Addiction occurs when an individual becomes physically or psychologically dependent on something, such as alcohol, drugs (legal or illegal), or gambling. Individuals may become addicted to or have compulsive behaviors in regard to almost anything, including sex, food, exercise, shopping/spending money, work, and the Internet. The principles and consequences of addictions are generally the same, even if the particular addiction is different.
Substance abuse (drug addiction): Substance abuse occurs when individuals use drugs (which may or may not be illegal) for recreational purposes. Commonly abused drugs include alcohol, central nervous system stimulants (such as nicotine, caffeine, and methamphetamine), cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Drugs can be taken by mouth, injected into a vein, snorted through the nose, inhaled, or smoked.
When individuals abuse drugs, they are at risk of becoming physically and/or emotionally addicted. Over time, individuals begin to develop a tolerance for the drugs. As a result, they may start to use larger amounts of the drug more frequently. However, individuals can become addicted to substances without abusing them. Drug addictions cause compulsive drug cravings. Severe addictions may cause individuals to seek drugs, even at the expense of their jobs, families, and other important parts of their lives.
Drug addiction is considered a treatable disease if individuals want treatment and have the motivation and will power to stay sober. For many people, drug addiction is chronic, and it may last for years before they are willing and able to get help. Some individuals (not all) experience relapses after completing treatment programs.
Gambling addiction: Gambling addiction, also called compulsive gambling, occurs when individuals are unable to control their gambling behaviors. Some individuals are constantly trying to win back lost money, and they may go to extremes to hide their gambling. Others who compulsively gamble for the thrill and excitement of it, rather than for the actual winnings. Some individuals who are addicted to gambling may go to extreme lengths to perpetuate their addiction when money is scarce. In serious cases, this may include lying, stealing, cheating, or fraud.
Patients with gambling problems may develop associated conditions, such as alcohol dependence or drug addictions.
Stopping substance abuse or gambling addictions is often difficult. Fortunately, rehabilitation programs and support groups are available to help patients overcome their addictions. However, many patients relapse one or more times, even after long periods of abstinence from the drug or gambling. Support groups and social networks are available to help individuals overcome their addictions.

Related Terms

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