We live in a culture where the definition of addiction is our motto: ‘More is better and there is never enough’. The drive for more, bigger, faster does not allow for a state of satiety, a place of feeling full, satisfied, sustained.

Addiction comes in diverse packages yet underneath, all addictions have core characteristics in common. While the word addiction stimulates thoughts of familiar substances like alcohol and drugs, the categories of addiction are growing. New addictions are emerging with the growth of technology.

This article explores the growth and diversity of addiction with an eye on common underlying causes and core of treatment effectiveness.

Incidence, Prevalence and Diversity

Despite the ‘war’ on drugs, obesity, pornography and the like, in a culture that is always seeking the next level of instant relief from increasing stress and pain, addiction is on the rise.

There are consumable addictions including three categories of drugs, legal (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine), illegal (cocaine, heroin, and the like), and prescription (xanax, OxyContin, etc.). In the last five years, the number of prescriptions filled for xanax has gone from 29.9 million to 37.5 million. Chemical dependency has become one of the most severe health and social problems facing the United States according to U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

There are behavioral addictions including gambling, shopping, work, and sex/pornography. Fifty seven percent of pastors say that addiction to pornography is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregation. Two out of three pathological gamblers commit illegal acts in order to pay for gambling-related debts.

Eating disorders are both consumable and behavioral including compulsive eating, anorexia, and bulimia. For a food addict, refined sugar, flour and fats can become what alcohol is to the alcoholic, and withdrawal symptoms trigger cravings. Abstinence is not possible since we all have to eat.

Emerging addictions include video games, cell phone, and internet addiction. According to Spanish media reports, two children ages 12 and 13, were recently admitted to the Children and Youth Mental Health Centre near Barcelona for cell phone addiction.

Common Symptoms & Causes

While the specific consequences of addiction are different, physical deterioration for the alcoholic or legal and financial damages for the gambler, the underlying issue is the same. Addiction is not the core problem; it is the solution to a deeper problem. The initial engagement with a substance or behavior begins as a pleasurable escape that satisfies a need for instant relief from underlying stress and pain. Over time, the solution becomes a problem.

Looking past the differences, all addictions have characteristics in common: increasing inability to meet work, family, or school responsibilities, increasing tolerance leading to escalating need, inability to stop regardless of consequences, and failed attempts to stop resulting in increased hopelessness, powerlessness and depression, which requires more relief.

Core Treatment

Treatment approaches that focus only on consumption or behavior change are treating the symptoms not the cause. Relapse or transfer to an alternate addiction is high unless the treatment includes relief for underlying stress/pain issues.

12-step programs are essential to quality recovery. This model is powerful when it addresses core issues and not just surface symptoms. Unfortunately, while many people understand the principles of the steps, few understand the essential underlying dynamics for sustained change.

What the 12-step model calls for is not just compliance with behavioral requirements and restrictions, but a hundred and eighty degree paradigm shift. A shift from trying to control the inner world through external experience, to coming to terms with the truth of one’s humanity, and the simplicity of living a sustainable life in a way that leads to freedom and inner peace.

The first step is hard, because it requires surrendering imbedded ways of addressing the core issue, but the courage to take the fifth step, which requires full disclosure of one’s self and unconditional acceptance by another human being is the turning point. The acceptance, intimacy and compassion inherent in this moment are what most people long for and few experience.

Addicts experiencing quality recovery frequently express gratitude for their addiction. The recovery process, when it treats the underlying suffering and pain of living a life of driven dissatisfaction, is a blessing, a relief, a homecoming to one’s self.

You can tell when someone is living in genuine recovery – there is a sense of inner peace while stepping into the world of possibilities. There is satisfaction in the moment and flow with the natural changes of life.


We are living in a cultural worldview that promotes addiction. Awareness of this core issue is the first step in recovery as individuals and as a society. Complete recovery goes beyond treating unending solutions to treating the real problem.

Author's Bio: 

Aila Accad, RN, MSN "Your Stress-Busters Coach" studied addiction and recovery for over 25 years. She was self-employed as an addiction counselor and Employee Assistance Professional and published “The Lived Experience of Recovering from Addiction: A phenomenological study” in 1990. From the study, she developed “Leaving the Well: An experiential model for recovery from addiction, depression and soul loss.’ She is an award-winning speaker, best-selling author and life coach who specializes in de-stressing. Sign up for her complimentary De-Stress Tips Newsletter, get “Ten Instant Stress Busters" e-book as a gift at www.ailaspeaks.com. Check out her Amazon Best-Seller www.stressbustersbook.com