What Is Addiction?

What Is Addiction?
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People suffering from addiction get intense cravings for something and lose control over their urges, despite adverse consequences. Addiction affects and changes the brain by altering the way it registers pleasure. Although overcoming addiction is difficult, it can be achieved with the right type of support.

What Are the Causes of Addiction?

The word “addiction” actually comes from the Latin term for “enslaved by.” If you have suffered from or are struggling with addiction, you can understand the significance of this linguistic connection.

Addiction manifests in the brain in three distinct ways:

  • Cravings for the object of addiction
  • Loss of control over urges to use addictive substance
  • Continuing use of addictive substance despite adverse consequences

For quite some time, experts thought that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. However, neuroimaging technologies and newer research has revealed that certain pleasurable activities, like gambling, shopping, and sex, can also impact the brain.

Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders cites multiple addictions as being tied to a specific substance or activity, consensus is emerging that these might suggest there are multiple expressions of a common underlying brain process.

A Common Problem in America

Nobody intends to develop an addiction, though many find themselves caught in its snare. The latest government statistics for addiction show that:

  • Nearly 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or other drugs
  • More than 2/3 of people with addiction abuse alcohol
  • The top 3 drugs that cause addiction are marijuana, opioid pain relievers, and cocaine

When people first started researching addiction in the 1930s, they believed that people who developed the condition were morally flawed or lacked strong willpower. In their minds, overcoming addiction involved punishment and urging the will to overcome.

Today, the scientific consensus recognizes addiction as a chronic disease that alters both the structure of the brain and its functions. Similar to how cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain and forces it to undergo a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with an increased drive toward compulsive behavior.


As addiction progresses, the brain adapts so that the sought-after substance or activity becomes less pleasurable but still enticing.

Addictive drugs and behaviors fill the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Addictive drugs can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine than natural rewards. When a person becomes addicted, their brain receptors become overwhelmed and responds by producing less dopamine. Because the brain is altered, dopamine has less impact on the reward center. In time, people with addictions usually find that the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. This effect is called developing tolerance.

Get Addiction Treatment Today

At Acceptance Recovery Center, we are here to help the people of Scottsdale and surrounding areas get the treatment they need to manage their addiction and overcome their struggles. We offer specialized plans that provide individual and group therapy, as well as other treatments to fit your specific needs.

Call to talk to our treatment professionals about how our rehabilitation program in Scottsdale can help you.

About Dr. Greg Gale, MD

Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County. Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD