Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders

Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders

Addiction in its different forms is formally referred to as substance abuse and addictive disorders. Previously, we believed that addiction was only related to substances that are consumed. Now, we understand better that behaviors such shopping and gambling are also addictive.


Symptoms can vary depending on the type of addiction but the common ones are:

  • Craving and compulsive use: Strong cravings and inability to control when substance or behavior is used.
  • Tolerance and Withdrawal: Needing increasing amounts of the behavior or substance to feel satisfied and experiencing significant discomfort in the absence of the addiction.
  • Negative impact: Addictive behavior interferes with responsibilities, and healthy functioning
  • Continued use: Addictive behavior does not stop despite negative consequences, sometimes even when there is a desire to stop
  • Decreased interest in other activities: Addictive behavior becomes the center of functioning thus previously enjoyable activities are no longer as enjoyable


Like most psychological and behavioral disorders, the cause of addiction is complex. It is usually a combination of factors that increases a person’s risk of these disorders

  • Childhood trauma, trauma and highly stressful life events (e.g. abuse, loss, heartbreak, disaster)
  • Family history/Genetics (runs in the family)
  • Social/peer pressure
  • Mental & Medical health conditions (substances are often used to cope with challenging health issues but can become addictive e.g. pain medication, Adhd medication, etc.)


Common types of substance abuse and addictive disorders include:

  • Substance Use Disorder: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription pain meds, tobacco, coffee, hallucinogens (PCP), opioids, food, etc.
  • Non-substance related: gambling, shopping, sex and/or pornography, social media/internet, etc.


  • Detox: Depriving person from substance or behavior. (Note: with some substances, detox under medical supervision is vital to preventing fatal outcomes from withdrawal)
  • Psychotherapy: specialized approaches for addiction assist in recovery
  • Medication
  • Support groups, 12-step programs, family support, etc.
  • Lifestyle Changes: changing social groups, finding alternative healthy hobbies, occupying one’s time with healthy activities or work, etc.
  • Maintenance care: remaining in therapy, 12-step programs and accountability partners or sponsors

The African Context

In the African context, we often view addiction as a choice. Yes, some people are able to make choices to recover or abstain on their own. Others are not so fortunate due to unseen factors like genes and psychological wounds caused by trauma. Multiple people resort to shaming, guilting, prayers and ostracizing, to “motivate” people with addictions to stop. It often doesn’t work and when this happens we blame spiritual hold or generational curses. While faith may be important in the recovery process, we must understand and accept the different factors influencing addiction. Only then can we seek the appropriate treatment needed and support our loved ones, with substance abuse and addictive disorders.

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