What is an addiction?
Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or behaviour due to rewarding effects providing a compelling incentive to repeat the behaviour despite detrimental consequences physically and psychologically. These consequences could be physical exhaustion, difficulties in relationships and social life, and disruption of everyday activities.
People with an addiction often report needing to feel a buzz from their addictive behaviour or substance, which after being sought may be quickly followed by feelings of guilt, shame or despair. People may spend hours each day and night carrying out their addiction at the expense of neglecting other aspects of their life. Addiction may involve the use of substances such as alcohol, inhalants, opioids, cocaine, nicotine, or behaviours such as gambling, sex, internet, porn.
With substances, the more a person uses them, the more tolerant their body becomes, until they need it more frequently and in larger amounts to achieve the same effect. Stopping use of the substance that they are addicted to, means someone is likely to experience psychological and/or physical withdrawal symptoms. Because addiction affects the brain’s executive functions, individuals who develop an addiction may not be aware that their behaviour is causing problems for themselves and others. Over time, pursuit of the pleasurable effects of the substance or behaviour may dominate an individual’s activities. Both substance and behavioural addiction have an increased likelihood of being accompanied by mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety or other pre-existing problems. They engage many of the same brain mechanisms of compulsivity.
The strong compulsions mean less ability to control how much and how often they drink, they organise their life around drinking and they may drink shortly after waking up because it can reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Addiction often starts with social or casual use of a drug or behaviour. When this becomes more frequent, people can start to feel that they need more of the drug/behaviour to feel its effects. Increasingly, people find that they can only feel good when they engage in the drug/behaviour and it becomes increasingly difficult to go without.
Below are common signs of addiction (some may be specific to the drug being used):
- having to use the drug regularly
- compulsive drug seeking
- failing in attempts to stop using the drug
- making certain that a supply of the drug is maintained
- spending more money on the drug than can be afforded
- doing things to obtain the drug that are out of character (such as stealing)
- needing the drug to deal with problems
- taking risks such as driving when under the influence of the drug
- spending more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug.
What causes an addiction?
There are many reasons why an addiction may begin. In the case of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, these substances affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. Gambling and other behaviours may result in a similar mental “high” after a win, followed by a strong urge to try again and recreate that feeling. It could be a way of blocking out difficult issues, such as unemployment, stress and anxiety. Often, an addiction gets out of control because the individual needs more and more to satisfy a craving and achieve the “high”. This can develop into a habit that becomes very hard to stop and not having it causes withdrawal symptoms, or a “come down”. Because this can be unpleasant, it’s easier to carry on having or doing what you crave, and so the cycle continues.
Getting help for addictions
Treatment can involve a combination of medication, behavioural treatments, counselling and medically assisted withdrawal. For substance dependence, withdrawal therapy or detoxification may provide a way to help an individual to stop taking the drug as quickly and safely as possible. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help an individual to understand their addiction and to recognise and avoid situations that encourage or trigger its occurrence. We help our clients to become involved actively within the therapeutic process, to help encourage the modification of their attitude and behaviour, and to learn life skills which help them to cope when not engaging in addictive substance use or behaviours.
We recognise that addiction is a complex, multi-faceted condition influenced by biological, psychological and environmental factors. At Therapy Central we will help you to focus on many of these dimensions in life, including family roles and work skills as well as mental health. Through therapy we can help to overcome the addiction in a safe space; the process can take time and patience. Relapse is often part of the process, and we will assist you to address prevention and management of recurrent use, should you slip along the way, without judgement.