Addiction is related to repeatedly and compulsively using a substance or indulging in behaviour with little to no control over doing so, even when you know there may be negative consequences.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines drug abuse says: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.”
This definition of drug addiction can be applied not only to illegal drugs but also legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol, and prescription drugs whether prescribed or misused. There are other forms of addiction, however, related to behaviours of different types.
Different types of addictions
There are two main categories of addiction: chemical addictions and behavioural addictions.
Chemical addictions relate to the use of substances such as drugs and alcohol. The prolonged or heavy use of these substances can essentially cause the brain to rewrite parts of itself.
The user will develop cravings for the incoming chemicals, as well as the pleasure and reward-related chemicals that are released within the brain.
They will eventually come to rely on taking the substance to feel good and eventually just to feel normal. Suddenly removing the chemicals – by getting clean or sobering up – can lead to serious physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Behavioural addictions involve compulsive behaviours and these can be just as destructive as a drug or alcohol addiction, especially when taking forms such as a serious gambling addiction.
The NHS lists some other addictive behaviours, including:
- Work addiction
If you are obsessed with work to the point where you become physically or mentally exhausted, or it is negatively impacting your family life, relationships and leisure time, you may be addicted to work.
- Internet addiction
The amount of time spent glued to screens has increased for many people. Problem behaviour is not always the same as an addiction but if you spend hours compulsively scrolling or seeking online affirmation to the detriment of other areas of your life, you may have an internet addiction.
- Shopping addiction
Shopping can easily slip out of so-called ‘retail therapy’ territory if it becomes a compulsion, leading to you spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need or sometimes even want, in order to get a buzz. It can lead to serious debt, relationship issues and other problems.
What are the different causes of addiction?
Taking addictive substances and indulging in potentially addictive behaviours can have an effect on areas of our brains that deal with things such as pleasure, reward and decision-making.
There can be numerous root causes and factors underlying addiction and addictive behaviours, however. Some people may be more predisposed to indulging in substance misuse or problem behaviour in the first place, as well as progressing from misuse to addiction.
Some of these root causes could include:
- Genetic factors
Studies have shown that addiction may be heritable – i.e. you may be more prone to develop an addiction yourself if you have relatives with an addiction.
One study, in particular, suggested that different types of addiction disorders had different levels of ‘heritability’ – the chance of that addictive trait passing down genetically.
Heritability ranged from .72 (or a 72% chance) for cocaine, .70 (70%) for opiates, .55 (55%) for alcohol down to .39 (39%) for hallucinogens. The study looked mainly at substance abuse but also found that gambling addiction also had a heritability comparable to cigarettes and alcohol.
- Environmental factors
Addiction can strike anyone, in any social class or location, but environmental factors also play a part. Peer pressure, poverty, the prevalence of drug use in the area, the level of quality of parental supervision, exposure to substance misuse or problem behaviour in the home and many other factors can all play a part.
- Mental health and trauma
There is often a complex relationship between mental health issues and addiction. Many people attempt to self-medicate or make themselves feel better by misusing various substances or indulging in addictive behaviour such as gambling or shopping, but this is almost always counterproductive in the long run.
Substance misuse and addictions can also trigger, fuel or exacerbate mental health conditions and the person at the centre can find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle that is extremely difficult to break free from.
Addiction and its effects
As already mentioned, addiction can affect the way the brain functions. One way it does this is by flooding the receptors with dopamine and other chemicals associated with pleasure or reward.
This ‘high’ can be so intense that you feel flat without it and other activities that used to be pleasurable can leave you feeling flat.
What’s more, you can build up a tolerance as you continue to use the substance or take part in the activity, meaning you need more and more of it to get the same effect.
The signs and symptoms of addiction can vary widely depending on the individual and the type of addiction involved but could include:
- Compulsive or out of control use of the substance or engaging in the behaviour
- Trying and failing to cut down or stop the behaviour
- Continuing to use or engage despite negative consequences
- Downplaying the extent of any problem
- Dishonesty and engaging in the activity or substance in secret
- Losing interest in other activities
- Avoiding activities that do not involve the addiction
- Withdrawing from social interactions, avoiding responsibilities
Types of addiction treatment
Addiction can be very difficult to battle alone but luckily there are treatments that can help for all types of addiction.
Residential treatment in a rehab centre can be very useful for chemical addictions, for example, as it can allow you to go through detox and deal with any withdrawal symptoms in a safe and supervised environment.
Different kinds of talking therapy, including group therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy can be useful for all kinds of addiction and can be delivered in a residential or community-based setting.
In some cases, medication may be appropriate, such as providing replacement therapies for nicotine or opioid addiction. Support groups can also be very valuable.
If you are in the grip of any kind of addiction it can be very scary. You may feel alone but there is always help available if you are willing to seek it.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715956/Back to all posts