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The Science Of Addiction

I decided to start this article with a very simple and self explanatory definition of the word “Addiction.”  But little did I know that for next several minutes I would be scouring though different definitions that had different takes on this seemingly simple word. I came across one that I thought probably fitted best.

According to, Addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”

I thought that definition was very powerful. Powerful because it captured what I was thinking about. I was thinking about an encounter I had with gentleman in his early 40s but he looked like he was in his 60s. His entire face was swollen, his entire body was thin. He had lost his job and was about to lose his relationship with his only child because he was not very coherent when he spoke. He had been a heavy drinker and no matter how much he tried to quit or others around him tried to convince him to stop drinking he was convinced that he couldn’t do without alcohol. To him, he needed alcohol to function normally. His actions were destroying the lives of his closest friends and family and no matter what thet said to him, he just didn’t seem to want to “give up the bottle.”

As I continue to think about the definition of addiction, his behaviour make a lot of sense. In that season of addiction, the person who is addicted may realize that they are hurting those around them but their desire for that thing far outweighs what others around them think or are feeling. An article titled The neurobiology of craving: Implications for the understanding and treatment of addiction (Wise, Roy. A) mentions that addictions has 2 components that shape a person’s behavior

  1. Positive reinforcement
  2. Negative reinforcement

In positive reinforcement, the person becomes dependent on the substance and has a constant craving for it.

In negative reinforcement, the substance suppresses pain and distress signals so the person feels better after having that thing. In short, the person finds comfort/ solace in that thing/ substance.

So here’s the interesting twist. Most people believe that only drugs or alcohol can be addictive but here’s the reality!


The question is, is there any such thing as a good addiction or bad addiction?

I believe not!  Based on the definition of addiction above, anything that enslaves you to the point that stopping it causes trauma (severe distress) to you IS AN ADDICTION!



The first thing to do would be to identify the exact addiction at play. Once it’s identified a specific treatment can be given. For example, substance addictions may need a pharmacological (drug) approach as treatment whereas behavior based addictions may need therapy sessions to overcome them.


Soooo....what’s your addiction?





Negative behaviours ie- gossip? anger? pride?



Shopping/ Spending money?

Getting tattoos?



Social media?

Cell phone?

Want to know more about the science of addiction? Check out the links below...


Anita Glover, MD is the Mental Health Ambassador for Engage Africa Foundation. She is passionate about creating open, honest dialogue about the myths,stigmas and truths surrounding mental health issues.

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