Why did Gaylon (not her real name) wish she never accepted the casinos invitation to dinner? This housewife believes if she didn't go she never would have become addicted to gambling - an addiction that ruined her life. Gaylon turned to prostitution, drove her recovering husband back into alcoholism and stole $30,000 from her children. Rafael Rios seemed to have everything going for him. He graduated from Harvard Law School and joined a prestigious law firm in Chicago. Yet, for 18 years he shot up heroin spiked with cocaine. What made him continue this dangerous addiction for so long? Why did the star of Grace Under Fire, Brett Butler become addicted to a prescription painkiller that almost took her life? These disparate stories show that addiction in the United States is rampant. Society believes that people become addicted because of weakness of will when, in fact, the new way of thinking leads us to believe addictive behavior is caused by a chemical in the brain called dopamine.
The word addiction comes from two Latin words ad dictum. Ad dictum means "to the dictator". When people were captured and sent into slavery, they were sent ad dictum. This idea of enslavement is mirrored by the addict's need to maintain the addiction (. Before we can understand why addiction is the number one social and health problem in the United States, a definition of addiction needs to be established (Experience 12). It is important to remember no one thing can explain addiction. Factors include personalities, culture, environments, substances and behaviors (Rodgers 5). The definition of addiction varies depending on who is being asked. A sociologist may say addiction is caused by poverty, while psychologists will say personality traits and character are the cause of addictive personalities. Politicians will say it's a problem of self-control. A biologist will claim it's all in the genes and heredity and an anthropologist says it's culturally determined (Rodgers 3). Webster's defines addiction as a physical or psychological dependence on a substance or behavior. The fact is we are all interdependent on each other and our environment. Problems arise when we become too independent or too dependent. The addiction seems to "help" the person avoid painful feelings. It becomes a form of "self-medication to the individual so the drugs correct chemical imbalances and bring a feeling of relief" feel less pleasure and more addicted (Dowling 152). The addiction leads to a feeling of "I don't care as long as I can...", even when the addict knows they may be hurting themselves or others. The addict is the person who can't say "no". Addiction is considered to be a "chronic, progressive and potentially fatal behavior" (Griffin-Shelley 7). An addict will never be cured of the addiction for the rest of their life. Due to high rates of relapse, addictive behaviors are considered chronic. Addictions are considered progressive because it takes several months or years to become addicted and it gradually gets worse and worse. An addiction doesn't happen overnight. Finally an addiction may be considered fatal because the addict allows the addiction to control everything they do; their life revolves around it (Griffin-Shelley 7). Another way of defining addiction is by looking at the common characteristics of addictions.
For the most part, experts believe that there are some common characteristics that are attributed to different addictions. The following characteristics do not follow through for every single addict and for all addictions but are fairly common occurrences overall.
- The substance or activity trigger feelings of pleasure or changes in emotions.
- The body develops a physical tolerance to the substance or activity so that the addicts must take larger and larger amounts to get the same effects.
- If the addict stops the substances or activity they feel painful feelings of withdrawal.
- Addiction always causes changes in the brain varying from physiological changes, chemical changes, physical changes and behavioral changes.
- Addictions always take up most of the persons' time and energy and are marked with a gradual obsession of the behavior.
Now that we have identified what addiction is and the characteristics of an addiction one may wonder what is responsible for these behaviors. What makes a behavior that may be classified as "enjoyable" to one individual and classified as addictive to another?