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  • Writer's pictureDr. Harold Pierre

You May Have an Addiction and Not Know It

Updated: Jan 17

You'll be shocked by how common addiction is now. If we look closely at folks around us, nearly half show some addictive behavior. From the morning coffee we can't start without going out of control shopping for stuff we don't need, addictions are everywhere if we know the signs. In this article, I want to open your eyes to addiction's many faces, what makes regular people like you and me get trapped in its grip, and most importantly, the roads that lead out of addiction back to freedom and joy. My hope is anyone struggling with addiction will see they aren't alone. Help is out there. Together, armed with knowledge and care, we can reclaim so many valued lives. Addiction thrives in darkness and dies in light. By reckoning with it boldly yet tenderly, we can banish its power and revive so many wounded souls. There is always hope, even in what seems utterly hopeless.

Addiction: Girl Trapped by Addictions to Food, drugs, Computer and Other Devices

What is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as the inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior, even when there are negative consequences. The key features of addiction include:

  • Compulsive engagement in the behavior despite attempts to stop

  • Impaired control over the behavior

  • Cravings and urges to engage in the behavior

  • Persistence of the behavior despite knowledge of harm

  • Prioritizing the behavior over other activities

  • Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a chronic brain disease, similar to other diseases like diabetes and hypertension. How does it happen? Addiction forms through a tangled mix of changes inside the brain itself, the genes we inherit, all we experience in life, and the world around us. It's complex for sure. But understanding addiction starts with seeing it as a health condition, not a choice.

Common Types of Addiction

There are many different substances and behaviors that can become addictive. The most common addictions include:

Substance Addictions (Substance Abuse Disorders)

  • Tobacco: Nicotine in tobacco products like cigarettes is highly addictive. Up to 15% of American adults are addicted to nicotine.

  • Alcohol: Around 10% of American adults meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Alcohol addiction involves compulsive drinking despite negative effects.

  • Illicit drugs: Addiction to illegal drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine affects approximately 5% of American adults. Marijuana addiction is also common.

  • Prescription drugs: Pain medications, sedatives, and stimulants also carry a high risk of addiction, especially with prolonged use.

Behavioral Addictions

  • Gambling: Gambling addiction affects about 2% of American adults. It involves extreme preoccupation with gambling and inability to stop despite financial losses.

  • Internet: Internet addiction is estimated at 2% among American adults. It may involve addiction to online gaming, social media, pornography, or other online activities.

  • Shopping: Compulsive shopping and buying affect approximately 6% of American adults. It is characterized by excessive shopping despite financial consequences.

  • Sex: Sex addiction is estimated at 3% among adults. It involves excessive, risky sexual activities that lead to emotional, social, or physical harm.

  • Food: Binge eating disorder (BED) has a prevalence of 2% in American adults. It involves loss of control over eating, eating unusually large amounts of food, and distress over eating.

  • Work: Work addiction or workaholism affects around 10% of American adults. It involves excessive working that creates strain and interferes with family and social roles.

  • Exercise: Exercise addiction is estimated at 3% among adults. It is characterized by compulsive exercising that leads to physical injury or emotional distress.

Overlapping and Co-Occurring Addictions

Research shows that addictions often overlap and co-occur. For example:

  • 50% of alcohol addicts also have nicotine addiction

  • 20% of drug addicts have alcohol addiction

  • 20% of gambling addicts use illicit drugs

  • 25% of food addicts have another addiction like drug use

This is because addictions affect similar brain circuits and may serve similar functions for susceptible individuals. People with certain risk factors may be prone to multiple addictions over their lifetime.

