Addiction 2285
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Addiction is a physical or mental dependence on a behavior or substance that a person feels powerless to stop.


Addiction is one of the most costly public health problems in the United States. It is a progressive syndrome, which means that it increases in severity over time unless it is treated. The term has been partially replaced by the word "dependence" for substance abuse. Addiction has been extended, however, to include mood-altering behaviors or activities. Some researchers speak of two types of addictions: substance addictions (for example, alcoholism , drug abuse, and smoking ); and process addictions (for example, gambling, spending, shopping, eating, and sexual activity). There was as of 2004 a growing recognition that many addicts are addicted to more than one substance or process. Substance abuse is characterized by frequent relapse or return to the abused substance. Substance abusers often make repeated attempts to quit before they are successful.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is conducted annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the findings of the 2003 study are the following:

  • In 2003, an estimated 19.5 million Americans, or 8.2 percent of the population aged 12 or older, were current illicit drug users. Current illicit drug use means use of an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. The numbers did not change from 2002.
  • The rate of illicit drug use among youths aged 12–17 did not change significantly between 2002 (11.6%) and 2003 (11.2%), and there were no changes for any specific drug. The rate of current marijuana use among youths was 8.2 percent in 2002 and 7.9 percent in 2003. There was a significant decline in lifetime marijuana use among youths, from 20.6 percent in 2002 to 19.6 percent in 2003. There also were decreases in rates of past year use of LSD (1.3 to 0.6%), ecstasy (2.2 to 1.3%), and methamphetamine (0.9 to 0.7%).
  • About 10.9 million persons aged 12–20 reported drinking alcohol in the month prior to the survey interview in 2003 (29.0 percent of this age group). Nearly 7.2 million (19.2%) were binge drinkers and 2.3 million (6.1%) were heavy drinkers. The 2003 rates were essentially the same as those from the 2002 survey.
  • An estimated 70.8 million Americans reported current (past month) use of a tobacco product in 2003. This is 29.8 percent of the population aged 12 or older, similar to the rate in 2002 (30.4%). Young adults aged 18–25 reported the highest rate of past month cigarette use (40.2%), similar to the rate among young adults in 2002. An estimated 35.7 million Americans aged 12 or older in 2003 were classified as nicotine dependent in the past month because of their cigarette use (15% of the total population), about the same as for 2002.


In 2003, the rate of substance dependence or abuse was 8.9 percent for youths aged 12–17 and 21 percent for persons aged 18–25. Among persons with substance dependence or abuse, illicit drugs accounted for 58.1 percent of youths and 37.2 percent of persons aged 18–25. In 2003, males were almost twice as likely to be classified with substance dependence or abuse as females (12.2% versus 6.2%). Among youths aged 12–17, however, the rate of substance dependence or abuse among females (9.1%) was similar to the rate among males (8.7%). The rate of substance dependence or abuse was highest among Native Americans and Alaska Natives (17.2%). The next highest rates were among Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (12.9%) and persons reporting mixed ethnicity (11.3%). Asian Americans had the lowest rate (6.3%). The rates among Hispanics (9.8%) and whites (9.2%) were higher than the rate among blacks (8.1%).

Rates of drug use showed substantial variation by age. For example, in 2003, some 3.8 percent of youths aged 12 to 13 reported current illicit drug use compared with 10.9 percent of youths aged 14 to 15 and 19.2 percent of youths aged 16 or 17. As in other years, illicit drug use in 2003 tended to increase with age among young persons, peaking among 18 to 20-year-olds (23.3%) and declining steadily after that point with increasing age. The prevalence of current alcohol use among adolescents in 2003 increased with increasing age, from 2.9 percent at age 12 to a peak of about 70 percent for persons 21 to 22 years old. The highest prevalence of both binge and heavy drinking was for young adults aged 18 to 25, with the peak rate of both measures occurring at age 21. The rate of binge drinking was 41.6 percent for young adults aged 18 to 25 and 47.8 percent at age 21. Heavy alcohol use was reported by 15.1 percent of persons aged 18 to 25 and 18.7 percent of persons aged 21. Among youths aged 12 to 17, an estimated 17.7 percent used alcohol in the month prior to the survey interview. Of all youths, 10.6 percent were binge drinkers, and 2.6 percent were heavy drinkers, similar to the 2002 numbers.

