Addiction is such a complicated issue, that the question of what causes it and what defines it remains somewhat unsettled, even after a century of debate and advancement in science and medicine. The psychology behind addiction covers many bases: whether it is a disease or a personal failing; the effect of lifestyle and childhood; family history and socioeconomic demographics; and the dozens of other factors that cannot be accounted for or measured.
Delving into the psychology of addiction entails understanding what the basics of addiction are. Psychology Today makes it quite simple: When a person engages in an activity that is pleasurable but cannot stop doing it, even to the detriment of everyday living (such as work, hobbies, family time, finances, etc.), and health and wellbeing suffer as a result, this behavior would be considered an addiction. A person who drinks to the point of alienating friends and family and losing a job, and continues to drink in spite of all this, is likely addicted to alcohol. Similarly, a person who has an uncontrollable need to gamble, even dipping into life savings to play, and wants to do nothing else but gamble is probably addicted to the risk (and illusion of control) of gambling.
At the root of addictive behavior is some form of emotional stress, an issue that is so deeply buried within the person’s subconscious mind that addressing it is too overwhelming or unfathomable a challenge. To ease the stress, to make it go away, pleasure is found in excess; the fun of a drunken night out or the thrill of making an expensive bet. Ceasing the behavior threatens to return thoughts to whatever that source of emotional stress is; the presence of addictive behavior suggests that there are no healthy coping mechanisms for that problem. The only mechanisms in place are distracting and unhealthy ones, like substance abuse or problem behavior. As Psychology Today says, “the focus of the addiction isn’t what matters”; what matters is the need to do something when that emotional stress makes itself felt. Some people are able to stop their drinking or compulsive behavior cold turkey because their emotional stress doesn’t manifest itself as one of those addictive behaviors; for many others, however, their drug or alcohol problem is a sign of a problem they may not even be aware that they have, and this requires long-term therapy and counseling.
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