Causes and Risk Factors for Addiction

Addiction results from a complex interplay of biological (brain chemistry), psychological, social factors, and varies person to person. Key risk factors include:

Genetic Factors

  • Genetic predisposition accounts for 40-60% of addiction vulnerability

  • Children of addicts have 2-10 times higher risk of developing an addiction

Brain Biology

  • Addictive drugs flood the brain's reward circuit with dopamine

  • Repeated overstimulation of this circuit leads to adaptations that perpetuate addiction

Psychological Factors

  • Mental health conditions like depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) increase addiction risk

  • Impulsivity, risk-taking, and sensation-seeking personality traits also raise risk

Individual's Life Experiences

  • Childhood trauma and chronic stress increase addiction vulnerability

  • Lack of parental supervision during adolescence is a risk factor

Environmental Factors

  • Peer pressure and Drug availability raise addiction risk, especially during youth

  • Low income, high drug use neighborhoods also raise risk

Development of Addiction


Addiction develops through a gradual process as recreational use transforms into compulsive behavior.

Early Use

Most people try legal drugs like alcohol during adolescence or emerging adulthood out of curiosity or peer pressure. At this stage, recreational use is occasional and controlled.

At-Risk Use

With sustained use over time, either of a legal or illegal substance, some users start showing signs of risky use, like using larger amounts or more frequently. At-risk use causes impairment or exposes the user to harm.

Problematic Use

Continued escalation of use leads to failure in major life roles like work, school, or family obligations. Relationship conflicts, financial trouble, and legal problems often ensue.


In the final stage, users become physically and psychologically addicted, showing compulsive use, cravings, and loss of control. They continue using despite physical, social, legal, and financial consequences. Addiction is a chronic condition.

For behavioral addictions like gambling, the progression is similar - from experimental to recreational to at-risk to problematic and finally compulsive behavior with extreme life disruption.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Addiction?

Common signs and symptoms of addiction across drugs and behaviors include:

  • Failed attempts to cut back or quit

  • Spending excessive time and resources on the addiction

  • Powerful cravings and urges to engage in the addictive behavior

  • Continuing use despite physical, social, legal, and financial harm

  • Neglect of responsibilities and obligations

  • Risky use like drunk driving or unsafe sex

  • Relationship problems and isolation

  • Decline in performance and focus at work or school

  • Loss of interest and participation in normal healthy activities

  • Legal problems like DUIs or stealing to fund the addiction

  • Physical health impacts like weight changes or insomnia

  • Tolerance, needing more of the substance to get the same effect

  • Withdrawal when stopping use - depression, tremors, sweating

Recovery From Addiction

Living a balanced life concept icon. Addiction recovery steps. Creating healthy habits. Body treatment abstract idea thin line illustration. Vector isolated outline color drawing. Avoid addiction

The journey of recovery starts with one simple yet courageous step - admitting there's an addiction problem. So many deny it, hushing the truth in misguided shame or lack of awareness. But announcing "I have an addiction and need help" holds incredible power.

Consult a health provider or addiction specialist. They can diagnose addiction and develop a treatment plan.

There are many routes to recovery. Common treatment approaches include:

  • Detox - medically-assisted withdrawal to clear the substance from the body

  • Inpatient rehab - intensive residential addiction treatment

  • Outpatient programs - part-time services while living at home

  • Medications - drugs to reduce cravings and prevent relapse

  • Individual counseling - to identify roots of addictive behavior

  • Group counseling - sharing with others facing similar challenges

  • 12-step programs - gaining peer support from the recovery community

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) - learning coping strategies

  • Motivational enhancement - building readiness to change addictive habits

  • Mindfulness meditation - gaining self-awareness and impulse control

Treatment programs should address co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or trauma. Ongoing participation in peer support groups also helps maintain sobriety after finishing treatment.

There is no single path to recovery - it's a lifelong process. Lapses and relapses during treatment are common. With persistence and available social support, long-term recovery is very achievable.

I am Here to Help

I lead a team with decades of experience, a commitment to providing you with comfort, care, and respect as you navigate this challenging time in your life. We also make treatment super convenient with hours of operation that extend from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM, 7 days a week through scheduled appointments, accept most insurances, making addiction treatment accessible to practically all who call 918-518-1636. We are conveniently located in Tulsa, Oklahoma and The Woodlands, TX. We are waiting for your call.

