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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

September 27, 2023

Table of Contents

Addiction is a complex and chronic brain disease that affects a person’s behavior, thoughts, and physical well-being. It involves the compulsive pursuit and use of a substance or engagement in an activity regardless of negative outcomes. Understanding addictions can help inform appropriate and timely interventions.

Key aspects of addiction include:

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  • Compulsion and loss of control: Individuals with addiction often find themselves unable to control their consumption or engagement in a particular behavior. They may have strong cravings and a persistent desire to use the substance or engage in the activity, even when they know it is harmful.
  • Changes in brain chemistry: Addiction alters the brain’s reward system, creating imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and motivation. Over time, the brain becomes reliant on the substance or behavior to release dopamine, leading to a compulsive cycle of use.
  • Tolerance and withdrawal: With continued use, the body may develop tolerance, requiring larger amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect. When use is reduced or stopped, withdrawal symptoms can occur, ranging from physical discomfort to emotional distress. Both tolerance and withdrawal are DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for addiction.
  • Negative consequences: Despite the negative impact on various aspects of life, including relationships, health, and responsibilities, individuals with addiction struggle to discontinue their substance use or behavioral patterns.
  • Psychological aspects: Addiction often involves psychological dependence, where the substance or behavior becomes a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, emotional pain, or other challenges.
  • Chronic and relapsing condition: Addiction is chronic, meaning that it persists over time. It is also characterized by periods of relapse and remission, where individuals may experience setbacks even after periods of abstinence.

Understanding addiction as a disease helps destigmatize the condition and encourages seeking proper treatment and support, which involves comprehensive and personalized interventions to address its physical, psychological, and social aspects.

This guide addresses issues that include:

  • What is an addiction?
  • What is an addict?
  • What is the most accurate addiction definition – disorder or disease?
  • Understanding an addict and helping them engage with evidence-based addiction treatment in Southern California.

What is an Addictive Personality?

The concept of an addictive personality refers to a set of traits and behaviors that are believed to predispose certain individuals to addiction. While the idea of an addictive personality is debated within the scientific community, some characteristics are commonly associated with this concept:

  • Impulsivity: People with addictive tendencies often exhibit impulsive behavior, acting without fully considering the consequences. This impulsivity can lead to engaging in risky behaviors, including substance use.
  • Sensation-seeking: A tendency to seek out novel and intense experiences is often linked to an addictive personality. These individuals may be more prone to thrill-seeking and risk-taking behaviors.
  • Low self-esteem: Individuals with low self-esteem may be more susceptible to using substances or engaging in addictive behaviors as a way to cope with feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.
  • Difficulty coping with stress: Those with an addictive personality may struggle to cope with stress in healthy ways, turning to substances or behaviors as a means of escape or relief.
  • Impaired emotional regulation: Difficulty managing emotions and mood fluctuations can contribute to seeking substances or activities that provide temporary relief or euphoria.
  • Inability to moderate: People with addictive tendencies often find it challenging to moderate their substance use or behavior. They might have difficulty stopping once they start.
  • Family history: A family history of addiction can also be a factor in the development of addictive behaviors. Genetic and environmental factors can play a role in predisposing individuals to addiction.

The concept of an addictive personality is not universally accepted, and addiction is influenced by a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While these traits may be present in some individuals who develop addiction, not everyone with these characteristics will become addicted. Developing an awareness of the potential risk factors associated with an addictive personality can aid in prevention and early intervention efforts. If you or someone you know displays such traits and is concerned about addiction, seeking professional guidance and support is always recommended. While addiction is incurable, it is treatable.

Understanding Addiction as a Disease

Viewing addiction as a disease is a perspective that has gained traction within the medical and psychological communities over recent decades. This approach helps illuminate the complex nature of addiction and promotes a more compassionate understanding of individuals struggling with it. Here are some key elements to consider when viewing addiction as a disease:

Brain changes

Addiction fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and function. Prolonged substance use or engaging in addictive behaviors can lead to lasting alterations in the brain’s reward system, motivation, and decision-making processes.

Genetic and biological factors

Genetic predisposition plays a role in susceptibility to addiction. Some individuals may have a higher inherent risk due to their genetic makeup and how their brain responds to substances or behaviors.

Compulsive behavior

Like other chronic diseases, addiction involves compulsive behavior. Individuals experience an intense urge to use substances or engage in behaviors, even when faced with negative consequences.

Loss of control

A hallmark of addiction is the loss of control over substance use or behavior. Individuals struggle to moderate or stop despite their best intentions, further underscoring the disease aspect of addiction.

Relapsing nature

Addiction shares similarities with other chronic diseases in its pattern of relapse and remission. Relapse is common – up to 60% of those who engage with treatment relapse at least once – and it does not indicate failure. Rather, it is a typical part of the course of the disease of addiction.

