This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.

Addictions usually develop over time, and that's why I think addictions are problems of human development. Although they can and do happen quickly, it usually takes time for an addiction to develop fully.

Addictions tend to begin at critical life stages. In stressful life transitions we often find the emotional soil in which an addiction will grow. Some addictions weave in and out of life growing stronger and weaker at different times as conditions change. To complicate matters, a person's own view of an addictive activity may change over time just as the opinions of society and science change. Addictions grow in life like weeds in a flowerbed, and sometimes what looks and smells like a flower turns into a deadly weed. Sneaky stuff, these addictions.

To complete a line of thinking and point out a moral lesson, I must say that sometimes an idea or a behavior that looks and feels like a noxious weed in life turns out be a be life-saver. Early judgments and first impressions are often wrong.

 article about how do people get addicted to drugs
It also takes time to outgrow an addiction, to recover and gain quality abstinence. People with a severe addiction may think of themselves as grown-ups, but, of course, they show many of the signs of childishness such as impulsiveness, impatience and a tendency to violence. One of the mistakes many people on the path to recovery make is to assume that, because they are adults, they should experience recovery in a short time, as in immediately or over night. But age alone does not guarantee quick abstinence or a quality sobriety. Think of the behavior of a ten year old child and the same child at age fifteen, everything is different, and it took five years of learning, growth and experience to become that very different fifteen year old. It isn't easy getting to be a teenager, if you can remember that far back. Just because you are 35 or 40 is no reason to expect growth and change to come any faster than it does for a child. Learning takes time at any age. If you work at abstinence for five years, and learn all you can in that time, you will be doing very well indeed. Human development and human re-development can be slow, but very many newcomers to self-help groups drop out after a few meetings because they don't understand why they can't have a quick fix.

A great variety of chemical substances have the potential for creating addiction. More recently, activities such as gambling, shopping and predatory sex have been interpreted as addictions because they show increasing or progressive use over time as well as withdrawal effects, mood swings and social harm to the user and the user's family. Whether it's a substance or an activity, it takes over and controls thinking and behavior.

Addictions to things or to activities have been linked to biological, psychological, social and genetic problems. Each theory of addiction seems to focus on one or two factors while downplaying the importance of others. Biological theories of addiction point out the effects of an addictive agent on various areas in the brain. Socio-cultural theories emphasize the roles of media, family, peer pressure and environmental attitudes toward addictive substances and intoxication. Psychological theories are divided. At one end is an emphasis on personality variables and the mood-altering, self-medicating qualities of various addictive agents. On the other end are social learning theories that stress intellect in addiction. Genetic theories emphasize the roles of inherited biochemical vulnerabilities, behavior susceptibilities and temperament, especially when considering alcoholism. In fact, it may not make much difference what causes addiction; what is important is how it develops and what can be done about it.

Gambling, as an activity based addiction, can serve as a path to the understanding of other non-substance dependencies and to a broadening of our insight into addictionology. Theorists have attempted to explain why certain people become addicted to gambling. These theorists offer a variety of explanations such as the gambler's need to enhance self-esteem and social status, attempts to manage high or low energy levels, grandiose fantasies of achieving spectacular success, and problems with aggressive, independent, rebellious and competitive urges. Whatever the mood or motivations of the gambling, it all comes down to something that is causing intolerably negative emotions. Stripped of fancy theoretical jargon, a continuing and intense bad mood develops and the individual finds that addictive activity removes the unpleasant mood at least for a while.

Many life transitions are supposed to be delightful and rewarding, but any major life change has its negative side. I think of life changes as possible sources of what can be called transition vulnerability. In coping with major change we tap all our resources and become somewhat more fragile psychologically. Any additional stress is very hard to deal with.

Some dangerous transitions

1. Adolescence and puberty

2. Leaving home for the first time

3. Marriage/divorce

4. Birth of the first child

5. Relocation

6. Military service

7. New job stress

8. Job loss, demotion and transfers

9. Promotion and increased job responsibility

10. Separation and loss

11. Sickness, injury and chronic disability

12. Retirement and loss of status

13. Old age and severe health limitations

14. Isolation

15. Chronic pain and loss of function

While often the occasion for joy, critical transitions can produce mixed feelings. Sometimes they are unwelcome or turn into bad situations leading to disappointment, anger and frustration. These are times in which we may be more vulnerable to the beginning or to the flare up of addiction. While preoccupied with the new challenges life brings to us, our guard is down and this is when an addiction can sneak up on us.

If you have an addiction, ask yourself when it started or when it got much worse. Were you going through some stressful period in life at the time?