Any person, no matter what interests they enjoy or lifestyle they live, is at risk for addiction. When we do something we enjoy, it is just a natural response to desire it again. Going to a sporting event is enjoyable, so we naturally have a desire to return to another. This simple concept is healthy and natural, but becomes a problem when we lose control over our desires.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is basically defined as a formed and uncontrollable habit that provides immediate happiness but long-term anguish and trauma. An addiction is actually a brain disorder that makes it incredibly difficult for the addict to say no to using their substance of choice. As time goes by and the addiction becomes worse, the person's brain begins to react the same when thinking about the addictive substance as it does when thinking about necessities of life such as food or sex. The addict feels that they literally need the substance to avoid anxiety and other issues that will arise otherwise. As time continues to pass, an addict will begin thinking about the addictive object more and more, finding themselves partaking in the addictive behavior in places and at times that they never thought possible in the past. For example, a drug addict might begin using those drugs during a lunch break at work or in the bathroom at a movie theatre. The addiction causes the person to ignore the consequences of their behavior and think only of the good feelings they will immediately experience.
An addiction can occur in many different areas of life outside of drug and alcohol use. While those are the most common addictions, there are also many non-drug related addictions that can damage someone's quality of life. Gambling, for example, is a very common activity that becomes addictive for many people. While they are gambling they feel happy and energetic, but then fall into depression, anger and anxiety when they have lost their money and know they will not be gambling for a while. Our technologically advanced society has also been the cause of many people to deal with addiction. Cyberaddiction, also known as computer addiction or Internet Addiction Disorder, is a growing problem and has affected thousands of people. The mass appeal and availability of computers and the internet has made it a very addictive place to spend time. People who have social issues and find trouble interacting with others enjoy spending time on the internet because it provides a comfortable and sociable environment where they can censor their words and control their actions more calmly.
Addiction is established through three main steps as the person begins to find appeal in the addictive object. First, they have a phase of experimentation. This is usually the period of time in which the person begins to try out the new object and finds that they do enjoy it. The next stage involves the occasional use of the object. The person will commonly suggest that they only use the object or substance "for fun" and might also say that they can stop any time they want, but are choosing not to. During this step, the use of the object increases in both quantity and how often it is used. As the use of the object increases, the person does not realize that they are developing a dependency for it and will realize their problem once they stop. Time passes and, suddenly, they are partaking in this addictive activity each and every day. Without realizing it, they cannot stop the behavior without experiencing withdrawals and repercussions.
Causes of Addiction
The causes of someone's addiction can usually be found in their family history and the basic elements of their lifestyle and personality. A person's group of friends might be playing a major role in their addiction. For example, a person who is surrounded by people constantly drinking beer is more likely to drink beer on a regular basis. Usually, it is common sense that will explain someone's addictions.
However, addiction to certain substances can also be genetic. If your father was a heavy drinker, you are probably at more risk of becoming alcoholic than someone whose father did not drink heavily. This does not necessarily mean that if you start having a few drinks once in a while you will be automatically sucked into addiction, but it does mean that you should be cautious and aware of your drinking habits. Don't overdo it and, if you get drunk, make a choice not to drink for a certain length of time. Little actions such as these will go a long way in avoiding addiction if you repeat them over time.
Mental illness is also a common factor in whether or not someone is likely to become addicted to something they begin to enjoy thoroughly. People who experience depression, social anxiety, and other issues have been known to be more susceptible to addiction than people who do not deal with those problems. People who have experienced childhood trauma can also be very susceptible to addiction. When this type of person takes a drug, drinks alcohol, gambles, spends hours on the computer, or does any other type of addictive activity, they discover an escape from life's frustration. Often without realizing it themselves, the person uses that addictive object to purposefully get away from the issues in their life that they do not want to deal with, or might seem too difficult to deal with. An anxious person with problems in their social life will have a better chance at becoming a computer addict than someone who has a lot of friends and social engagements consistently. Similarly, a bipolar teenager whose mother is an alcoholic will be more likely to become addicted to alcohol than someone who didn't have to deal with such difficult issues growing up It simply goes to show that someone's mental state and there personal, unique situation will gauge their susceptibility to addiction. Obviously, those observations can even detail the type of substance or objects a specific person might become addicted to easily.
