Understanding Addiction

close-up of the word addiction on a dictionary page

Addiction Services for York Region (ASYR) believes in a holistic perspective of addiction in both its etiology and the resulting treatment approaches. Addiction is a multifactoral interaction between biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. These various aspects of addiction must be viewed simultaneously.

We acknowledge it is important not only to focus on the addiction behaviour itself, but to focus on the person in whom the addiction arises. A holistic approach places the person as the central focus. The person is bigger than and is not defined by the addiction behaviour.

Addiction is not viewed within the individual alone, but rather within the context of total system of relationships, including one’s physiology, family, and the society culture. Addiction is defined in relational terms as an unhealthy relationship between the person and the substance / activity / experiences. Addiction can function as a coping mechanism while contributing to negative consequences and their recurrence.

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Criteria for Addiction:

According to the DSM-IV ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), three of the following criteria must be met to define an addiction:

  • Increased tolerance,
  • Withdrawal when not engaged,
  • Partaking more than you wanted/expected,
  • You wish to decrease use but are unable,
  • You spend a lot of time and energy on the substance/activity (driving to multiple doctors to get prescriptions, spending excessive hours in a casino regularly, chain smoking, planning your day around a hangover or crash),
  • You neglect or give up important social, occupational or recreational activities due to this substance/activity, or
  • You continue with the substance or activity despite knowing that it is causing you problems or making problems worse.

Elements of Addiction:

Physical dependence is when the body adapts to the presence of a substance in such a way that it reacts when the substance level drops. The body is shocked by the change and can develop uncomfortable or painful reactions, such as shaking, headaches and nausea. Some drugs provide a chemical the body produces naturally, the way steroids provide testosterone. They body may stop producing its own, relying on the artificial supply and struggle to cope when the supply stops.

Psychological components are an important aspect of addiction.  When someone decreases or stops using the substance/activity it can lead to anxiety or depression. Often, the substance or activity has been used to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness or some other emotional void – stopping the use returns the user to the original feelings that led them to the drug or activity in the first place.

The third component is Spiritual. Spirituality can be explained as having to do with making meaning of our life. It is the essence of our survival and that which keeps us committed to working through the struggles and pain we encounter in life. Those with addictions have often lost their connection to feeling a sense of moral fulfillment and have often lost fulfilling relationships with others. A person may look to distract themselves from, or numb themselves to, such feelings. As the dependence negatively affects one’s relationships and connection to society the spiritual dread deepens, driving the person further into the addiction.

Learn more about ASYR’s treatment programs that can help people affected by an addiction.