The United States today is facing a massive epidemic, that often only presents itself behind closed doors. The epidemic of addiction to substances and behaviors affects millions of people around the country, and unfortunately, it is growing worse.

One of the best things we can do as Americans to combat this epidemic of addiction is to educate ourselves about addiction psychology. By learning more about addiction psychology, we can find tools to combat addiction and find better ways to support those who suffer.

What Are People Addicted To?

When many people think of addiction, they tend to think about addictions to physical substances, such as drugs or alcohol. This is understandable, seeing that in 2016 there were 28.6 million people in the US who used illicit drugs at some point and roughly 65 million who reported binge drinking in the last month.

However, an addiction can be formed to a wide variety of both substances and behaviors, including:

  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Pornography
  • Sex
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Opiates such as heroin or oxycodone

Generally speaking, when a person begins engaging in a behavior that is pleasurable, but cannot stop doing that behavior, even to the point of it negatively impacting their everyday life, including work and family relationships, that person is addicted to the behavior.

What Is the Cause of Addiction?

When talking about the psychology of addiction and its underlying causes, you should understand that there are rarely any simple answers regarding addiction, especially since there are physical and psychological causes of addiction.

Physical Causes

The physical causes of addiction mainly center around a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is naturally produced by the body and plays a role in how we feel pleasure. Some activities, such as taking drugs or viewing pornography, can cause the brain to release massive amounts of dopamine and then prevent its absorbtion. This can dramatically alter one’s brain chemistry.

Psychological Causes

When talking about the psychology of addiction, especially the psychology of porn addiction, it is important to understand the role of emotional stress. Emotional stress can play a major role in addictive behavior, manifesting in many ways from a variety of causes. 

Many addicts will turn to addictive substances and behaviors to distract themselves from their emotional stress, which many times stems from some form of trauma. This trauma can occur during their childhood or later on in life.

History Behind Addiction Psychology

Addiction is not a new problem. Drugs have been abused around the world for hundreds, even thousands, of years, meaning addiction has existed for just as long. Over time, rehabilitation efforts have appeared, such as the founding of the New York Inebriate Asylum in 1864 and the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

Today, there are many organizations and resources available for those who wish to combat addiction that can offer traditional, evidence-based treatments as well as experimental and holistic approaches. There is a wealth of knowledge that can benefit anyone who is suffering from the malady of addiction.

What Causes an Addictive Personality?

There has long been a debate among researchers and scientists on whether or not psychological addiction is nature or nurture based. One thing is very clear however: physical addiction does have a strong genetic component. Compulsive behaviors related to OCD and anxiety also seem to share this genetic link.

Medical experts agree that those who abuse substances and those who engage in destructive compulsive behaviors share similar psychological traits, meaning they may have an addictive personality or, in other words, be more prone to addictive behaviors.

Characteristics of an addictive personality include:

  • Difficulty in delaying gratification
  • Strong sense of alienation from family and society
  • Sense of being under constant high stress
  • Tendency toward impulsive actions and behaviors 

What Type of Therapy is Best for Addictions?

Dealing with addiction is a long and difficult journey that requires a lot of determination and support. Success at recovery from addiction is much higher with the aid of professional help in the form of long-term therapy and/or an intensive outpatient program that provides support for both addicts and families, such as the services that LifeStar Therapy provides.

If you would like to learn more about the psychology behind sex addiction and porn addiction, check out our article on why people become addicted to pornography.