What is Addiction?

Are you addicted to Quick and Dirty Tips?  To Alcohol?  To World of Warcraft?  If so, this article is for you!

Rob Lamberts, MD
5-minute read
Episode #27

I have gotten some really nice notes from readers who enjoy these articles. It’s a real thrill to hear that kind of thing (although I do think they may need a medication adjustment). Some people have gone so far as to say that they are “addicted” to my articles. Addicted? Really? I certainly hope not.

To make sure I am not causing significant harm to those readers, I decided to cover the subject of addictions. It’s a subject people get confused about or sometimes ignore when they shouldn’t.

What is Chemical Dependency?

To understand the idea of addiction, I need to first define two terms: chemical dependency and addiction. The terms are often interchanged, and this creates a lot of confusion.

Chemical dependency is a physical phenomenon where the body reacts to the prolonged presence of a substance. Two things have to happen for chemical dependency to exist:

Your body has built a tolerance: Building tolerance is when your body grows less sensitive to something. To get the same effect from that substance, more of it needs to be taken in. You experience withdrawal when you stop using the substance: Withdrawal is a physical reaction that happens when the substance is abruptly stopped.

An Example of Chemical Dependency

Let me give two good examples of chemical dependency: coffee and nose spray. When I first started drinking coffee, I really felt the caffeine after only drinking a single cup. As the years have passed, however, it takes 2 or 3 (or 10) cups to get me going in the morning. That is tolerance. Now, if I miss my morning coffee, I not only get really grumpy, I get a bad headache. That is withdrawal.

Decongestant nasal sprays do the same. If you use sprays like Afrin for more than five consecutive days, you start to develop tolerance, and you get severe nasal congestion if you stop using it. That is actually a medical condition that has its very own Latin name: Rhinitis Medicamentosa. There is no Latin Term for caffeine withdrawal, but I think it should be called Headachus Starbuckatosis.

What is Addiction?

The only prerequisite for something to become the focus of an addiction is for it to give significant pleasure.

Addiction is a totally different thing. Addiction is a psychological condition where a person exhibits a behavior in a compulsive manner to such an extent that it causes physical, social, or psychological harm. It usually happens when someone wants to escape certain bad things in life; the addictive behavior briefly provides some escape and pleasure


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.