Addictions are everywhere, from the seemingly innocuous habit of checking our phones too often to needing that double espresso in the morning just to function at work. However, not all addictions are created equal.
While some may be relatively harmless, other addictions can have a profoundly negative impact on your life, health, relationships and future prospects. From alcohol to drugs to addictive behaviours, there are many addictions that affect millions of people across the UK, so it is important to understand exactly what we are dealing with as a society.
What is addiction?
Addiction is a complex condition that affects the brain, body and behaviour. It involves a compulsive drive to engage in a particular substance or activity, despite the obvious negative impact it is having on your life.
Organisations like the American Psychological Association (APA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), categorise addiction as a genuine mental health disorder.
In the DSM-5, addiction includes substance use disorders and non-substance-related addictive behaviours like gambling. Our biological nature, brain wiring, chemistry and the environment we live in all contribute to the potential for addiction.
What are some common forms of addiction?
There are several common forms of addiction, which can be classified into substance addictions and behavioural addictions:
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, involves the uncontrolled consumption of alcohol despite its negative effects on a person’s life, health and relationships. This addiction can lead to long-term health problems, such as liver disease and mental health issues.
Drug addiction refers to the compulsive use of illicit substances such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. These drugs can have severe physical and psychological consequences, including addiction, overdose and even death. Click here to learn more.
Prescription Drug Addiction
Prescription drug addiction occurs when a person becomes dependent on medications that were initially prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose. Commonly abused prescription drugs include painkillers, sedatives and stimulants. If you would like to learn more about prescription drug addiction, click here.
Behavioural addiction, such as addiction to gambling, shopping or internet addiction, involves compulsive engagement in an activity despite its negative consequences. These addictions can be just as destructive as substance addictions, affecting a person’s finances, relationships and mental health.
Do I have an addiction?
Recognising the signs of addiction as soon as possible is crucial. Addiction can hide in plain sight and convince both you and those around you that it doesn’t exist. Ask yourself these questions to identify addiction signs:
- Have I continued using a substance or engaging in a behaviour despite experiencing negative consequences?
- Have I lost control over my usage of a substance or engagement in a behaviour?
- Am I constantly preoccupied with the substance or activity?
- Have I been neglecting my responsibilities at home, work or school due to the substance or activity?
- Have I developed an increased tolerance to the substance or activity?
- Do I experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance or engaging in the activity?
- Have I made unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down on the substance or activity?
If you answered yes to these questions, it is highly likely you have an addiction and need professional addiction help.
What causes addiction?
On a purely physical level, certain substances and behaviours impact the brain’s reward system, which is responsible for reinforcing pleasurable activities essential for survival, such as eating and social interaction.
Addictive substances and behaviours can overstimulate this system, releasing large amounts of dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Over time, the brain adapts to the excessive dopamine levels by reducing its production or responsiveness, leading to a diminished ability to experience pleasure from natural rewards.
This process drives you to seek out the addictive substance or behaviour to feel pleasure or relief, ultimately leading to addiction.
However, addiction also has psychological and emotional elements and there are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing an addiction, including:
Genetics and family history
Individuals with a family history of addiction may have a genetic predisposition to developing an addiction themselves. Studies have shown that certain genes can make a person more susceptible to addiction, as they may affect how the brain’s reward system responds to substances or behaviours. Therefore, if your parents or grandparents had an addiction, you may be at a greater risk of developing one yourself.
Mental health disorders
Those with mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder, are at an increased risk of developing an addiction. Mental health issues can make individuals more vulnerable to using substances or engaging in addictive behaviours as a means of self-medication or coping with their symptoms. Unfortunately, this can often exacerbate the mental health condition and create a vicious cycle.
Early exposure to addictive substances or behaviours
Exposure to addictive substances or behaviours at a young age can increase the risk of developing an addiction later in life. The adolescent brain is still developing and is more susceptible to the effects of substances and the development of addictive patterns. Early exposure can lead to long-lasting changes in brain function and structure that make a person more prone to addiction.
A lack of social support
Social support is crucial for emotional well-being and resilience. Individuals who lack strong social networks or experience isolation may be more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Supportive relationships can provide emotional stability, resources and encouragement to help a person cope with stress and avoid engaging in addictive behaviours or substance use.
High levels of stress
Stress is a significant risk factor for addiction, as it can trigger the brain’s stress response system and lead to the release of stress hormones. This can make individuals more susceptible to seeking relief through substances or addictive behaviours. Chronic stress can also impair decision-making abilities and increase the likelihood of engaging in impulsive or risky actions, which may contribute to the development of addiction.
The effects of addiction
Different substances and addictive behaviours have various effects on an individual’s health, relationships, career and social life. Here are some general consequences of addiction:
- Physical health issues, such as liver disease, heart problems and malnutrition
- Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicide
- Potentially lethal overdoses
- Strained relationships with family and friends
- Job loss or difficulty maintaining employment
- Financial problems and debt
- Legal issues and possible criminal charges
- Social isolation and stigmatisation
All of these issues can have a dramatic impact on your life and those around you and so it is important to get professional addiction help as soon as possible if you are struggling.
Addiction: True or false?
To get a better understanding of addiction, it is important to dispel some common myths about the condition. Here is a true or false quiz to test your knowledge and understand the reality behind the myths.
True or False? Addiction is a choice…
While the initial decision to use a substance or engage in behaviour may be voluntary, addiction involves changes in the brain that make quitting difficult. Over time, the brain’s reward system is altered and the person loses control over their ability to stop using the substance or engaging in the behaviour, making it a compulsion rather than a choice.
True or False? Addiction can affect anyone…
True! Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. While some individuals may be more predisposed to addiction due to genetic or environmental factors, addiction does not discriminate and can impact people from all walks of life.
True or False? Addiction is treatable…
True! While there is no one-size-fits-all cure for addiction, treatment and recovery are possible. It is important to understand, however, that recovery from addiction is an ongoing journey that may involve setbacks and challenges, even with professional addiction help.
True or False? Willpower alone is enough to overcome addiction…
False! Addiction is a complex disorder that usually requires professional help to address the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of the condition. While willpower and motivation are essential components of the recovery process, overcoming addiction often involves medical intervention, therapy, support groups and lifestyle changes. Relying solely on willpower can be ineffective and may lead to relapse or a worsening of the condition.
How is addiction treated?
Treatment for addiction typically involves a combination of detoxification and rehabilitation programmes.
Detox helps you safely withdraw from the addictive substance, breaks the physical aspect of addiction and helps you manage any withdrawal symptoms that emerge.
Rehab addresses the underlying issues contributing to the addiction through a combination of therapy, support groups and education on coping skills and relapse prevention.
How to get help for addiction
Seeking help for addiction is a crucial step towards recovery. Oasis Runcorn offers comprehensive addiction treatment programs that address the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of addiction. Contact us today and take the first steps in transforming your life.