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Everything You Need To Know About the 5 Most Common Addictive Disorders

By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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Addictive Disorders

Addictive disorders are conditions in which individuals engage in the use of substances or behaviors for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. 

Addictive disorders may involve the use of substances such as inhalants, alcohol, cocaine, opioids, nicotine, and others, or behaviors such as gambling or compulsive internet use. 

There is scientific evidence supporting the idea that addictive behaviors and substances share a fundamental neurobiological feature – they intensely activate brain pathways of reinforcement and reward, many of which affect the neurotransmitter dopamine.[1][2][3][4]

Many clinical studies showed a link between both gambling behaviors and substance use disorders and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression or other pre-existing problems.[5][6][7]

Gambling disorders and substance use not only involve many of the same brain mechanisms of compulsivity, but they also respond to many of the same methods of treatment.

There is no one cause for these addictive disorders.[8] Although genetic or other biological factors may add to vulnerability to the condition, many psychological, social, and environmental factors have a strong influence on substance use.[9] There is no one personality type associated with addiction, either. The lack of ability to tolerate anxiety or other strong feelings can usually be linked to an addictive disorder.

What Are Addictive Disorders?

Addictive Disorders

Addictive disorders are complex brain diseases that manifest by compulsive substance use despite adverse consequence.[10] Individuals with an addictive disorder (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using certain substances, such as drugs or alcohol, to the point that it takes over their life. 

These individuals will keep using drugs or alcohol even when they acknowledge continued use will cause further problems. Yet many powerful therapies are available, and people can recover from addiction and lead healthy, productive lives.

People can develop an addiction to marijuana, alcohol, LSD, PCP, and other inhalants (such as paint thinners and glue), hallucinogens, sedatives, hypnotics, opioid painkillers (such as codeine and oxycodone, heroin), and anxiolytics (medicines for anxiety such as tranquilizers), methamphetamine, cocaine, and tobacco… and the list goes on.

Individuals with addictive disorder have distorted behavior, thinking, and body functions. Recent brain imaging studies reveal changes in the areas of the brain that relate to decision making, judgment, memory, learning, and behavior control.[11][12][13] And these changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have extreme cravings for the drug and make it difficult to quit using the substance.

These substances can cause dangerous changes in how the brain functions, changes that will last for an extended period of time after the immediate effects of the drug are gone – the intoxication. Intoxication is the deep calm, pleasure, a high, or increased senses, all caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms will differ from one substance to another.

Even more interesting is how the brain reacts to these substances over time. Individuals with an addictive disorder will build up a tolerance, meaning they will need increasing amounts of these substances to feel the same effects again. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people use drugs for a number of reasons, including to feel good (feeling of pleasure, “high”), to feel better (e.g., relieve stress), to do better (improve performance), curiosity, or peer pressure.[14]

Many individuals with addictive disorders are aware of their problem but are unable to quit it even if they want to. And the longer this addiction exists, the more problems it will cause, ending up with problems at work and with friends and family members as well as severe health concerns. The misuse of alcohol and drugs collectively, are the leading cause of preventable illnesses and premature death.

5 Most Common Addictive Disorders

Some health issues seem destined to come in pairs. Allergies often come hand in hand with asthma and heart disease usually follows a diagnosis of diabetes. A similar sort of joining effect sometimes takes hold when an addictive disorder is in play. In fact, it’s quite common for some drugs to be entangled with specific mental health disorders.

Five of the most common addiction/mental health combinations in play today include:

1) Marijuana Addiction and Schizophrenia

Marijuana Addiction and Schizophrenia

It’s not uncommon for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia to develop an addictive disorder as well. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that about 50% of all people with schizophrenia also have an addictive disorder. However, there’s a particularly striking connection between schizophrenia and marijuana abuse.[15]

Scientists don’t know why individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia would abuse this drug, as it seems to create many similar symptoms of those experienced when in the middle of a schizophrenic episode, but it is obvious that marijuana abuse is at least somewhat normal in those who have schizophrenia.

