All kinds of definitions exist for addiction. One of the most common is that in addiction one is given over to some activity. A more restrictive meaning is that addiction is a harmful involvement with drugs that produces either withdrawal symptoms or tolerance (Alexander & Schweighofer, 1998). These definitions are inadequate because addiction entails more than being given over to an activity, and many activities involve things other than drugs.
The best and most practical definition is as follows: An addiction is a compulsion to do something despite the negative consequences. It is not just a compulsion, or a compulsion involving drugs and alcohol, but the giving in to any compulsive behavior despite the negative consequences, and the consequences are of such nature that they lower the quality of life. This definition eliminates the need to distinguish between good and bad compulsions, or to focus on some biological process that is actually the result of an addiction rather than the cause. By definition, addictions involve individual behavior rather than biological disease or some external force. Notice that the compulsion is to do something.
So, why in the world would someone want to do something that they know is going to harm them? People usually do not set out with the intention of bringing harm to themselves. The harm occurs after a long process of decision-making that involves individual values, self-perception, environment, and self-deception. It is not just a matter of weak will because some addicts are very strong willed people who are willing to continue a pattern of destructive behavior despite all of the hardship it brings them.
There are many reasons why people choose addiction. Many are unhappy with their own self-perceptions and they use drugs as a way to view themselves differently. Some see unpleasant things in their environment and they use addiction as a way to escape. Addiction often involves values that are different from the mainstream in society. For example, people may value certain behaviors more than they value a job, family, career, money, relationships, and even self-respect.
People may also value immediate gratification over anything that might be in the future. Values are a personal matter, and some people do not value health, job, home, family, and financial security more than drugs. It is not that they do not want these things, they just do not value them more than their continuing behaviors. Perhaps they have never really thought through the issue of whether it is in their own best interest to deny themselves some immediate gratification for a future benefit. If so, this would provide an excellent counseling strategy for recovery. Many have already thought this through, however, and their choice is to continue in their behaviors and not think of the future. Or, they foolishly believe that they will escape the negative consequences of their behaviors. When these consequences become apparent, many discontinue their addictions while others do not stop until they are physically unable to engage in the addictive behaviors.
J B Myers