What is addiction?
Let me start by sharing a working definition of addiction, that I have found most helpful of recent. Young, Yue, and Ying (2011) define addictions as ‘the habitual compulsion to engage in a certain activity or utilise a substance, notwithstanding the devastating consequences on the individual’s physical, social, spiritual, mental, and financial well-being’ (p.6). By developing a pseudo coping mechanism the addict defends against facing life’s challenges, daily stress and past or current trauma. Although the addictive substance of choice offers the user a pleasurable effect, in its absence an anxiety develops which in turn attracts the user to eliminate its presence by further consumption of the substance, thus giving rise to compulsive behaviour. Psychological dependence is typically an inevitable consequence of both substance and behavioural addiction.
The ‘classic’ components of an addiction cycle are:
- Mood modification (i.e. engagement with a substance or behaviour leading to favourable change in emotional states);
- Salience (i.e. behavioural, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation);
- Tolerance (i.e. ever increasing use of a substance or a behaviour over time);
- Withdrawal symptoms (i.e. experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms after withdrawal or cessation);
- Conflict (i.e. interpersonal and intrapsychic problems ensue because of usage); and
- Relapse (i.e. sudden reversion to excessive usage after an abstinence period).
In the future articles I will share my thinking on different types of addiction, starting with so called behavioural addictions e.g. sex, gambling, and internet addiction. I will make the case that we are all addicts of some description, we just choose the 'most fitting' addictions, either consciously, or subconsciously.
About the author:
Dr Matthew Shorrock is Clinical Director at the International Centre for Internet Addiction, offering face-to-face assessment, research and treatment services at dedicated centres in Austria (Vienna) and the United Kingdom Manchester, but also online.
Shorrock, M. P. (2014). The Noose and the Net: Confessions of an Internet Addict. The Transactional Analyst (4), 1, 15-19.
Young, K. S., Yue, X. D., & Ying, L. (2011). Prevalence estimates and etiologic models of Internet addiction. In K. S. Young & C. N. Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction - A Handbook and Guide to Evaluation and Treatment. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.