Addiction is the condition of being incapable of resisting a particular substance or activity. It occurs when the brain becomes overdependent on instant gratification, failing to think of the best course of action in the long term. Although you might think that someone either does or does not have an addictive personality, there are actually two distinct types of addiction.
Substance addiction is the more well-known kind of addiction, and relates to addictions to substances such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Substance addiction occurs as a result of a chemical reaction, which “reprograms” the brain to a certain extent. Particular substances, such as those mentioned above, have chemicals that our bodies can become dependent on, like nicotine. As we continue to consume it, our bodies’ tolerance and dependence increases. When the substance is denied, and the body cannot produce the chemical itself, it goes into withdrawal. This is why many forms of substance addiction are treated by weaning the body onto another substance that is easier to quit.
In short, substance addiction is a result of introducing certain substances into the body and then stopping. The effects of denying this substance to the body cannot be avoided, so the best way to address addiction is never to introduce the substance in the first place.
Behavioural addiction is traditionally not spoken about as often as substance addiction, although this conversation has come to the fore in the past few years. Behavioural addiction is when a person becomes addicted to a certain behaviour, action, or pastime, regardless of what it is. This can range from gambling and sex addiction, to work and internet addiction.
Unlike substance addiction, behavioural addiction is more difficult to prevent. This is because it’s easy to know that we run the risk of becoming a smoker if we try a cigarette, but becoming addicted to a behaviour is something that happens over time, not as a result of one incident. On the other hand, the lack of chemical addiction means that the body will not go into withdrawal in the same way. Behavioural addiction is therefore treated primarily with therapy that aims to teach people how to identify when they are carrying out damaging behaviour, and how to resist temptation.
While many of the effects of addiction can be the same regardless of whether it is substance or behavioural, knowing the distinction between these types of addiction is crucial in identifying and addressing it. But both are serious conditions and need a serious response, so if you think you may be suffering from substance or behavioural addiction, seek out support from friends, family, and professionals.