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The Psychology of Addiction and Its Various Forms

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Addiction is a problem for many people. It comes in various forms like alcoholism, drug overuse, gambling, food addiction, and even shopping. Addiction is often described as a chronic brain dysfunction where the affected person loses control and gets trapped into using the substance.

The psychology of addiction can be complex. Many believe it is a weakness, while others think it can be a disease. There are various contributing factors like family history, genetics, environment, relationships, and financial status. Its roots can be both emotional and physical.

What is addiction?

Addiction can be defined as a lack of control, where the person cannot stop using a substance that can cause both physical and psychological harm. It refers to dependence on substances like alcohol, nicotine, and heroin. Addictions also involve activities like gambling, shopping, and even work. It can be a chronic condition from taking medicines as well. For example, in the US alone in 2019, the misuse of opioids caused almost 50,000 deaths.

Human psychology and addiction are deeply related. The affected person realizes his/her present condition, may want to come out of it, but could still remain trapped. At other times, the affected person may not even realize that the addiction is causing problems to themselves and others because it affects the executive functions of the brain in the prefrontal cortex. Addictions can cause other complexities too. For instance, it can increase the risk of a mental health condition like anxiety and depression.

Causes of addiction

There is never just one cause of addiction. There can be several factors:

Biological factors

This includes the influence of genes, factors that cause physiological addiction, and also gender.

  • Genes. Many scientists believe that our genes account for about 50% of the risk of developing a substance abuse. For instance, variations in individual genes can affect how the brain receptors will react to the neurotransmitter dopamine. How the body’s hormones will react to stress may also depend on the genes.
  • Liver enzymes. How the liver enzymes will metabolise substances can influence the risk of alcohol abuse.
  • Gender. It has been seen that males have a higher risk of becoming an addict. However, in recent years, this gap between males and females is narrowing. Also, females have a higher risk of intoxication at a lower dose.

Psychological factors

The psychology of addiction is not always easy to understand. But everyone agrees that abuse, trauma, personality, and mental health factors can all contribute.

  • Personality. Sensation seeking and impulsivity have both been linked to substance abuse. Impulsivity is especially related to a higher risk of relapse.
  • Abuse and trauma. Exposure to negative life experiences can contribute towards the substance abuse disorder. It depends on the coping ability of the person.
  • Mental health factors. Conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD or posttraumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit disorder will increase the risk. There is also a higher risk if the person is not able to manage strong emotions efficiently.

Environmental factors

There are many environmental factors too that can cause addiction, like

  • Family. Strong relationships within the family can protect against addiction. On the other hand, there are many circumstances or how the family functions that can contribute to a higher risk. For example, the risk will be higher if there is a sibling or parent who has the addiction problem. The lack of parental support or supervision can similarly increase the risk. Similarly, troubled relationship with a parent, divorce, physical, emotional, sexual abuse can also contribute.
  • Accessibility. Whether the substance or alcohol is easily accessible or not at work or the community.
  • Peer group. Humans are social animals. So, we get strongly influences by our peers. We can develop habits to come close to them, to get accepted in certain social groups. This happens more during adolescence.
  • Employment status. Not having a job, not being satisfied with the job, workplace stress, and not having enough money can all be contributing factors.

Cannabis addiction

Marijuana, weed or cannabis is a widely used drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that around 9 percent of those who take weed can become addicted to it, which means, they cannot stop taking cannabis even when it causes negative effects on their health, relationships, career, and finances. Addiction to cannabis is not linked with overdose death like some other drugs. However, when overdone, it can cause serious side effects.


Marijuana addiction may affect the central nervous system, which produce sensations of mild euphoria, relaxation, and increased appetite. Occasionally, you can smoke pot without any serious health consequence. In some situations, it can even be useful. For example, it is reported to improve lung capacity, provide relief from chronic pain, can regulate seizures, can reduce anxiety, slows down the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and can improve the symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms of cannabis addiction

However, overuse or misuse can cause addiction to cannabis and many negative effects. Cannabis addiction symptoms will vary for everyone.

  • Behavioural symptoms. This includes frequent absence from school or work, reduced performance, low interest in events or activities, secrecy and lying, possession of water pipes, rolling papers and other such things.
  • Physical symptoms. This includes dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, always feeling fatigues, sudden increase in appetite, feeling sleepy excessively, poor co-ordination, impaired balance, and lack of hygiene or attention.
  • Mental symptoms. Common mental symptoms include delayed responsiveness, problems in focusing or concentrating, indecisiveness, poor judgment, irritability, agitation, paranoia, and dramatic swings in the mood.
  • Social symptoms. Withdrawing from friends and family is a common social symptom of cannabis addiction.


Both substance abuse and cannabis addiction are treatable. Common treatments include detoxification under supervision, motivational interviewing or counseling, group therapy, family therapy that is useful for repairing damage in family relationships, CBT or Cognitive Behavior Therapy, the use of medications that will counter the use of the substance, and also life skills training.


However, often, treatment is a long-term process. Several attempts may have to be made before the addiction problem is solved. An effective treatment plan will address both management and prevention of a relapse.

Alicia Saville did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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