What are addictions?

Addictions are compulsions to use and abuse things to an excessive and destructive extent. These compulsions are very powerful and produce a life-threatening and self-perpetuating process that can end in disability or death for the sufferer, as well as cause family members and loved ones pain and suffering.

Addictions can produce major life consequences, such as loss of a job and financial trouble, worsening of negative personality traits, loss of other interests, and repetitive relapsing, possibly ending in death. Genetic and familial influences are often present. The illness or disease lies in the loss of control, the unpredictability, and the unwanted consequences, as well as in the psychological and physical destruction involved.

Who can become addicted?

Nearly anyone can become addicted, and addictions are the most common public mental health problem in the United States. Nearly 22 percent of the general population in the U.S. can expect to have a significant problem with substance misuse or abuse at some point in their lives.

What are the most common symptoms of addictions?

  • Family complaints, leading to estrangement and eventually divorce
  • Work problems including absenteeism, loss of interest in work, job loss
  • Financial problems, unpaid bills, and bankruptcy
  • Personality changes
  • Physical deterioration

What are the most frequently seen addictions?

People can become addicted to:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Sex
  • Food
  • Gambling

What are the most commonly used addictive drugs?

Addictive drugs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Tranquilizers (Valium type, Xanax)
  • Sleeping pills
  • Pain medications (opiate-like)
  • Cough medicines (codeine)
  • Hallucinogens (PCP, LSD)
  • Stimulants (diet pills, amphetamines)

What does addiction research show?

  • Supports genetic predisposition (A person's tendency for developing an addiction may be inherited.)
  • Identifies cellular reward systems in the brain (Addiction causes a physical change in the way the brain functions.)
  • Offers hope for medication and treatment

What does treatment do?

  • Interrupts the life-threatening, self-perpetuating cycle
  • Promotes abstinence (Cutting down doesn't work.)
  • Removes the sick thinking
  • Provides a new way to think, feel, and act
  • Overcomes avoidance, stigma, and shame
  • Provides constantly available support and help
  • Clears up physical consequences to the body
  • Fosters social rebuilding of shattered lives and families
  • Provides connections to support systems such as family, church, and peer recovery groups


© Copyright 1995-2017 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/29/2014...#6407