Addictive behavior

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An addictive behavior is any activity, substance, object, or behavior that becomes the major focus of a person's life resulting in a physical, mental, and/or social withdrawal from their normal day to day obligations.[1][2]

There are different types of addiction and virtually any activity or substance has the potential to become addictive. Drugs, alcohol, and nicotine are examples of substance addictions, whereas behavior addiction (also known as process addictions) may include gambling, sexual activity, Internet, food related behaviors, shopping, work, or exercise.[2]

Typically an individual becomes dependent or addicted to a substance to alleviate the pain and agony deriving from certain emotions. The phenomenon occurs subsequent to the first trial where the individual derives some pleasure which increases with additional usage. Continual usage leads to psychological strengthening which ultimately leads to psychological dependence or physical addiction.[2] Drug tolerance is a biological state that occurs when the body adapts to the current amount of the substance. Increased quantities of the desired substance is necessary in order to bring about the same psychologic or physiologic effects previously obtained with smaller dosages, thus it may lead to physical and psychological dependence.[3][4]


Drug dependence is the term which has formally replaced addiction in medical terminology. In 1964 the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Abuse proposed that the terms addiction and habituation be replaced with the term dependence and distinguished between two types psychological dependence and physical dependence.[5]

From the 1920s to the 1960s attempts were made to differentiate between addiction; and habituation, a less severe form of psychological adaptation. In the 1960s the World Health Organization recommended that both terms be abandoned in favor of dependence, which can exist in various degrees of severity. Addiction is not a diagnostic term in ICD-10, but continues to be very widely employed by professionals and the general public alike.[5]

Dependence and addiction[edit]

Psychological dependence vs addiction[edit]

Although psychological dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably by layman, professionals continue to discuss the ambiguities while acknowledging some overlap in their meaning. Notably, psychological dependence is a yearning for a certain substance whereas addiction is a want for that substance as it provides enjoyment to its user. Second, addiction shows physical signs of withdrawal like sweating or shaking while psychological dependence exhibits signs of mental withdrawal like anxiety and depression. Third, psychological dependency may occur when the user engages in anything that he deems as beneficial such as the Internet, pornography, or drugs, but there is no such possibility in the case of addiction.[6]

Physical dependence vs addiction[edit]

As there is overlap in the meanings of psychological dependence and addiction the same is also true for physical dependence and addiction. It is important to understand that a person with an addiction may or may not become physically dependent. Signs of physical dependency may appear dissimilarly from one person to the next. Indicative behaviors of physical dependency include the continued use of substances despite negative consequences, and demonstrates difficulty with employment and/or engagements with school, family, or other relationships.[7]

Compulsion vs addiction[edit]

Compulsions and addictions are intertwined. Addiction involves the compulsion to take an addictive substance (such as alcohol or heroin) or to carry out an addictive behavior. Compulsive behaviors are repetitious and are performed in an effort to reduce or control tension resulting from inner feelings often generated by anxiety, stress,or insecurity. Compulsive behaviors are often ritualistic but typically do not escalate and the compulsions are not carried out in a secretive and deceitful manner. Addictive behavior sets itself apart in that it inevitably escalates to include deceit, cover-ups, and detachment from a sense of self. Consequences may be external(e.g.,loss of employment, vehicular accidents)and/or internal (e.g.,detachment, depression, inability to concentrate). The key point is that the activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to, and is likely to be excessive.[8]

Pleasure is one major distinction between an addiction and a compulsion (as it is experienced in obsessive-compulsive disorder). While people who have addictions suffer all manner of discomforts, the desire to use the substance or engage in the behavior is based on the expectation that it will be pleasurable. In contrast, someone who experiences a compulsion as part of obsessive-compulsive disorder may not get any pleasure from the behavior he carries out. Often, it is a way of dealing with the obsessive part of the disorder, resulting in a feeling of relief.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Free Online Medical Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia..". Elsevier. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist". Sussex Publishers, LLC. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "Addictive behaviors - sex, shopping, eating disorders, etc.". Tichenor Publishing Company,. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Free Online Medical Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia..". Elsevier. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Jellinek, EM. "WHO | Lexicon of alcohol and drug terms published by the World Health Organization.". Hillhouse. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  6. ^ VandenBos,, Gary R. (2007). APA Dictionary of Psychology. 1st ed. American Psychological Association. Print: Washington D.C. 
  7. ^ Welsh, M.D., Christopher J. "Is Physical Dependence The Same As Addiction?". ABC News." Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Hartney, Elizabeth. "Addictive Behaviors". Retrieved 15 July 2012. 

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