Rates of current illicit drug use varied significantly among the major racial-ethnic groups in 2003. The rate of illicit drug use was highest among Native Americans and Alaska Natives (12.1%), persons reporting two or more races (12%), and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (11.1%). Rates were 8.7 percent for African Americans, 8.3 percent for Caucasians, and 8 percent for Hispanics. Asian Americans had the lowest rate of current illicit drug use at 3.8 percent. The rates were unchanged from 2002. Native Americans and Alaska Natives were more likely than any other racial-ethnic group to report the use of tobacco products in 2003. Among persons aged 12 or older, 41.8 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives reported using at least one tobacco product in the past month. The lowest current tobacco use rate among racial-ethnic groups in 2003 was observed for Asian Americans (13.8%), a decrease from the 2002 rate (18.6%).

Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest rate of current use of cigarettes (40.2%), similar to the rate in 2002. Past month cigarette use rates among youths in 2002 and 2003 were 13 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively, not a statistically significant change. However, there were significant declines in past year (from 20.3% to 19%) and lifetime (from 33.3% to 31%) cigarette use among youths aged 12 to 17 between 2002 and 2003. Among persons aged 12 or older, a higher proportion of males than females smoked cigarettes in the past month in 2003 (28.1% versus 23%). Among youths aged 12 to 17, however, girls (12.5%) were as likely as boys (11.9%) to smoke in the past month. There was no change in cigarette use among boys aged 12 to 17 between 2002 and 2003. However, among girls, cigarette use decreased from 13.6 percent in 2002 to 12.5 percent in 2003.

Causes and symptoms

Addiction to substances results from the interaction of several factors.

Drug chemistry

Some substances are more addictive than others, either because they produce a rapid and intense change in mood or because they produce painful withdrawal symptoms when stopped suddenly.


Some people appear to be more vulnerable to addiction because their body chemistry increases their sensitivity to drugs. Some forms of substance abuse and dependence seem to run in families; a correlation that may be the result of a genetic predisposition, environmental influences, or a combination of the two.

Brain structure and function

Using drugs repeatedly over time changes brain structure and function in fundamental and long-lasting ways. Addiction comes about through an array of changes in the brain and the strengthening of new memory connections. Evidence suggests that those long-lasting brain changes are responsible for the distortions of cognitive and emotional functioning that characterize addicts, particularly the compulsion to use drugs. Although the causes of addiction remain the subject of ongoing debate and research, many experts as of 2004 considered addiction to be a brain disease, a condition caused by persistent changes in brain structure and function. However, having this brain disease does not absolve the addict of responsibility for his or her behavior, but it does explain why many addicts cannot stop using drugs by sheer force of will alone.

Social learning

Social learning is considered the most important single factor in causing addiction. It includes patterns of use in the addict's family or subculture, peer pressure , and advertising or media influence.


Inexpensive or readily available tobacco, alcohol, or drugs produce marked increases in rates of addiction. Increases in state taxes on alcohol and tobacco products have not resulted in decreased use.


Before the 1980s, the so-called addictive personality was used to explain the development of addiction. The addictive personality was described as escapist, impulsive, dependent, devious, manipulative, and self-centered. Many doctors in the early 2000s believe that these character traits develop in addicts as a result of the addiction, rather than the traits being a cause of the addiction.

When to call the doctor

The earlier one seeks help for their teen's behavioral or drug problems, the better. How is a parent to know if their teen is experimenting with or moving more deeply into the drug culture? Above all, a parent must be a careful observer, particularly of the little details that make up a teen's life. Overall signs of dramatic change in appearance, friends, or physical health may signal trouble. If parents believe their child may be drinking or using drugs, they should seek help through a substance abuse recovery program, family physician, or mental health professional.