Physical and psychological components

Addiction affects both the physical and psychological well-being of individuals. Withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and changes in mood are evidence of the disease’s impact on the body and mind.

Treatment and recovery

Approaching addiction as a disease highlights the importance of medical treatment, therapy, and support. Like managing any other chronic condition, individuals can learn to manage their addiction and achieve recovery.

Reducing stigma

Recognizing addiction as a disease helps reduce the stigma surrounding it. People with addiction deserve empathy and appropriate medical care, just like those with other medical conditions.

Understanding addiction as a disease shifts the focus from blaming individuals for their struggles to providing effective treatment and support. It reinforces the need for evidence-based interventions, personalized care, and a long-term approach to recovery. By destigmatizing addiction and promoting understanding, society can better assist individuals in their journey towards health and well-being.

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Common Addictions

There are many things you can be addicted to. Addiction can encompass both substance and behavioral dependencies, affecting millions of U.S. adults every year. These are the most common addictions:

  • Alcohol addiction: Alcohol is the most abused addictive substance in the United States. Excessive and chronic alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol use disorder, an addiction characterized by the inability to control drinking, increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and negative life consequences.
  • Opioid addiction: Opioids, including prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like heroin, can lead to opioid use disorder. These substances interact with the brain’s mu-opioid receptors, causing euphoria and pain relief. Opioid addiction is characterized by cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Cocaine addiction: Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that induces intense euphoria. Repeated use can lead to cocaine addiction, characterized by increased energy, heightened alertness, and intense cravings. Cocaine addiction can have severe health and social consequences.
  • Marijuana addiction: While debated, marijuana can lead to dependence for some users. Regular use can lead to the development of marijuana use disorder, marked by an inability to control consumption, cravings, and reduced motivation.
  • Methamphetamine addiction: Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, is a powerful stimulant that can lead to addiction with repeated use. Meth addiction is characterized by increased energy, heightened alertness, intense cravings, and potentially severe physical and mental health consequences. Meth addiction includes addiction to illicit crystal methamphetamine (meth) and prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin used to treat ADHD.


Is addiction a disease or disorder?

Addiction is considered both a disease and a disorder.

How is addiction a disease?

Addiction is considered a disease due to its impact on brain circuitry, reward systems, and related behaviors, often leading to cravings and continued use despite negative consequences.

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction refers to a condition where an individual compulsively seeks and uses drugs, despite adverse effects on health and well-being.

What is an addictive personality?

An addictive personality is a contested concept that suggests certain traits, like impulsivity and sensation-seeking, may predispose some individuals to addiction.

What is the definition of addiction?

Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disease involving reward, motivation, memory, and related brain circuitry, leading to compulsive behaviors and loss of control over substance use.

What is the most addictive drug?

Heroin is the most addictive drug. In 2021, 1.1 million U.S. adults reported using heroin, with over 1 million of them developing opioid use disorder (heroin addiction) in the same year.

Treatment for Addiction

Effective treatment for addiction involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of the disease. The first phase of treatment often involves medical detoxification, where the body is gradually purged of addictive substances under close medical supervision. This helps manage withdrawal symptoms and prepares the individual for further treatment in an outpatient or inpatient setting.

Behavioral therapies are commonly used to help individuals identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and modify harmful thought patterns that contribute to addiction. Examples that are proven effective for treating various addictions include:

  • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • DBT (dialectical behavior therapy)
  • CM (contingency management)
  • MI (motivational interviewing)

MAT (medication-assisted treatment combines behavioral therapy with medications that help ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms. FDA-approved medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are used for opioid addiction, while naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are indicated for alcohol addiction treatment. MAT is always more effective when combined with behavioral interventions like CBT and counseling.

One-on-one counseling sessions provide a safe space for individuals to explore their underlying emotional issues and work on developing healthier behaviors and coping mechanisms. Group therapy offers peer support and a sense of community, allowing individuals to share their experiences, learn from others, and build valuable connections.

Holistic approaches like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and mindfulness techniques can aid in managing stress, enhancing self-awareness, and promoting overall well-being.

Addiction affects not only the individual but also their loved ones. Family therapy helps address underlying family dynamics, improve communication, and rebuild supportive relationships.

For those with co-occurring mental health disorders, integrated treatment that addresses both addiction and mental health issues is vital for lasting recovery.

Every individual’s journey is unique. Tailoring treatment plans to address specific needs, triggers, and preferences increases the likelihood of positive outcomes. Recovery is an ongoing process and aftercare maximizes the chances of sustained recovery without relapse.

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Get Treatment for Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California, we specialize in providing outpatient treatment for all types of addictions and mental health conditions at our Orange County treatment center. We offer a range of outpatient treatment programs to suit your needs, including:

All Renaissance treatment programs offer personalized care, blending holistic and evidence-based interventions, including:

Take the first brave step towards your ongoing recovery by calling admissions at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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