Addiction is a compulsion to repeat a certain behavior. A person who is addicted is known as an addict. Many drugs (especially recreational drugs), for example, cause a set of medical conditions that include stimulating desire for more of the drug, increasing tolerance of higher doses, and pain or discomfort upon terminating use (called withdrawal). The term addiction is also used for the purely psychological phenomenon of compulsive destructive behavior such as excessive gambling.

There is some overlap between behavioural and substance addictions. For instance, smokers may temporarily calm themselves by toying with a cigarette or lighter, without actually smoking. There is some debate over whether eating disorders are addictions - they are often characterised by strong elements of addictive behaviour. Many people experience withdrawal or withdrawal-like symptoms if they alter their diet suddenly, suggesting that some common food substances eg. chocolate, caffeinated beverages, artificial sweeteners and sugar may have the potential for addiction.

The medical establishment makes a distinction between physical and psychological addictions. Physical addictions lead to physical symptoms upon withdrawal. Psychological addictions lead to psychological symptoms upon withdrawal. The distinction should not be taken to mean that psychological addictions are easier to break than physical ones. Breaking any addiction is very hard, or it wouldn't be an addiction.

The speed with which a given individual becomes addicted to a substance varies with the substance, the frequency of ingestion and individual characteristics. Some alcoholics say that they drank in an alcoholic way from the moment they felt the first intoxication while most people can drink socially without ever becoming addicted. Nicotine is considered by many to be the most addictive substance of all.

Addiction should not be confused with dependence in the context of opiates. Those with cancer pain are dependent on opiates such as morphine to live a normal life. Remove that opiate and they will suffer withdrawal symptoms (yet they are not an "addict"). Another example of dependence vs addiction is the tachycardia exibited with the removal of a beta blocker. One is not "addicted" to a beta blocker but is dependent upon it.

Some people have scant sympathy for people with serious addictions, believing either that a person with greater moral strength could have the force of will to break an addiction, or that the addict demonstrated a great moral failure in the first place by starting the addiction. Others do not focus on blame, and believe that addictions are simply diseases that must be treated.

The word addiction is sometimes used jokingly to refer to something a person has a passion for. Such "addicts" include:

  • Biblioholics
  • Chocoholics
  • Wikiholics

Although the term is used loosely rather than seriously, there is actually something to this, because any pleasurable activity releases endorphins, and this endorphin-rush can become 'addictive'.

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