2) Alcoholism and Antisocial Personality Disorder

Alcohol abuse is linked to some mental health concerns, including dementia, mania, drug addiction, and schizophrenia. In a study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is shown how antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) has the closest link with alcoholism.[16] 

According to this study, individuals who drink to excess on a regular basis are 21 times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder when compared to people who don’t have alcoholism. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Often, the two disorders develop early in life, but alcoholism can make the underlying mental illness graver, as individuals who are intoxicated might have lowered restraints, which makes their antisocial behaviors more common.

3) Cocaine Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Cocaine Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Individuals who use cocaine often take the drug because it makes them feel powerful and euphoric. However, extended use appears to lead to symptoms that are more characteristic of an anxiety disorder, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, suspiciousness, and violence. More worrisome is the fact that the damage lingers, and the unusual behaviors and thoughts stick around even when sobriety has taken hold.

4) Heroin Addiction and Depression

Heroin abuse is another type of addictive disorder that can result in long-lasting adverse effects on the brain.[17][18]

While in the short-term heroin abuse can make users feel exceptionally pleasant, long-time users can burn out the parts of the brain responsible for creating signals of joy, satisfaction, and happiness. In time, heroin abuse can result in the form of brain damage that leads to anxiety and depression. 

Users will end up physically incapable of feeling joy, satisfaction, and happiness unless the heroin is present. This mental illness/drug partnership is remarkably common, but thankfully, it can be corrected with sobriety and proper treatment.

5) Opioid Addiction and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness[19] that takes hold in the aftermath of a severe episode in which the person was either facing death or watching someone else die. Often, people who survive these episodes emerge with severe physical injuries, and often, those injuries are treated with prescription painkillers. 

These drugs can also boost feelings of pleasure and calm inside the brain, and sometimes people who have PTSD are moved to abuse their drugs to experience euphoria. Individuals in physical pain do need help to overcome that pain, but combining painkillers with post-traumatic stress disorder can result in a tragic outcome that no one wants.

What Is Internet Addiction?

Internet Addiction Disorder, also commonly referred to as Problematic Internet Use (PIU), Compulsive Internet Use (CIU), or “iDisorder” is a relatively new addictive disorder that affects more and more people every year.[20][21][22]

Internet Addiction Disorder can usually be observed in people who play video games on the Internet in excess, are compulsively online shoppers, or just can’t stop checking Facebook or other social media. This excessive computer use will interfere with their daily life – relationships, work, school.

Discussed initially as a “real thing,” it was satirically theorized as a disorder by Dr. Ivan Goldberg, M.D. in 1995.[23] Dr. Goldberg linked its original model to pathological gambling. Since this hoax of sorts, the disorder has rapidly gained ground and has been given serious attention from many mental health counselors, researchers, and medical doctors as a genuinely debilitating addictive disorder.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) does not recognize Internet Addiction as an official addictive disorder.[24] However, its predominance in European, American, and even Asian cultures is staggering. 

Recent data shows that Internet Addiction affects up to 8.2% of the general population.[25] Furthermore, other reports suggest that up to 38% of the general population is affected in one way or another by this addictive disorder. 

Internet Addiction Family

The broadly variable difference in prevalence percentages might be contributed to the fact that no accurate and standardized criteria have been selected for Internet Addiction Disorder. The disorder is researched differently among mental health professionals and scientists. And, it is studied differently across ethnic cultures.

It has been accepted by scientists, however, that Internet Addiction is only a subset of technology addiction in general. As the name suggests, its concentration is on compulsion with the Internet – as other areas of media addiction can be seen in radio addiction, television addiction, and other types of media addiction. 

Due to the explosion of the digital age, Internet Addiction Disorder has taken the reigns as the top culprit is technology addiction as of late. The troubling thing about this disorder is that if you are suffering from it, you are endlessly surrounded by technology. 

In the digital age, the Internet has taken over. Most of what we do, as a general population, can be done on the Internet.

However, just because you use the Internet a lot – shop online frequently, watch a lot of YouTube videos, or like to connect with other people on various social media does not mean you suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder. The problem comes when these activities begin to hinder your daily life.

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