What is Addiction

Over the years, my understanding of addiction was that individuals who were addicted: experience physical consequences of not receiving the drug (withdrawal symptoms), in addition to psychological changes that lead to compulsive seeking (doing anything to get more of the drug) and permanent restructuring of the brain. In other words, the fundamental characteristic of addiction is compulsive seeking. In my opinion, once an individual starts engaging in risky behaviors to obtain their drug of choice, and continue to use the drug despite negative consequence they are addicted. According to Wise and Koob (2014), addiction can be behavioral, physiological, psychological, it has stages and it begins with positive reinforcement.

The most important contributing factor to addiction is both positive and negative reinforcement. In which, according to Wise and Koob (2014), “positive reinforcement lead to the initial repetition of drug taking that becomes habitual and eventually compulsive” (p.259). I believe that positive reinforcement is where addiction starts and negative reinforcement contributes to the maintenance or repeated behaviors. In other words, we take the drug because it makes up feel “good” or “better” we are thrilled to have found something that makes us feel so great and so we want more of it. However, we continue the behaviors or drugs because without it we feel “sad” or worse than we did before taking the drugs so now we “need it” negative reinforcement.

I encourage you to look at addiction as a mental health disease that changes the individual in many ways. It changes the person’s behaviors, it changes the chemical makeup of their brain, and their thought process. Addiction affects the whole family; one addicted individual changes the family dynamics. So, understanding the mind of an addicted individual will help in how you handle and deal with addiction and the role it plays in your life.

Wise, R., & Koob, G. (2014). The development and maintenance of drug addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology, 39,  254-262.


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Tierra Youngblood-Field