive behaviour continues, the structure of the addicted brain changes, leading to impaired behaviour control, judgment, and decision making. As this happens, the behaviour or substance use gradually gets more frequent, and eventually becomes a necessity in order to feel normal or okay. This is when casual use evolves into an addiction, and when treatment should be considered.

The following are signs that occasional overuse has developed into an addiction:

  • Behaviour interferes with ‘normal’ functioning in day-to-day life
  • Significant time or energy spent on consumption, especially to the detriment of other needs or responsibilities
  • Continuation of addictive behaviours, despite life-altering negative consequences (damage to work life, relationships, finances, etc.)
  • Developing tolerance – requiring more of the substance or behaviour for the same effect, over time
  • Limited control – unable to stop; consuming more than planned
  • Withdrawal (in some cases) – unpleasant or even painful physical response when use is ceased

Addiction is a complex disorder in both the way it presents and the way it develops. It is widely believed that likelihood of developing an addiction is strongly influenced by your genetic profile (ie, you may inherit addictive tendencies from your parents), but that your environment has a sizeable impact on the way your genes are expressed. That is, even if you are predisposed to develop an addiction, the way you perceive and interact with your surroundings will in large part determine whether or not you act on those addictive tendencies. This also means that, once addicted, there is hope – and treatment can help. Contact us to learn more about treatment options.