A Clear Definition of Addiction

Author - JD Meints | December 12, 2014

When most people think of addiction, they might picture having a compulsion towards either drugs or alcohol. However, an individual can develop an addiction to anything really, anything that creates a feeling of euphoria and stimulates the same physiological responses as a drug might.

There is a typical cycle that gets developed, in which the substance or behavior that leads to a highly positive experience. An addiction is alive in one's life when he or she believes that the drug is necessary in order to achieve the psychological results. It's an easy cycle to get into. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM) explains that the activation of the brain's reward system is the key to drug addiction. A psychological dependence is the need for a particular substance because it causes enjoyable mental effects. One has lost his or her power to the drug, feeling the need to take it in order to avoid certain inner experiences and create new ones.

In May 2013, the American Psychological Association published a new edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standardized text and clinical reference used by psychologists and therapists across North America to diagnose their clients. The manual includes the names, features, symptoms, and demographical information on all the recognized mental illnesses, including addictions.

Although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors and any activity that become the sole focus of one's life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. According to the American Psychological Association, there is evidence that points to behaviors, such as gambling, having the same high, or rush in the brain, similar to the use of drugs. In that way, addictions can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create.

For this reason, the new version of the DSM, the fifth edition, includes a non-substance addiction diagnosis, for gambling, but also for any behavior that an individual has lost power over, such as shopping, sexual activity, or Internet use.

Previously, gambling or other behavioral addictions were categorized under Impulse Control Disorders. However, the recent version of the DSM now places non-substance addictions under a catchall category called “Behavioral Addiction, Not Otherwise Specified (NOS).

Despite the recent recognition in the new DSM, behavioral addictions are still seen by some clinicians as not constituting as a traditional addiction. This continues to be an issue of controversy within the mental health field. Nonetheless, below is a list of various types of behavioral addictions along with a description.


Research indicates that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the Internet. However, addictions to Internet use are not as prevalent in the United States as they are in other countries. Typical signs that an adolescent has an Internet addiction include difficulty completing daily tasks, academic performance declining, losing track of time on the Internet, isolation from friends and family, and experiencing euphoria with Internet use.


When teens lose their ability to limit their playing and spending habits, an addiction might be setting in. According to YouthGambling.com, 4-7% of teens exhibit gambling addiction behavior, which include enjoying the rush of gambling; using the earnings of a win to stay in the game, versus walking away, and relies on loans from friends and families; doing anything to stay in the game and continue to gamble; focusing on winning big and will continue to play despite continued losses; and playing online, maxing out credit cards, if necessary, to continue to play.


An addiction with sex includes compulsive behavior where there is a loss of control and an adolescent spends large amounts of time engaging in sexual-related activity to the point where he or she is neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities. An addiction to sex includes obsessive thoughts about sex that disrupt functioning at school, home or at the work place; an inability to refrain from viewing pornography or engaging in sexual behavior; and avoiding time with friends or other typical teen activities to instead spend time on the computer or have sexual encounters.


Sadly, of all the addictions, it is the most reinforced by the media, advertising, billboards, and consumerism in general. About 6% of the U.S. population has a shopping addiction, which usually begins in late adolescence. A shopping addiction becomes the main way a person might be coping with stress to the point when it becomes excessive, severely affecting finances, relationships, and functioning.

The benefit of learning about addictions is that it might provide information on whether a problem exists. Of course, if there is any suspicion that you or someone you know has an addiction, the best next step is to seek the assistance of a mental health professional.

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