In addition to noting a preoccupation with using and acquiring the abused substance, the diagnosis of addiction focuses on five criteria:

  • loss of willpower
  • harmful consequences
  • unmanageable lifestyle
  • increased tolerance or escalation of use
  • withdrawal symptoms on quitting


According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are three goals for the treatment of persons with substance use disorders: (1) the patient abstains from or reduces the use and effects of the substance; (2) the patient reduces the frequency and severity of relapses; and (3) the patient develops the psychological and emotional skills necessary to restore and maintain personal, occupational, and social functioning.

In general, before treatment can begin, many treatment centers require that the patient undergo detoxification. Detoxification is the process of weaning the patient from his or her regular substance use. Detoxification can be accomplished "cold turkey," by complete and immediate cessation of all substance use, or by slowly decreasing (tapering) the dose that a person is taking, to minimize the side effects of withdrawal. Some substances must be tapered because cold-turkey methods of detoxification are potentially life threatening. In some cases, medications may be used to combat the unpleasant and threatening physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. For example, methadone is used to help patients adjust to the tapering of heroin use.

The most frequently recommended social form of outpatient treatment is the 12-step program. Such programs are also frequently combined with psychotherapy. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anyone, regardless of his or her religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs, can benefit from participation in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). The number of visits to 12-step self-help groups exceeds the number of visits to all mental health professionals combined. There are 12-step groups for all major substance and process addictions.

Alternative treatment

Acupuncture and homeopathy have been used to treat withdrawal symptoms. Meditation, yoga , and reiki healing have been recommended for process addictions; however, the success of these programs has not been well documented through controlled studies.


The prognosis for recovery from any addiction depends on the substance or process, the individual's circumstances, and underlying personality structure. People who have multiple substance dependencies have the worst prognosis for recovery. It is not uncommon for someone in a treatment program to have a relapse, but the success rate increases with subsequent treatment programs.

Teenager smoking crystal methamphetamine, known to cause a very strong psychological addiction to the drug. ( Houston Scott/Corbis Sygma.)
Teenager smoking crystal methamphetamine, known to cause a very strong psychological addiction to the drug.
(© Houston Scott/Corbis Sygma.)

Recovery from substance use is notoriously difficult, even with exceptional treatment resources. Although relapse rates are difficult to accurately obtain, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cites evidence that 90 percent of alcohol dependent users experience at least one relapse within four years after treatment. Relapse rates for heroin and nicotine users are believed to be similar. Certain pharmacological treatments, however, have been shown to reduce relapse rates. Relapses are most likely to occur within the first 12 months of having discontinued substance use. Triggers for relapses can include any number of life stresses (problems in school or on the job, loss of a relationship, death of a loved one, financial stresses), in addition to seemingly mundane exposure to a place or an acquaintance associated with previous substance use.


The most effective form of prevention appears to be a stable family that models responsible attitudes toward mood-altering substances and behaviors. Prevention education programs are also widely used to inform young people of the harmfulness of substance abuse.

Parental concerns

Parents and guardians need to be aware of the power they have to influence the development of their kids throughout the teenage years. Adolescence brings a new and dramatic stage to family life. The changes that are required are not just the teen's to make; parents need to change their relationship with their teenager. It is best if parents are proactive about the challenges of this life stage, particularly those that pertain to the possibility of experimenting with and using alcohol and other drugs. Parents should not be afraid to talk directly to their kids about drug use, even if they have had problems with drugs or alcohol themselves. Parents should give clear, no-use messages about smoking, drugs, and alcohol. It is important for kids and teens to understand that the rules and expectations set by parents are based on parental love and concern for their well being. Parents should also be actively involved and demonstrate interest in their teen's friends and social activities. Spending quality time with teens and setting good examples are essential. Even if problems such as substance abuse already exist in the teen's life, parents and families can still have a positive influence on their teen's behavior.


Binge drinking —Consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in a row on a single occasion.

Detoxification —The process of physically eliminating drugs and/or alcohol from the system of a substance-dependent individual.

Reiki —A form of energy therapy that originated in Japan. Reiki practitioners hold their hands on or slightly above specific points on the patient's body in order to convey universal life energy to that area for healing.



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Bill Asanjo, MS, CRC Ken R. Wells

Also read article about Addiction from Wikipedia

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