Most Important Things to Know About Addiction

  • Addiction is more common than you may realize, affecting up to 47% of adults

  • People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors despite negative effects

  • Genetic, biological, psychological and social factors all contribute to addiction risk

  • People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviors

  • Addictions often overlap, with people becoming addicted to multiple things

  • There are many science-based treatment options available to address addiction

  • While challenging, addiction is very treatable, especially with ongoing recovery support

The first step is being honest with yourself without shame. "I have an addiction and need help" holds incredible power. It means no longer hiding, lying or pretending. It means claiming self-knowledge and seeking change. It means reaching out a hand into the darkness, trusting support will come. One leap of faith can mark the dividing line between sickness and health, self-defeat and self-mastery. So take a deep breath and make that declaration - "I need help with my addiction." You may be surprised how many hands reach back.

There are many paths to recovery for those who seek help. Treatment coupled with lifestyle changes can empower you or your loved one to gain control and live a healthy, balanced life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is addiction medicine?

Addiction medicine is the field of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of addictions. Addiction medicine specialists have extensive training to help people with substance use disorders and behavioral addictions.

What is addiction treatment?

Addiction treatment refers to the wide range of professional treatment that help people stop compulsive substance use or behavioral addictions. Under medical supervision, it often begins with detox and may involve inpatient rehab, medications, therapy, group therapy, and other recovery supports.

What are withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms occur when someone who is physically addicted to a substance like alcohol or opioids stops using abruptly. They feel sick because their body has adapted to the presence of the substance. Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the substance but may include nausea, tremors, insomnia, anxiety, and flu-like symptoms.

What does opioid refer to?

Opioids (synthetics) and opiates (natural) are drugs or compounds that bind and stimulate the opioid receptors. They include kratom, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydromorphone, codeine, morphine, heroin, tramadol, buprenorphine, etc.

How does addiction affect mental health?

Addiction negatively impacts mental health in many ways. Addictive substances exacerbate conditions like depression and anxiety. Addiction also leads to added life stress, relationship loss, financial strain, and low self-esteem which take a toll on mental health. Co-occurring mental health disorders increase addiction risk.

What is the role of the medical community?

Doctors and nurses are like your personal anti-addiction squad. They dig deep to spot any addiction habits you might have and use evidence-based science to help you kick them. Plus, they're big voices in shaping the rules about how society tackles addiction.

What are addictive disorders?

Addictive disorders is an umbrella term encompassing substance-related addictions like alcoholism as well as behavioral addictions like compulsive gambling. Addictive disorders are characterized by compulsive, continued use of substances or engagement in behaviors despite harm.

What substances are considered psychoactive?

What drugs count as psychoactive? In simple terms, any substance that changes mood, view, thoughts or actions by acting on the brain. The "highs" come in different flavors. Downers like alcohol or benzos provide a mellow, relaxed buzz. Uppers like cocaine or Adderall deliver a hyper-charged rush. Opiates like heroin or oxy deliver euphoria. Psychedelics like LSD and PCP evoke mystical experiences. Weed can inspire carefree giggles or thoughtful insight.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid 50-100 times stronger than morphine. It is approved medically for pain but also produced illegally and mixed with heroin and other drugs, increasing their potency to dangerous levels. In people with opioid use disorder, Fentanyl has caused many overdose deaths across North America.

How does addiction affect physical health?

Addiction harms physical health through direct toxicity, secondary illnesses, worse self-care, and risky behaviors. Substances like alcohol and tobacco cause organ damage over time. Injection drug use spreads infections. Heavy users often neglect exercise, nutrition and sleep. Risky sexual behaviors spread STIs.

How does the environment increase addiction risk?

Environmental factors like neighborhood disadvantage, high drug availability and use, early exposure to substances, and peer pressure can all raise addiction risk - especially for youth. A chaotic or abusive home also raises risk. On the other hand, positive community and school environments protect against addiction.

Which drugs are commonly addictive?

Some substances can be highly addictive, gripping your brain in powerful ways. These include cigarettes, alcohol, painkillers, marijuana, stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines and even party drugs like MDMA. They pull on your brain's reward system, making them hard to resist.

About the author:

Dr. Harold Pierre is a board-certified anesthesiologist and addiction medicine specialist with over 20 years of experience. He is board-certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician or another qualified medical professional. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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