We misuse a lot of words. By "misuse" I mean using words in ways they weren't designed to be used. Addiction is one of those words. We say that people are addicted to food, to gambling, to exercise, and to work. This week's Newsweek magazine's cover story is about sex addiction. None of these things are addictions, they're psychological dependencies.
For a person to be addicted to anything, that 'thing' has to have addictive qualities itself. Tobacco is addictive because it contains nicotine. Once your body is accustomed to nicotine injection, it tells you it wants more, even when your brain is telling you no. People addicted to hard drugs try them the first time for the pleasure it brings them but, if they do them for long, their bodies become addicted to the qualities of the drug and it compels you to seek more. So even when you know that the drug is bad for you and you tell yourself psychologically that you're not going to do it anymore, the needs of your body almost always outweigh the needs of your mind and it compels you to do the drug again.
Food, gambling, exercise, work and sex don't have addictive qualities. If we overdo them, we do it because it fulfills a psychological need we have. If we find greater comfort in doing those things than other things, we develop a psychological dependency to them and seek them out perhaps more often than we should because they make us feel good. People who are workaholics for example believe psychologically that they have to work harder and longer in order to provide for their families and themselves. They believe if they don't that they will fall behind or get fired and the harder they work, the harder they feel they have to work. This drive is based on an inadequacy we feel about ourselves that we're not good enough or smart enough so we have to work longer and harder than our colleagues.
Placing a bet gives gamblers an adrenaline rush because they're risking their own money believing they know more about a future outcome than the experts do. Many studies have proven that someone who gambles regularly will always end up losing more than they win, but our ego drives us to be one of the few who don't. We have a psychological, not physical, need to prove that we're smarter or sharper than the other gamblers.
Some are so driven to exercise that it takes over their psyche, pushing them to exercise far more than they need to for the same psychological reason that workaholics feel like they're never doing enough, even though they're doing much more than anybody else is.
Since the U.S. is one of the most obese countries in the world, obviously many people are psychologically dependent on food. Food gives us comfort. It makes us feel good.
It's a pleasurable enterprise to partake in. But there isn't some unseen force that propels us out of bed at 2 am to raid the fridge because no food item has addictive qualities itself. It's our psychological need to do something that gives us pleasure that makes us eat when we shouldn't eat or eat more than we should.
People who are psychological dependent on sex become that way because it gives them pleasure and allows them to temporarily escape their hum-drum existence. So the more sex they have, the more they want. Many are insecure in their own skin so anytime they pair up with someone else, it feeds their ego and makes them feel better about themselves. Even when the sex is solitary, it's a release from the real world that so many people feel like they need psychologically.
But none of these behaviors mentioned occur because of something that exists in the activity itself. We do them because of something that exists in US, a psychological need to be fulfilled in a way we haven't been able to find doing anything else and that's the difference between addiction and psychological dependency.