Addiction is a chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social and environmental factors influencing its development and maintenance. About half the risk for addiction is genetic. Genes affect the degree of reward that individuals experience when initially using a substance (e.g., drugs) or engaging in certain behaviors (e.g., gambling), as well as the way the body processes alcohol or other drugs. Heightened desire to re-experience use of the substance or behavior, potentially influenced by psychological (e.g., stress, history of trauma), social (e.g., family or friends' use of a substance), and environmental factors (e.g., accessibility of a substance, low cost) can lead to regular use/exposure, with chronic use/exposure leading to brain changes.
These brain changes include alterations in cortical (pre-frontal cortex) and sub-cortical (limbic system) regions involving the neuro-circuitry of reward, motivation, memory, impulse control and judgment. This can lead to dramatic increases in cravings for a drug or activity, as well as impairments in the ability to successfully regulate this impulse, despite the knowledge and experience of many consequences related to the addictive behavior.
Div. 50 (Society of Addiction Psychology) promotes advances in research, professional training and clinical practice within the broad range of addictive behaviors including problematic use of alcohol, nicotine and other drugs and disorders involving gambling, eating, sexual behavior or spending.
What You Can Do
- Understanding How People Change is First Step in Changing Unhealthy Behavior
Stages-of-change research has been used to develop dozens of behavior change programs, including HIV prevention, to help people live longer, healthier lives.
Research on Addiction
Breaking free from addiction
Learn more about effective behavioral and pharmaceutical therapies to treat addiction.
Cell phone addiction rings true for teen psychologist
High school senior Michelle Hackman won a $75,000 college scholarship with a project on cell-phone addiction.
Fighting food addiction
Yale University graduate student Ashley Gearhardt has found connections between substance abuse and food cravings, and is pioneering a new field along the way.
Treating drug abuse
As deaths from heroin increase, psychologists are exploring what kind of treatment works best.
Speaking of Psychology: Women and smoking
In this podcast, expert Sherry McKee, PhD, explores why women have a harder time quitting smoking than men.
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