The Signs and Symptoms of Different Types of Addiction

Find out what to look for if you or a loved one is struggling with a behavioral or substance use disorder.

Updated December 2, 2022
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Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. It's a mental health condition that's so complex and powerful that it can change a person's brain chemistry. And although research and education are ongoing, medical experts still can't pinpoint a singular cause.

One reason why addiction is so far-reaching is that it comes in many forms. If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, it may be helpful to learn about them. The more you know about the different types of addiction, the more you'll be able to identify the signs and symptoms.

Different Types of Addiction

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines addiction as, "a state of psychological or physical dependence (or both)." Based on this definition, a person can become addicted to anything that they begin to rely on either mentally, physically, or a combination of the two.

Many people in the field of psychology separate addiction into two categories: substance addiction and behavior addiction.

  • Substance addiction occurs in relation to a drug and is associated with withdrawal symptoms when stopped.
  • Behavior addiction occurs when a person is addicted to a type of action or feeling that action brings and has more subjective diagnosis criteria.

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), several types of addiction remain prevalent in the world today. The results showed that some of the most common addictions are as follows:

Alcohol Use Disorder

When a person experiences alcohol addiction, they might have an irresistible urge to use alcohol. They might also experience physical, psychological, or behavioral changes due to their drinking behavior. As a person's tolerance and alcohol use rise, they may also become physically dependent on it.

The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 25.8% of people ages 18 and up engaged in binge drinking at least once per month. An additional 6.3% reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use within the same time frame. The survey also found that nearly 15 million people qualify as having an alcohol use disorder.

Substance Use Disorder

According to the APA, substance use disorder (SUD) involves "varying degrees of excessive use of a substance." People with this disorder may continue to frequently use drugs despite the fact that negative consequences have occurred in their life, such as damage to their social relationships or arrests.

In addition, in order to be diagnosed with SUD, a person must also meet the criteria for substance dependence. This can include a wide variety of physical, mental, and behavioral changes, as well as increased tolerance, intense cravings, and withdrawal symptoms when drug use stops.

The APA also notes that there are nine drug classifications that can be associated with SUD, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Amphetamines
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Opioids
  • Phencyclidines
  • Sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics

Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug that can be found in tobacco products, such as traditional and electronic cigarettes and vape pens. One reason why it is especially difficult to quit is that it stimulates the brain and causes the release of chemicals in the brain that make people feel good. When people try and quit, they might experience withdrawal symptoms, feel irritable or even struggle to concentrate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 40 million people in the United States still smoke cigarettes. An additional 2.55 million kids in both middle school and high school smoke e-cigarettes or vape. SAMHSA's 2020 survey reported that about 8.5% of people ages 12 and up experienced nicotine dependence within the past 30 days at the time of the survey.

Food Addiction

According to Nutrients Journal, food addiction is not yet recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used to diagnose mental health conditions. Instead, the DSM simply refers to this behavior as "overeating." However, research has linked being addicted to food to some eating disorders, such as binge-eating disorder and anorexia.

Although the field of psychology has not yet come to a unanimous decision on the validity of food addiction, many believe that this behavior meets the criteria for addiction. Nutrients notes that people can experience cravings and feel a lack of control over the behavior despite negative consequences. These behaviors are extremely similar to those described in other substance use disorders.

Video Game Addiction

If you've ever played a video game, or know somebody who constantly games online, then you know that sometimes it can be hard to unplug. Video game addiction, also known as internet gaming disorder, is characterized by a lack of control over gaming behaviors despite negative life consequences.

According to one study from the Journal of Frontiers in Psychology, the same areas of the brain are activated in people who are addicted to video games as those that have other substance and behavioral addictions. The journal also notes that people with this addiction might be confusing pleasure with happiness.

Internet Addiction

In a world where we can summon, food, dates, and cars with just one tap of a phone screen, it shouldn't come as a surprise that people can become addicted to the virtual world. It's known as internet addiction disorder (IAD), and it was first identified in 1995 by a psychiatrist named Ivan Goldberg.

IAD is a broad type of addiction that encompasses several different forms of online media usage. For example, it includes online gaming and gambling, accessing pornography, and utilizing virtual forms of communication, such as email, chatrooms, and social media. It has been linked with increased rates of depression and anxiety, as well as low self-esteem.

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is also not included in the DSM, which means that there are no clear criteria to categorize this type of behavior. However, it is widely recognized by psychologists as a type of behavioral addiction.

Sex addiction is often characterized as engaging in hypersexual behavior despite experiencing negative life consequences. People can also experience an addiction to pornography, which is watching explicit sexual content, or cybersex, which includes engaging in self-pleasure while using online chatrooms, social media, or other virtual platforms for sexual experiences.

Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is also referred to as compulsive buying behavior, as well as compulsive buying disorder. Like other behavioral addictions, there are no clear and consistent diagnostic criteria for the disorder.

According to the Journal of Frontiers on Psychology, compulsive buying disorder often involves "persistent, excessive, impulsive, and uncontrollable purchase of products," despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The journal notes that people with this disorder often buy products to boost their mood and self-image, manage stress, and gain approval from others.

Gambling Disorder

Gambling disorder, also known as compulsive or pathological gambling involves compulsive and recurrent gambling behaviors that may cause significant impairment or negative consequences. According to the DSM, it is categorized as an impulse-control disorder.

Associated behaviors include constantly increasing the amount of money being gambled, the inability to end the betting behavior, or fixation on the act of gambling itself. These behaviors can lead to significant financial and social repercussions.

Caffeine Addiction

Caffeine keeps a lot of people going throughout the day. However, just like with any other substance, a person can become reliant on it and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using or decrease consumption. Caffeine addiction, referred to as caffeine intoxication in the DSM, is a mental health condition that can cause negative mental and physical symptoms, such as increased stimulation of the central nervous system and even impairment in other aspects of life.

This disorder is typically characterized by the consumption of excessive amounts of caffeine. The APA notes that five cups of coffee or more may lead to symptoms of anxiety, irritability, disordered speech, or even headaches.

There are several different types of addiction that can impact a person's life, and, people can experience more than one addiction at a time. If you or a loved one is struggling with any kind of addiction, know that you can reach out to a mental health professional or a healthcare provider for support. Overcoming addiction can be challenging, but it's not something that you have to do alone.

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The Signs and Symptoms of Different Types of Addiction