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Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

Addiction is a serious type of mental illness that can negatively affect the addict’s relationships, job performance, health and all other aspects of their life. Depending on the type and severity of the condition, addictions can be life threatening.

For an addict, there is no longer a choice about whether to engage in the addictive behavior not only because they are unable to stop, but because they need the substance or behavior just to “feel normal.” If they do try to stop, they suffer symptoms of withdrawal — anything from crankiness and chills to seizures and hallucinations.

Without treatment, addictions become progressively worse, and the addict requires increasingly more of the substance or behavior to get the same effect.

List of Addictions Resources

SAMHSA: Directory by U.S. state of drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The SAMHSA website also provides extensive addiction statistics collected through the latest National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

CAMH: The Center for Addiction and Mental Health is a Toronto hospital, but its website features a wealth of addiction information that is useful for anyone.

Gamblers Anonymous: Gambling addiction facts and support group information.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Information about the AA approach to alcoholism and how to find a meeting near you.

Risk Factors for Addiction

No one is immune from the possibility of developing an addiction, but certain factors might make you more susceptible, such as:

  • Genetics. You are at higher risk for addictive behavior if there is a history of addiction in your family.
  • Another mental illness. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 percent of those with a mental disorder also suffer from a substance abuse problem. Conditions such as depression or chronic anxiety might make you more prone to compulsively engage in non-substance-related activities that serve as a form of escape, as well, such as shopping or playing video games.
  • Lack of support network. Those with an unstable home and family life, or who otherwise feel isolated, are more likely to turn to addictive substances and/or activities.
  • Peer group. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, Texas hold ’em or online first-person shooters, you are more likely to adopt addictive behavior if those around you normalize such behavior — this is especially true for adolescents.
  • Early exposure. Children who compulsively play video games, or young adolescents who use alcohol or drugs, have an increased risk of becoming adult addicts.

Getting Help

By definition, having an addiction means you are no longer in control of your addictive behavior and are unable stop it on your own. With the help of an inpatient or outpatient addiction program, and a therapist who specializes in addiction treatment, you can work to modify your behavior and manage your symptoms.

If you think you are suffering from an addiction, look for treatment centers in your area, or ask your family physician for a referral.

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