Addiction is defined by a strong need for something, a loss of control over its use, and a willingness to engage in it despite negative consequences. Addiction alters the brain, first by altering how it perceives pleasure, then by corrupting other basic drives like learning and motivation. Although overcoming an addiction is difficult, it is possible. The word “addiction” comes from a Latin term that means “to be enslaved by” or “to be bound by.” Anyone who has struggled with an addiction or attempted to help someone else overcome one understands why. Addiction has a lasting and profound effect on the brain, manifesting itself in three ways: a strong desire for the object of addiction, a lack of control over its use, and a willingness to engage in it despite negative consequences.
When academics initially started looking at what caused addictive behavior in the 1930s, they assumed that persons who developed addictions were morally wrong or lacked willpower. They believed that overcoming addiction entailed either punishing offenders or encouraging them to summon the willpower to abandon a habit.
Since then, the scientific consensus has shifted. Addiction is now recognized as a chronic disease that affects both the structure and function of the brain. Addiction hijacks the brain in the same way that cardiovascular disease harms the heart and diabetes harms the pancreas. This occurs as the brain undergoes a series of changes, beginning with pleasure detection and ending with a desire to engage in obsessive behavior.