What Is Addiction? and Other FAQs

Practical Answers to the Most Common Questions About Addiction Recovery

At ALYST Health, these are the questions most commonly asked by program participants as they’re navigating the steps to addiction recovery. Whether you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, the answers to these questions, together with our addiction quiz, provide an accessible first step on the road to recovery.

Within scientific and medical communities, addiction is defined as a mental illness characterized by the compulsory, chronic use of and desire for a substance, behavior, or activity despite adverse consequences in one’s life. At ALYST Health, we focus on treating substance addiction, but an individual’s broader behaviors and actions are often linked to the underlying addiction.

That’s why our at-home addiction treatment program is designed to help individuals recover from addiction in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Our specialists help people struggling with addiction without having to disrupt or upend their daily routine as with conventional treatment centers. By taking a peer-to-peer approach, we help people understand life patterns and behaviors that may be feeding into their addiction.

The four types of addiction include:

  1. Substance Addiction: Substance addiction involves the repeated use of drug or alcohol to achieve a desired mental state or alleviate anguish.
  2. Process Addiction: Process addiction is used to describe when someone is addicted to a particular behavior, such as gambling, shopping, sex, or even exercise. It’s important to note that the behavior someone is addicted to does not necessarily have to be physically harmful to qualify as an addiction.
  3. Systemic Addiction: System addiction is best understood as a form of addiction that, instead of centering on a specific substance or behavior, involves a person’s way of thinking, worldview, or beliefs. Even when a person tries to stop or change them, these habitual thought patterns ultimately lead to adverse life effects.
  4. Codependency: While the three other types of addictions are isolated to the individual, codependency always involves another person. We use it to describe an individual’s addiction to a dysfunctional relationship, often centered around a shared substance, process, or systemic addiction. In a traditional treatment setting, addictions fueled by codependency aren’t always identified, quickly leading to relapse as soon as an individual leaves treatment.

Depending on the substance in question, long-term addiction can lead to the point of physical dependency. Dependency is different from the disease of substance addiction in that it generally describes the body’s biological need to continue using a substance to prevent the harmful effects of sudden withdrawal. On the other hand, we use the word addiction to describe the mental state of an individual who struggles with regularly abusing a substance to the point that they prioritize it over other aspects of living a balanced life, including their health, friends, family, career, and other interests.

Identifying the cause of drug addiction is not as simple as pinpointing one specific risk factor. Instead, drug addiction is better understood as arising from a number of environmental, genetic, and developmental factors. When identifying the potential causes of addiction, however, it’s important to remember that the causes are not as important as the road to recovery.


Experiencing trauma or being exposed to drugs at a young age increases the likelihood that individuals may become addicted as they grow older.


Scientists have also found that genetic and personality factors may lead to what’s termed an “addictive personality” in specific individuals, increasing their propensity for developing an addiction.


Lastly, being exposed to drugs at a young age impacts development and increases an individual’s likelihood of developing an addiction later on in life. Habitual drug use at a young age can also make it harder for someone to feel pleasure naturally, so they may find themselves repeatedly turning to drugs or alcohol to trigger the feeling.

From a medical standpoint, the word disease describes any condition that negatively impacts the structure or function of an organism. Because addictions impede an individual’s ability to function as they usually would, we consider addiction a disease. Just as diabetes or cancer permanently affects an individual’s quality of life and ability to function normally, drug and alcohol addiction is a lifelong affliction for which there is no immediate cure.

The symptoms of addiction include:

  • The inability to stop using drugs or alcohol even when someone tries to
  • The continued use of drugs or alcohol despite serious health concerns
  • Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with problems or stress
  • An obsession with drugs or alcohol to the point that it occupies most of their time and thoughts
  • Engaging in risky behavior to procure drugs or alcohol or while using them
  • Consuming excessive quantities of drugs or alcohol to immediately amplify the effects
  • Withdrawal effects when an individual tries to stop abusing a substance

Where Should You Start the Recovery Process?

If someone you care about is struggling with drugs or alcohol addiction, our professional intervention services provide a strong foundation for the road to recovery.

Addiction Recovery From the Comfort and Privacy of Your Own Home

Are your or someone you care about struggling with substance addiction? ALYST Health is here to help you take the first steps to recovery—all from the comfort and privacy of your own home. As the first and only at-home addiction recovery program certified by the Joint Commission, our approach is flexible enough to motivate and heal almost anyone struggling with addiction. Take our addiction quiz, learn more about our approach, or give us a call when you’re ready to take the next steps.