The word ‘addiction’ tends to get bandied about a lot these days and many people do not use it correctly. Most use the term to describe something that they like or do a lot, so the true meaning can be lost.
An addiction is actually an illness that affects the brain and changes the way that it functions. It is an illness that is very often misunderstood, with many people under the impression that those affected by addiction are immoral or have no willpower. The truth is entirely different, as those with experience of this illness will know all too well.
Addiction is actually a psychological and physical dependence on a substance or activity that causes adverse consequences in that person’s life. It is worth remembering that addiction is an illness in the same way that diabetes, the flu and cancer are illnesses. Anybody can be affected by addiction, regardless of their gender, age, background, race, social standing, and wealth.
Most people assume that addicts are those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol. However, addiction spreads much further than that. Illegal drug addiction is a common problem, but another substance addiction that continues to be problematic around the world is prescription drug addiction.
Many high profile names have been affected by prescription drug addiction, including the actress Jamie Lee Curtis and the late singers, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Strong painkillers are highly addictive, and when taken over an extended period, they can cause a number of health problems. Those who continue to take these substances for long periods will have a high risk of developing a tolerance to them, with addiction often following.
Nevertheless, it is not just mood-altering substances that cause addiction. Many individuals today find themselves struggling with devastating addictions to a variety of activities, and these addictions are wreaking havoc on their lives.
A well-known addiction that has been affecting people for many years is gambling addiction. While gambling addictions have been affecting individuals across the world for decades, the problem seems to be getting worse in recent times, with many experts are blaming technology for this. The advent of online gaming has made it possible to gamble twenty-four hours per day while mobile devices are allowing problem gamblers to feed their habit in private.
Over the past few years, more addictions have hit the headlines. While many of these addictions may have existed for a long time, they might not have been recognised as such. Sex addiction, in particular, has been talked about in comedic terms and has been the butt of many jokes over the years as a term used to describe someone who likes to have a lot of sex.
Nonetheless, a sex addiction is a very real illness and one that can destroy lives. Spouses of those with a sex addiction have been quoted as saying this illness has left them feeling hurt and betrayed, and many have admitted that they would have preferred if their partner was affected by a different addiction such as an alcohol or gambling addiction.
The growth of the internet and especially social media has led to a host of new addictions, with many young people becoming obsessed with their smartphones and tablets to the detriment of other areas of their lives. Some children have been diagnosed with a physical condition known as ‘text-neck’, where they have developed a curvature of the spine due to their neck being constantly bent over a mobile device.
Other Internet-based addictions include gaming addiction, which is affecting many teenagers around the world. Playing games with other online users has become a new way of socialising for teens these days, with many of them being unable to interact with people in the real world because of it. These individuals spend hours at a time playing these games, which can lead to physical health problems as they often do not get enough sleep. This in turn leads to issues in school or work.
There are also those that are affected by food addictions, also known as eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are two of the more well-known eating disorders, but there are many more, including binge eating disorder and orthorexia.
Although addiction affects everyone differently, some behavioural signs are common to most sufferers regardless of the actual addiction. Those who are affected by addiction may become irritable or agitated when they cannot feed their habit. They often suffer from mood swings, fluctuating from intense highs to crushing lows.
Addicts can be prone to impulsive behaviour, and because of the need to satisfy their urges may have a high tolerance for criminal activity. Many addicts will commit crimes in order to feed their habit. For example, those with an addiction to alcohol or drugs may steal to get the money to pay for their drug of choice. Gambling addicts often turn to fraudulent activity or steal from loved ones when their own source of cash has dried up.
Addiction often affects individuals who display attention-seeking behaviour or those who have low self-esteem. Many are also suffering from unresolved traumatic experiences, which could include sexual, physical or emotional abuse, the death of a loved one, or the breakdown of a marriage.
Addicts often become secretive about their behaviour in an attempt to hide it from their loved ones. They will not want others to know what they are doing, for fear that they may try to stop them. They will lie and become defensive when questioned about their addiction, but loved ones can still tell that something is not quite right.
One of the most apparent signs of addiction is a change in the personality of the individual. Many become obsessed with the object of their addiction. For example, if they are addicted to gambling, they will forgo activities that they used to find interesting in favour of spending time gambling. They may stop showing interest in loved ones and might neglect relationships with family members and work colleagues.
Financial problems are also common among addicts. Most addictions require money, but when the illness gets out of hand, it can be difficult to sustain financially. This often leads to debts as well as criminal activity.
And with so much focus on the substance or activity to which the person is addicted, it is not uncommon for addicts to neglect their personal hygiene and grooming. Those with addictions to drugs or alcohol often look unkempt, and many will suffer from poor dental health and malnutrition as they forget to take care of themselves.
Addiction can be psychological, physical or a combination of both. Those who are psychologically dependent on a substance or activity will experience cravings. They will feel uncomfortable at the thoughts of not being able to satisfy their cravings. They have come to rely on the substance or activity and may be irritable when they cannot partake. Most of their being revolves around this particular substance or activity, and when they are not actually satisfying their desire, they are thinking about it. They may live in denial regarding the damage their addiction is doing not only to themselves but also to their loved ones as well.
Physical dependence tends to occur with mood-altering substances such as alcohol or drugs. The more a person takes these substances, the more his/her body comes to depend on them. The brain starts to adapt and expects the usual dose of drugs or alcohol. It has learned to react to the substance, but if it does not arrive, it will try to address the balance once more. As the body attempts to get back to normal, the affected person will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, which could include shaking, sweating, mood swings, nausea, and vomiting.
Addiction treatment is provided by both public and private organisations, and the type of treatment plan a person is given will depend on the severity and type of addiction they have. For substance abuse problems, detoxification is usually required so that the patient can start a programme of rehabilitation with a clear mind and body.
Typical treatments for addiction include individual counselling, group therapy, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioural therapy, and 12-step work. Residential programmes offer a structured and intensive programme of care and are ideal for those with the most severe addictions as they allow the patient to focus solely on recovery for a period of about six to eight weeks. Nonetheless, inpatient treatment is not for everyone. For those who cannot commit to a programme of residential care, outpatient programmes are an appropriate alternative.