see also Alcoholism
An inability to do without something on the physical or psychological level, to the point where craving for it begins to destroy or dominate family, social or working life.
We begin wanting things as soon as we are born food, warmth, love - and we want them instantly. As children we exist in a broil of anticipation, of the next birthday, of the next trip to the seaside. As adults our needs are more varied and complex, but the world no longer revolves around us as it did when we were children; unsatisfied, those needs make us vulnerable to palliatives such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and so on. Not everyone succumbs, not because they are models of morality, or will-power, or emotional stability, or cushioned by circumstances, but because their brain chemistry is not affected by them in a sufficiently rewarding way.
The brain is receptive to pain-relieving and pleasure-giving substances because it manufactures similar substances itself. If the manufacture of these substances collectively known as endorphins, is low, for congenital reasons or because their production has been depressed or disordered by drug-taking, the conditions exist in which drugs and other addictive substances will be gratifying. Unfortunately, the highs produced by most substances of abuse are short-lived quickly followed by lows. The higher the highs, the lower the lows. The only cure for a low is another high... and so the destructive spiral of addiction sets in. So-called addictions to television, sweets, coffee, and so on are not in the same league as dependence on drugs or alcohol, but like life-threatening addictions they are often substitutes for needs which are not being met.
Patterns of addiction and attitudes towards it are changing. In the last 25 years for example, the proportion of female to male alcoholics has increased from 1 in 8 to 2 in 5. The prevailing view today is that dependence on alcohol or drugs is a disease, precipitated by social and emotional factors certainly, but due primarily to constitutional factors.
The first step towards fighting addiction is to recognize that you are becoming addicted. Since addicts in bud have a great capacity for denying the truth, the first alarm bells are usually sounded by friends, relatives, or colleagues at work.
There is no definite point at which a casual drug user becomes an intensive user or a heavy social drinker becomes an alcoholic, so it is no use saying to yourself 'I'll stop when such and such happens'. When it becomes difficult to do without, physically or psychologically, you are already becoming dependent; the substance is controlling you, not you it. The only way to prevent dependence increasing, as it almost certainly will is to stop now, with the help of family, friends, and support organizations.