Addictions Health Center

Addiction is a broad term for various types of addictions. Listed below is information on different types of addiction. 

Tobacco Addiction

Nicotine dependence is an addiction to tobacco products caused by the drug nicotine. Nicotine dependence — also referred to as tobacco dependence — means you can't stop using the substance, even though it's causing you harm. While it's the nicotine in tobacco that causes nicotine dependence, the toxic effects come mainly from other substances in tobacco. Smokers have much higher rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer than do nonsmokers.

Nicotine produces physical and mood-altering effects in your brain that are temporarily pleasing. These effects make you want to use tobacco and lead to dependence. At the same time, stopping tobacco use causes withdrawal symptoms, including irritability and anxiety.

Sex Addiction

It is important to keep in mind that not all interest in sex is an addiction. Because sexual addiction is much more common among men, it is not uncommon for sex therapists to encounter couples in which the female is concerned that her male partner is addicted to sex. This may be particularly relevant when considering pornography. Many men (and women) enjoy viewing pornography. Certainly, viewing pornography by itself does not constitute a sexual addiction.

However, if it is excessive, causes problems in the relationship, and produces negative consequences, then discussing the possibility of an addiction becomes necessary.

Here are some common examples of behaviors that may indicate an addiction:

  • Being unable or unwilling to have sex with your partner except while viewing pornography,
  • Spending large quantities of money on sex (i.e., pornography, prostitutes, and phone sex),
  • Not going to work because the majority of the day was spent engaging in sex, or viewing sexual material.

Similar to other addictions, the addict may minimize or ignore the harm they are causing to themselves or others. Therefore, treatment is often delayed until some crisis occurs.

Drug Addictions

Drug abusers often try to conceal their symptoms and downplay their problem. If you’re worried that a friend or family member might be abusing drugs, look for the following warning signs:

Physical warning signs of drug abuse
  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual.
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.

Behavioral signs of drug abuse

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities).

Psychological warning signs of drug abuse

  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness.
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason.

Food Addiction

Many of the clinical criteria for addiction/dependence focus on the consequences of continued use or on failure to discontinue use. If there are no negative consequences of eating food and there are no failed attempts to discontinue eating large amounts or certain types of food, there is no diagnosis of addiction. On this basis, most healthy, normal-weight people would not be diagnosed as food addicts and food would not be considered an addictive substance, because, for the most part, it produces positive rather than negative consequences.

Food addiction diagnoses are positively associated with BMI and, therefore, increased in obese individuals and even more in obese patients with binge eatng disorder (BED). Moreover, this relationship between body mass and food addiction may be non-linear. Interestingly, participants who received a food addiction diagnosis did not differ in body mass from non-food addicted participants. This result could also be confirmed in a sample of obese individuals seeking bariatric surgery where food addicted participants (40%) did not differ in BMI from non-food addicted participants.

Alcohol Addiction

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical and family history, including use of alcohol.

The following questions are used by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to screen for alcohol abuse or dependence:

  • Do you ever drive when you have been drinking?
  • Do you have to drink more than before to get drunk or feel the desired effect?
  • Have you felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have you ever had any blackouts after drinking?
  • Have you ever missed work or lost a job because of drinking?
  • Is someone in your family worried about your drinking?

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood alcohol level (this can tell whether someone has recently been drinking alcohol, but it does not necessarily confirm alcoholism)
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Liver function tests
  • Magnesium blood test
Review Date: 
March 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 28, 2013