What is Addiction…Do We Know?

What is Addiction…Do We Know?

Posted September 6, 2017 by Chris Clayton

Addiction, in today’s society, has come to mean many things…addiction to chocolate, Netflix, Hulu, soda, and the many many things that we can become “addicted” to. But was is addiction? There has been, and still exists today, two main camps on what addiction is: a moral degradation of the soul and disease. Most frequently, chemical dependency is viewed as the fundamental essence of addiction and may apply to both camps outlined above. As part of my journey today, I asked an unknown woman to me what addiction was. After she helped my wife and I, she happily answered my simple question of “What is addiction?–“I have a very personal experience with addiction,” she said “not myself, but there are members of my family who have struggled with addiction and a loved one is in a treatment program as we speak.” Who would have thought…a complete stranger who also has been touched by such a mysterious illness. Also of note, she mentioned, as we talked openly about a taboo topic in the middle of a retail store…”I don’t think we know what addiction is.” Such a wise statement, however, she had been, and currently remains, impacted by the elusive addiction that has created pain in her family. So…what is addiction?

Chemical Dependency

This is often thought as the Cadillac of defining addiction and, of course this certainly is a part of addiction, but this is not the only indicator that addiction is taking place. Challenging perspective with chemical dependency is outlined well with new born babies. Are they born addicted, or chemically dependent? Great question, not a fun analogy–the baby is born chemically dependent as substance was on board with the mother, withdrawal will ensue, and the baby will need to go through a medically managed detoxification. Once again, this assuming substances were used to the extent of creating chemical dependency–yet another factor–length of time using a particular substance will determine chemical dependency. Once the baby has gone through the withdrawal process, they are not out procuring heroin/methamphetamine/alcohol, calling their dealer, or robbing their family to sustain a habituated behavior. No, they continue sleeping, eating, pooping, and repeat. This is not to say there are not complications…there are. But addiction, at this point, is not one of them. Maybe in the future, maybe not with substance but with ADHD, depression, bi-polar, or maybe nothing at all.

TED Talk with Johann Hari illustrates this nicely. Citing the Vietnam War, where many American Soldiers were using copious amounts of heroin, he indicates that when they returned home a majority of those who were using, STOPPED! Ironically, the lovely woman, mentioned above, referenced this same research (not having seen this TED Talk, but one that I recommended), she knew that addiction did not solely rest on chemical dependency. Rat Park, as the research came to find, began to understand the process of addiction and, through this segment, you may begin to cultivate a perspective not once had.


So then, what is addiction? Hundreds of books written on this subject, theories debated historically, and a new culture of thoughts have continued the age-old debate that addiction is many things. Nature vs. Nurture, moral degradation of the soul, disease, learning disorder–this is a newer theory, stupidity, crazy…we have heard it all. As a young man growing up in St. George, I thought I was one of the best baseball players in Southern Utah. In fact, I had scholarships to Dixie College as a fighting Rebel, and then to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia–I was good! I also believed that I used drugs and alcohol the best and did so frequently, every chance I could in fact, without a thought as to why…two competing belief systems that I attempted to integrate. I bring this up as addiction begins, quite possibly, benign at first…not immediately malignant. And then–the threshold is crossed and the belief system of addiction begins, chemical dependency roots, learning of this pathological way of living embeds itself into everything you do…day after week after month after year drugs and alcohol push and pull stretching you to all your never’s. The belief that I AM an addict is molten lava, only to cure and harden. The belief system becomes personally ingrained, brain chemistry begins to change–emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual systems become grossly misaligned–addiction is more than me and I FALL, hard, spinning out of control.

It is near impossible to delineate both chemical dependency and addiction herein, however, I hope to provide a shift in perspective of both concepts. More importantly, connection to feelings. A detailed account of addiction, a leading author on the subject, Gabor Maté provides a ghostly account of working with Canada’s chronic substance abuse population. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a read to better understand and make an informed decision of what addiction is and is not–quite possibly, a perspective shift will take place, compassion will enter and autonomous thought begins.

It is our goal, both personally and professionally, to break free that hardened exterior and release the innate worth that is possessed by all. To create new I am’s, beliefs, connections, goals, smiles.

Lions Gate Recovery Loves You!

filed under: Addiction