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The Four Cs of Addiction, Explained

Harvard Pilgrim

Addiction is a single word that’s used to describe many different intensities of addictive behavior. When someone gets a headache from cutting down on coffee, there’s talk of a caffeine addiction. Chain smokers are dubbed as tobacco addicts or repeatedly binge-watching our favorite TV show is casually described as being addicted to it.  

We use the same word to describe the behavior of someone with a substance use disorder: regularly abusing alcohol or taking illicit drugs is seen as an addiction to these substances. 

The four C’s of addiction are a helpful tool in distinguishing between addiction as a mental health disorder demanding treatment and other types of addictive behaviors. The four C’s are compulsion, cravings, consequences, and control. Let’s explore how the presence of each of these aspects point out problematic addiction. 

4C's of Addiction

What are the Four Cs of Addiction?

As a concept, the four Cs of addiction was created to distill the disease of addiction to its most fundamental parts, which are compulsion, cravings, consequence, and control. They have since become a useful way to accurately describe or even identify addiction. 

For example, you know that someone has an addiction when they: 

When all four Cs are present, a person is considered to have an addiction or a substance use disorder. Consequently, they’ll need professional addiction treatment to recover. 

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Let’s discuss each of the four Cs of addiction in more detail. 

1. Compulsion 

Compulsion means someone has an irresistible urge or an uncontrollable desire to perform a specific action. Compulsive behavior is an intense, overwhelming drive to behave in a certain way. 

Someone with an addiction is overpowered by the urge to find and use drugs. This type of behavior is described as compulsive drug-seeking.  

2. Cravings

Drug cravings mimic physical needs like hunger or thirst. To an addicted person, drugs become as vital as food and water. Cravings can become so intense it causes insomnia or a lack of appetite.  

Addicts tend to become anxious, agitated, and unable to think of anything else when drug cravings aren’t satisfied. 

3. Consequences  

The third C of addiction refers to when someone continues to use drugs despite an awareness of negative consequences it will bring. Consequences of addiction can be far-reaching: substance abuse harms a person’s physical, mental, emotional, financial, social, and professional health. The impact of addiction on relationships can be downright devastating. 

This continued drug use despite the knowledge that it has negative consequences is often what connects addiction and criminal activity but the consequences don’t have to be unlawful to point out the presence of addiction problems.  For example, a person may face the consequences of feeling hungover, foggy, and unable to function well at work but it doesn’t deter them from drinking excessively each night. 

Carrying on with substance use in spite of knowing the problematic consequences that it brings, raises the concern that someone may have developed an addiction. 

4. Control

When a person is unable to exercise any restraint when it comes to their drug-using habits, a severe addiction has set in and treatment is essential.

The fourth and final C of addiction is characterized by a complete loss of control over drug-using habits. Sometimes, at the beginning stages of developing an addiction, someone starts to realize they’re substance use is spiraling out of control and may try to stop. When a person is unable to exercise any restraint when it comes to their drug-using habits, a severe addiction has set in and treatment is essential. 

Fortunately, no person battling addiction is a lost cause – many effective addiction treatment options exist.

4 C's of Addiction - dad girl sitting on bench
Photo: Ryan McGuire

Clued-Up: Being Well-Informed Bolsters the Battle Against Addiction 

It’s not unusual for coffee-lovers to describe themselves as caffeine addicts but a person who needs a coffee to get up and at ‘em, obviously won’t pursue getting a latte with the same urgency and intensity of someone who’s trying to get their next cocaine fix. A more correct term for describing addictive behaviors like excessive coffee-drinking or chain-smoking cigarettes would likely be chemical dependence

Although general use of the word addiction isn’t harmful per se, getting clued-up on accurate addiction language, and how to use it, can help stop the harmful stigma attached to addiction.   

Silicon Beach Treatment Center Offers Quality Drug Rehab in LA

Silicon Beach Treatment Center offers top-tier mental health services. Our Los Angeles rehab center gives clients the professional support needed to overcome addiction and co-occurring disorders. If you’re looking for LA addiction treatment, we can help. 

Silicon Beach rehab gives you, or your loved one, the option of participating in outpatient treatment while staying in our sober living setup. For more info, get in touch with us. 

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