Addiction - chemical dependence or habit?

Essay by tintomatoesUniversity, Bachelor's December 2005

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In this essay I will attempt to explore the causes of addiction. "Everyone engages in addictive behaviours to some extent because such things as eating, drinking, and sex are essential to survival and highly reinforcing," says G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., director of the Addictive Behaviours Research Centre at the University of Washington. "We get immediate gratification from them and find them very hard to give up indeed. That's a pretty good definition of addiction." (Rodgers 1994:1)

Many people experiment with potentially addictive drugs. About 60% of Americans sample an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime (Johnston et al. 2001). If alcohol is included, the percentage of Americans exposed to a potentially addictive drug rises to over 90%, but few of these people become addicts. Even for a very addictive drug like cocaine, only 15-16% of people become addicted within 10 years of first use (Johnston et al.

2001). Substantial numbers of people do become addicts, of course, but the fact remains that drug use does not inevitably lead to addiction.

Addiction is more than mere drug use. It is defined specifically as a compulsive pattern of drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviour that takes place at the expense of most other activities. The key questions in addiction, therefore, are why some susceptible individuals undergo a transition from casual drug use to compulsive patterns of drug use (Edwards 1981:225-42)

There are three different areas of explanation. The first involves the neurobiological effects of drugs and explains drug dependence (addiction) in biological terms. The second area is psychological, explanations concentrate on models of behaviour and differences between individuals. The final area of explanation concerns the social and environmental factors that influence the likelihood of addictions (or drug dependence).

"The inescapable fact is that nature gave us the ability to become hooked...