Understanding addiction

Picture of Reviewed By - Priyanka Bhattacharjee

Reviewed By - Priyanka Bhattacharjee

Priyanka Bhattacharjee, is a licensed and practicing Clinical Psychologist based in India, who has been working very closely with a variety of mental health issues across different age groups for the past 7 years. Working for the cause of mental health is her passion, and primarily advocates for primary prevention and early intervention. Her professional interest areas include diagnosis and therapy for Addiction, Personality Disorders, Mood and Affective Disorders, Children and Adolescents’ Mental Health, Couple Intervention, and Workplace Mental Health issues.

Addiction- be it chemical or behavioral addiction, entails similar neurological processing, which craves a pleasure that is artificial and has harmful consequences.

People indulge in addictive substances or behavior for various reasons. Some believe that these would help them feel relaxed, to feel livelier, and more euphoric, abstain from inhibition, and experience pleasure.

People find the effects of addiction being helpful to cope with stress.

Nobody would prefer to get addicted or experience addiction. People usually think they will indulge in addiction only when they want, but it is only over time they realize it is not that simple.

When does indulgence become a problem?

The pattern of addictive behavior- be it substance/chemical or behavior, usually begins with experimentation or out of curiosity.

Gradually when the loop of repeated use sets in, what causes the problem is the repeated use in spite of the harm caused; it’s risky usage and the loss of self-control over it.

All aspects involved in the paradigm of addiction – be it alcohol, gambling, internet usage, gaming, or porn when used under strict limits and till the time they are under the self-control of the individual, it is not likely to cause any harm.

Why is addiction a problem?

Addiction is a serious physiological and psychological condition, which draws serious medical attention.

When it comes to substance addiction, it impacts both internal functioning of the brain- causing an impact on neurological and cognitive functioning, cardiovascular, respiratory as well as gastrointestinal problems; along with severe psychiatric problems.

Whereas, in the case of behavioral addiction, since there is an absence of ingestion of a foreign element, the internal physiological effects are negligible. The physiological troubles caused are psycho-somatic in nature- meaning, they impact mental health.

But both substance/chemical addiction and behavioral addiction cause a host of socio-occupational difficulties.


Some examples are:

• physical injuries

• feelings of anxiety, irritability, or depression

• trouble thinking clearly

• blackouts

• problems with relationships

• spending money on addiction rather than on food, rent, or other essentials

• legal problems related to addiction

• loss of hope, feelings of emptiness.

What causes addiction?

When we try to understand what causes addiction, irrespective of its classification, unique bio-psycho-social factors are involved.

Addiction is a maladaptive way of coping mechanism, that a lot of people resort to. But what causes addiction cannot be attributed to just one cause, it’s a combination of numerous factors.


Genetic Factors

Some people develop an inherent vulnerability towards addiction. For instance, the risk of substance addiction is higher among people who have a parent or first-degree relatives (Glantz and Pickens 1992). However, a family history of addiction won’t necessarily contribute to someone’s addiction, although it increases susceptibility.

Personality style

When it comes to substance addiction, biological factors such as difficult temperament, high-risk taking, and low harm avoidance predisposes individuals to abuse drugs. Although there is a lack of research in regard to behavioral addition, limited studies do reveal that high-risk-taking behavior and harm avoidance personality trait, do contribute to behavioral addiction like porn addiction, and pathological gambling.

Tolerance and Dependence

Addiction has a unique impact on the brain. Substance abuse leads to physiological changes in the brain, which makes tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal occur, and this mechanism maintains drug abuse.

Addictive behavior and chemicals stimulate a feel-good factor in the brain, thus triggering a pleasure response. Addictive events stimulate dopamine secretion, which is responsible for reward and pleasure.

 Similar is the case with a behavioral addiction. The activities, which are likely to give synthetic pleasure trigger a similar neurological process in the reward circuit. Persistence reward circuit mechanism is also the cause of craving in both chemical and behavioral addictions.

Stress and coping mechanism

Using substances and maladaptive habits to cope with stress is a usual maladaptive coping strategy that people commonly resort to. Those people who have an inadequate approach to dealing with stress, often look for immediate relief of stress, without looking into the long-term resolution of the problem.

Addictive habits thus give immediate relief from stress. People often report using substances or even watching porn for de-stressing and for relaxation.

But the danger is that it causes a momentary distraction from stress or the problem, and never resolves the root cause of the stress. Hence pressure continues to remain and the individual keeps resorting to maladaptive habits and the viscous circle continues.

Whenever people experience any difficult emotion, they sort to a substance or a habit. They may find it difficult to handle and resort to addictive behavior to calm themselves down.

People also report using substances, porn, or gambling for boredom or sadness. Hence, inadequate utilization of time also leads to an addictive pattern of behavior.

Social Environment

Environment places a huge role in developing addiction- be it substance or behavior. Addictive behavior is learned and maintained through observation and imitation of parents’ addictive behavior

Apart from this parenting styles also contribute to developing addictive behaviour. Lack of adequate rules and regulations, and unsupervised use of internet often contributes to porn watching, pathological internet browsing and so on. Lack of parental supervision is also largely responsible for substance abuse.

Parents need to set a discipline mechanism to explain children growing about the consequences of rule breaking; an absence of which is often associated with developing addictive behaviour.

Families that have a lot of interparental conflict have children who are mostly occupied by themselves and glued to devices. Such children become easy prey of digital addiction, since all they have is the only digital companion.

Addiction of substance and pathological gambling are also found in families of lower Socio-Economic Status. Poverty and social disadvantage play a significant role in this context.

Peer influence works very strong in case of addiction- both substance and addictive behaviour. Case studies of addicts often indicate that the pattern of addiction began as an experiment along with peer or under peer influence. Thus, peer influence also works in maintaining the addictive behaviour.

Why and how addiction cause is a tricky question, but there are certain factors- called the risk factors, which increase the susceptibility of developing addiction, and on the other hand there are factors which has prevent people from developing an addiction of any sort- and hence called as protective factors.

The risk factors for causing addiction in youth include:

• any sort of addiction like alcohol or other drug, or addictive behaviour that run among family members

• poor school performance

• poverty, family conflicts, chaos or stress

• having friends who are into addiction of any kind- substance/chemical or pathological behaviour.

• not fitting in socially, or being excluded because of race, ethnicity,

• gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities or other factors

• emotional, physical or sexual abuse

• experiencing discrimination or oppression.

The protective factors for substance use problems in youth include:

• having a positive adult role model (e.g., a parent, relative or


• good parental or other caregiver supervision

• having a strong attachment to family, school and community

• having goals and dreams

• being involved in meaningful and well-supervised activities (e.g.,

sports, music, volunteer work).


Our experts continually monitor the wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

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Picture of Priyanka Bhattacharjee

Priyanka Bhattacharjee

Priyanka Bhattacharjee, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, has dedicated over seven years to addressing diverse mental health issues across age groups. A gold medalist in her master's program in Clinical Psychology, her expertise spans Addiction, Personality Disorders, Mood and Affective Disorders, and Children and Adolescents' Mental Health. Passionate about mental health advocacy, she focuses on primary prevention and early intervention. Priyanka also specializes in Couple Intervention and Workplace Mental Health issues, contributing significantly to the field.

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