Recovery Month is an annual September observance that was initially intended to highlight issues pertaining to substance abuse.

Recognizing that it is possible to have an addiction to something other than drugs and alcohol, the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) is using this year’s Recovery Month as a springboard to focus on several other addictions that are not discussed as often but are issues with which some LIUNA members struggle. These include addictions to sex, gambling, food and the internet. We will, of course, also focus on drug and alcohol addiction. During the next several issues of Lifelines Online, a series of articles will investigate various kinds of addictions.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a dependence on a substance or a type of behavior. The dependence is so strong that it may seem as if the person is unable to break away from the substance or behavior.

At one time, the term “addiction” was used almost exclusively for substance addiction. That is, addicts were thought of as people totally dependent on drugs such as heroin, cocaine, nicotine or alcohol. This form of addiction is now known as “substance addiction.”

Today, experts also recognize that people can become addicted to certain behaviors. Some individuals may develop a dependence on gambling, shopping, sexual activity, eating, the internet or another activity. These addictions are called “process addictions.”

Addictions can grow stronger over time. This occurs for two reasons: first, biological dependence and, second, psychological dependence. When a person’s body becomes biologically dependent on the substance or behavior, the body begins to need and expect it each day or each hour. If the body does not receive the substance or behavior, it responds by becoming ill. When this happens, the person is said to be physiologically dependent on the substance or activity.

People can also become psychologically addicted to substances and activities. That is, the substance or activity makes them feel happy, more self-confident or better in some other way. In order to keep experiencing these positive feelings, they believe they must continue to use the substance or activity that gave them those feelings. In this case, a person is said to be psychologically dependent. In many cases, addictions involve both physiological and psychological aspects.

Next month, we will focus on substance addiction:  drug, prescription drug and alcohol addiction. The November issue will address process addictions.

To learn more about Recovery Month 2008, you can go to:

[Jamie Becker is the Fund’s Associate Director, Health Promotion.]