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What do we mean by addiction?

An addiction can be defined as an individual pursuing or repeating a particular behaviour that causes a detriment to their well-being, from which they cannot escape.

What is the difference between addiction and dependence?

  • The term dependence refers to a physical dependence on a substance and is characterized by the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal. 
  • Addiction is defined by a change in behavior caused by the biochemical changes in the brain following continued substance abuse. The use the substance becomes the main priority of the addict, regardless of the harm they may cause to themselves or others. Addiction causes people to act irrationally when they no longer have access to the substance they are addicted to.

What do people get addicted to?

Addiction covers a broad range of behaviours. Alcohol, drugs and substances, gambling, sex, exercise, eating, money, pornography; in fact it is possible to become addicted to almost anything.

What causes addiction?

I expect that you have your own notions of why an individual would chose to indulge in a specific kind of behaviour. We regularly hear about how certain chemicals within drugs interact with pleasure and reward centres of the brain. It makes the person feel something, something they wouldn’t feel without doing the substance or the action.

It is fair enough to say that people believe that they feel better when engaged with their addiction, than when they are not, at least at first.  But there are always costs.

Addiction doggedly follows the rule of diminishing returns; each time a hit is scored one of several things happens without fail: The desired effect wears off, which is then followed by the desire to recapture that feeling of euphoria that moment of elevated feeling. And maybe we do, possibly many times over and over. 

Yet, invariably, and for many reasons; the level or intensity of those previous highs diminish, the addiction of choice is no longer able to fulfil the desire. At least not to the satisfying original level. Inevitably at this point, more substance is required just to get close to the same level of high, 

Over time it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the original level of effect. By this time, tolerance to the substance and its stimulating effects has increased. More units of alcohol are required, more grams of substance, increasingly more graphic images of pornography are needed, and higher gambling stakes. This is the consequence of diminishing returns.

What kind of person becomes an addict?

Many people incorrectly believe that there is a ‘type’ of person who becomes an addict. Citing that persons with an addiction ‘have only themselves to blame’. They brought it on themselves, that somehow they selfishly chose an easy route to happiness. 

We know that such individuals while seeming to be pursuing pleasure are actually seeking ways to blot out the agony of their lives in the only ways they know how. To counteract feelings of insecurity, social anxiety, worthlessness, emptiness, or to escape the reality of their lives. As health care professionals, we call using alcohol and drugs a method of self-medicating. Always against unwanted feelings.

Asking any person dependent upon alcohol or drugs to go without reveals a terror of the surge of unwanted thoughts and feelings they have been suppressing for years. 

Nobody passes through childhood unscathed. Many drug users we encounter, have often experienced a disproportionate amount of developmental injustices, (also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences), and have spent years self-medicating against the consequences of earlier unmet need and/or trauma.

Addictions are progressive, without taking responsibility to quit, many people need to wait for some extra traumatic experience to actually happen. This “wake-up call” all too sadly comes in the form of an accident, or of dramatic loss of health. Unfortunately many people will need to wait for something to happen before they take action to intervene. By this time the consequences have radically and tragically altered their lives

Our past does not have to be the same as our future. The beginning of change is by accepting there is a problem. From there it is possible to plan a way out.

Experience and research shows that addiction knows no bounds. It makes no difference if  a person is wealthy or not. Addiction does not care whether you  have a stable job or not, come from a privileged or deprived background. There are differences in tendencies, yet addictions are not governed by economics, sex, gender, ethnicity.

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