What Is the Definition of Addiction?

Parents might struggle to understand what addiction is. Defining addiction can be complicated and even somewhat subjective. Overall, addiction can be determined by what is not happening due to addictive behavior. When defined broadly like this, you can see that addiction can span several actions besides drugs and alcohol. People can become addicted to behaviors like cutting, promiscuity, or spending all their time on social media. Addictions can also stem from otherwise healthy behaviors, such as excessive work-outs due to body image issues. 

Aaron Huey of Fire Mountain and Dr. Hans Watson discuss addiction on the “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast episode, “What is Addiction?” They talk about the roots of addiction and try to answer the question, “Is addiction a disease?” The common thread throughout the discussion is that addiction is usually rooted in the need to escape something. The “something” can be tangible or intangible. Perhaps the person is running from their emotions or responsibilities. They might be hiding from other people and excessively using electronic devices to connect with something. Your child might develop an addiction to avoid a misguided feeling of danger about their emotions or the world at large.

The Brain Misinterprets Danger

Your brain excels at ensuring that you get out of danger and remain safe. However, the same mind that gets you out of harm’s way can also misinterpret danger and create irrational fears or beliefs. Your child might feel threatened by something that they can work through. They might perceive social situations as “dangerous” if they experience social anxiety. The anxious feelings become interpreted by the brain as danger, whether the “danger” is life-threatening or not. As far as your child is concerned, this threat is real and alarming. Why would their body react with such a negative response to something that is not threatening? Your child’s brain might be looking toward anything that might be a threat and feel overwhelmed about the world.

Simplified Behavior Theories: Obtaining and Avoiding

Most of your child’s behavior consists of either avoiding (escaping) something or obtaining (getting) something. You can reduce much of human behavior to these two motives. When you want something, you take action to obtain the object or the feeling. If you want to experience something exciting, you might go to an amusement park. When you see a new product on television, you might budget your money to get the desired object. You work hard to support your family by receiving a paycheck. If your child wants an object at the store, they might have a tantrum as a strategy to obtain the item.

Avoidance and escape have opposing results driving the behavior. You might work late to avoid an argument with your partner. Not sharing your opinion during a business meeting might be to avoid the discomfort of public speaking. Your child might fake a stomach ache to avoid going to school. Addiction can be a means of escape by distraction; whether it’s a substance or an action, the motive is usually to escape some sort of perceived danger. Your child may be cutting themselves to avoid feelings of distress. They might glue themselves to their phones to avoid connecting with others if they lack the skills. They may remain in bed all day or isolate themselves to avoid facing others when depressed. You can think of addiction as a behavioral strategy that begins with a need to avoid something.

Biological Components: Is Addiction a Disease?

You might think of addiction as a disease; however, the answer may be more complicated than that. While genetic predispositions exist or other people have an increased risk of addiction, the addictive behaviors need some motivation to begin. Once the behavior is strongly reinforced and becomes a habit, chemical and physical changes can occur in the brain. When the person becomes physically addicted, then you might think of addiction as a disease. The best answer to the question, “Is addiction a disease?” is that addiction is a little more than a disease. The beginnings may be rooted in avoiding a perceived threat. Yet, as the behavior forms into a habit, the physical aspect can take hold, like a disease.

If your child is struggling with an addiction, both behavioral and physical factors can contribute. They might begin their habit as a means of escape, and then the physical dependence occurs. Treating addiction requires an understanding of the physical aspect of withdrawals as well as an understanding of the underlying escape issues.

Defining the word “addiction” can be challenging. Addiction can be complicated and rooted in both behavioral and biological contexts. While a person might begin their addiction as a means of escaping perceived dangers, they can become physically dependent upon a substance or a maladaptive behavior for self-regulation. Kids might need to work on their underlying issues while also managing the physical withdrawal symptoms. As parents, we need to recognize both of these factors playing into addiction. Our kids might fear situations or emotions and use addiction to cope with this fear. Addiction can be a distraction from the real problems and a lack of connection. By providing unconditional love and support, parents can help children work on their weaknesses and build strengths. If your child is struggling with addiction, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help. Call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest!

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