Addiction is a chronic disease whose growth and maintenance are influenced by biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. Addiction has a hereditary component that accounts for around half of the risk.
Genes influence the level of reward people feel when they first use a substance (e.g., drugs) or engage in particular activities (e.g., gambling), as well as how the body processes alcohol or other drugs. Increased desire to re-experience use of the substance or behavior, which may be influenced by psychological (e.g., stress, trauma history), social (e.g., family or friends' use of a substance), and environmental (e.g., substance accessibility, low cost) factors, can lead to regular use/exposure, with chronic use/exposure leading to brain changes.
Changes in reward, motivation, memory, impulse control, and judgment neuro-circuitry can be found in cortical (pre-frontal cortex) and sub-cortical (limbic system) parts of the brain. Despite knowledge and experience of numerous negative effects associated with addictive behavior, this can result in huge increases in cravings for a drug or activity, as well as deficits in the ability to appropriately manage this drive.
Adapted with permission from the Massachusetts General Hospital's Recovery Research Institute and Harvard Medical School.
The Society of Addiction Psychology (Div. 50) encourages improvements in research, professional training, and therapeutic practice in the field of addictive behaviors, such as problematic use of alcohol, nicotine, and other substances, as well as disorders involving gambling, eating, sexual conduct, or spending.