We all know people with addictive behaviors such as drinking, smoking or taking drugs. In fact, you may be addicted to something yourself. Addiction is a serious health issue because most of the things we are addicted to hurt our bodies. While most people think of alcohol and drugs when they think of addiction, there can also be addictions to other substances or even activities that are harmful to us.

What Is Addiction?

There are several theories on why people become addicted to certain behaviors. Freud proposed the theory that the personality consists of three components: the id, the superego and the ego. He credited the id, the impulsive, childlike part of our personalities with being responsible for addictions. When the id is allowed to function without restraint, the result is overindulgence in activities that may be harmful to others or to the body.

Modern psychoanalysts, building Freud’s theories, suggest that substance abuse may be a defense mechanism against anxiety. These psychologists believe that we behave in addictive ways even though we know these actions are not good for us simply as a way to handle the stress of life.

While Freud’s theory laid the groundwork for later studies of addiction, it did not address the physical components of this problem.

It has long been observed that alcoholism or other addictive behaviors seem to “run in families.” Experts agree that there is probably some genetic component to addiction that is not yet fully understood. Experts also note that a predisposition to addiction for one drug seems to signal a predisposition for addiction to other drugs, possibly suggesting that the drug itself is not what drives the addiction. Rather, some theorize that the act of behaving as an addict is what is hard-wired into the genetic makeup. Some researchers are working on studies to show that a deficiency in the receptor sites of the brain may be responsible for addiction.

However, no one has ever been able to identify a particular gene associated with addiction. This leaves the field open for debate as to whether addictive behaviors are due to heredity, environment, or individual idiosyncrasies that make us unique.

What Can Be Done To Stop Addiction?

No matter what its cause, the successful treatment of addiction is based on addressing several complex factors rather than focusing on one particular trait. The National Institution on Drug Abuse recommends an approach that includes both medication and behavioral therapy. NIDA gives the following guidelines for successful drug treatment:

  • Recognize that addiction is a complex but treatable disorder
  • No single treatment will work for every patient
  • Treatment must be available. Without coverage by health insurance, many people are denied treatment for substance abuse and other addictive behaviors
  • Effective treatment works on all the issues in a person’s life, not just drug abuse
  • Patients must stay in treatment long enough for it to be effective. The most common type of therapies offer group and individual counseling combined with medication
  • Each patient’s treatment plan must be continually monitored and modified if necessary
  • Therapists and counselors must recognize that many drug addicts also have mental disorders and address those problems
  • Detox is the first stage in drug addiction but does little by itself to change behavior
  • Both voluntary and involuntary treatments have been shown to be effective
  • Treatment programs should address biological disease and should test for drug use continually.

Paying for Treatment

Getting into a treatment program may not be an easy task. Many people are waiting for places in popular programs, and many more lack the necessary funds to pay for treatment. While government agencies and some charities help to pay for this type of care, the needs far outweigh the resources.

Many employer-sponsored health care plans now include provisions for drug counseling and treatment or for psychological interventions for addictive behavior. If you have health insurance, it is very important that you read your policy carefully to understand how your company pays for your treatment. It is also important to note that if you receive treatment under a health-care plan, current laws allow the insurer to report this as a pre-existing condition. Under the new healthcare law, this type of disclosure will not bar you from obtaining healthcare insurance in the future, however.

The most important thing you can do is to take steps today to overcome your addiction before it has devastating consequences in your life. A call to a treatment facility can give you the information you need to start planning for your recovery.