There are many misconceptions about addiction. In some cases, people joke that they have an addiction to something when, especially to those clinically diagnosed with an addiction, it’s not a laughing matter.
Although you can develop an addiction to things other than alcohol and drugs, addiction is not simply defined as really liking something and doing it a lot as people who throw the term around loosely imply. Rather, addiction – now known as a use disorder as in alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD). These are chronic, relapsing diseases of the brain that respond to integrated, holistic treatment, much in the same way chronic, relapsing physical conditions such as diabetes respond to integrated treatment and addresses all areas of life – biological, psychological, and social.
This is known as the disease model of addiction. This model has revolutionized addiction treatment, and helped millions of people recover from AUD, SUD, and the disordered use of other substances.
Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders
Alcohol and substance use disorders are the most frequently diagnosed and treated types of addiction.
Here are the most common substances of misuse and disordered use:
- Prescription opioids
- Hallucinogens such as LSD, mushrooms that contain psilocybin
While this is not an exhaustive list, it gives you an idea that misuse and disordered use can come in many forms.
Some behaviors that resemble addiction do not require the use of a substance. These consist of single behaviors or patterns of behavior that may ultimately become life-interrupting. The behaviors trigger similar patterns of motivation and reward and act on the same areas of the brain as the disordered use of substances. These patterns include cravings for the behavior, a sense of pleasure during or immediately following the behavior, and continuing the behavior despite the fact that it disrupts life tasks and relationships.
Behaviors that resemble addiction – i.e. the disordered use of a substance or disordered behavior related to specific activity – include:
- Internet use
- Viewing pornography
- Internet gaming
However, it’s important to note that of the behaviors listed above, only one – gambling disorder – is listed as a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Volume 5 (DSM-V). The DSM-V includes internet gaming disorder as a condition that merits further study and consideration but does not include internet use, shopping, sex, or viewing pornography.
Let’s make that clear: no matter what you read or hear, the go-to manual that licensed, professional clinicians use to diagnose addiction – the DSM-V – does not include sex, the internet, smartphone use, or shopping in its list of clinically diagnosable addictions/conditions.
That’s very important to understand, because many laypeople talk about internet addiction as if it’s an accepted medical diagnosis. We’ll say it again: it’s not. We recognize that things like smartphone use, internet use, compulsive sex, and other behaviors resemble addiction to the outside observer – and many scientists refer to them with clinical terms even though they are not officially diagnosable conditions.
With that said, these behaviors can still cause problems in life, relationships, and the general health of the individual engaging in them. And many of these problem behaviors go unrecognized until serious issues arise, such as engaging in criminal activity or otherwise causing harm as a result of the behavior.
How To Know If You Have an Addiction or Alcohol/Substance Use Disorder
The most important thing to examine – in yourself – is how the substance use or behavior affects your life.
Does it cause disruption at work, school, at home, or in your relationships?
Does it cause health problems?
Do your friends and family bring it up to you?
Many people who have an alcohol use disorder, a substance use disorder, or a gambling disorder can function passably in their daily lives. But this fact is dangerous. The ability to get by can lead to denial and minimization. In turn, denial and minimization often result in a person who needs treatment or support not seeking that treatment or support.
Seeking Treatment and Support
Please understand that a short article like this cannot diagnose an addiction or and alcohol or substance use disorder. If you think your use of a substance – or your frequent participation in a particular behavior – disrupts your life and/or damages your health, the best choice is to make an appointment with a mental health professional for a full assessment. Together, you can determine if you need treatment. Depending on the severity of your disorder – if present – a therapist or psychiatrist may recommend residential treatment, partial hospitalization treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, or weekly one-on-one counseling. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for these medical conditions. That’s why the first step is to consult a professional who can help you decide what’s best for you.
If you’re on the fence, we encourage you to make that first phone call. The right treatment from the right people at the right time can not only change your life – it can save your life.