Again, someone's social surroundings can increase their chances of becoming addicted to something. For example, Bob's best friend Jimmy loves to go to the casino. Almost every day, Bob follows Jimmy to the casino because he is shy and does not have many other friends. He also likes to drink, so he enjoys himself. One day, Bob was standing behind Jimmy at the Blackjack table. Jimmy makes a big bet, wins, and turns to celebrate with Jimmy. At this point, Jimmy is enticed. He is constantly surrounded by gambling and now sees his friend ecstatic because of it. Without thinking it through, Jimmy is at the ATM pulling out some cash. Just sixty bucks, no big deal. He sits down next to Jimmy, exchanges his sixty dollars for six ten-dollar chips, and loses them all in about five minutes. Jimmy, on the other hand, continues to win. To try and win his money back, Bob decides to take out another sixty dollars. After losing that, he decides to take out $120 in order to make back the $120 he had already lost. Whether he wins it back or loses it all, he is thinking about it that night in bed. The next day, knowing that his best friend will be going to the casino, Bob practices his Blackjack skills at work. He gets behind on projects and ignores possible consequences. That night, Bob joins Jimmy at the casino as usual, but this time he is gambling as well. Bob continues this behavior and, unknowingly, becomes addicted to gambling. If Jimmy was not a gambling addict who brought Bob into his surroundings, Bob would never have become addicted. People who are susceptible to addiction, such as a shy person like Bob, should be hyper aware of repetitive behavior they notice in themselves, particularly with things like substance abuse or gambling.
Using an addictive substance or object early on in life is another major factor in determining how susceptible someone is to addiction. If Jimmy, our friend from the earlier example, was gambling when he was fifteen, it seems less surprising that he is currently addicted to gambling and causing the people around him to become addicted as well. Likewise, if Jane decides to start smoking early on in high school, she is much more likely to be addicted when she is an adult.
Symptoms of Addiction
There are many common symptoms and signs of addiction, both mental and physical. While some of the dead giveaways are very obvious and simple to detect, others can be very subtle and only detectable to a focused eye. If you are suspicious that one of your friends or family members is struggling with an addiction, maintain an observational eye in order to discover any signs of that addiction.
The symptoms you notice in your friend or family member will be very unique to their situation. Different drugs create different reactions, so the signs will correlate to whichever drug they are using. This is a very important key to remember. Do not simply read general lists of addiction symptoms and assume you should look for them all. A person who is struggling with a cocaine addiction will obviously have different symptoms than a person struggling with an internet addiction. Once you are sure about what substance or object your friend or family member has been using, research that addiction and the common reactions it causes. From there, you can make a more informed decision as to whether or not they are actually addicted.
Hard drugs such as cocaine or Heroine tend to cause the most obvious physical reactions, including cycles of no sleep, oddly slow movements and speech, and consistently worsening dental problems. People using hard drugs that leave evidence, ones that require syringes, for example, will begin to wear clothing that covers up their markings. People using any kind of drug, including alcohol or prescription pills, might show abnormally excessive speech patterns or have slow reactions times. Hallucinations that occur spontaneously are also signs of drug use. People who are addicted drugs that are primarily smoked tend to suffer from fits of coughing and bronchitis. People struggling with computer and/or internet addiction are forced to deal with back problems, dry eyes, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
The mental symptoms of addiction are less obvious to friends and family of the addicted person and can be the most difficult to deal with (in most cases) for that person. It is difficult to deal with mental problems when you have nobody to open up to and talk about them with. An addicted person usually feels frustrated about their habit but do not feel they can admit or discuss it with anyone around them for fear of disappointment, rejection, or anger. It is a difficult situation to be stuck in, and that is why the help and support of loving, caring friend and family members is the best way to help people in it. The basic mental issues include increased irritability, anger, and other negative feelings, particularly when the person is away from the addictive object or substance. Another common mental sign of addiction, particularly substance addiction, is when the person seems to be repeatedly or abnormally distracted, calm, or "spaced out." Other common signs of substance addiction is paranoia, delusion, and noticeable depression.
One of the most challenging aspects of addiction is denial and rationalization. As the addiction get worse, the addicted person falls deeper and deeper into denial. They convince themselves, often without realizing it, that the addictive behavior is acceptable and normal life can move forward as usual. From this denial, the addict then begins to rationalize the addictive behavior. People use many different reasons, or excuses, to rationalize their addictive behavior. Some of the most common reasons involve stress from work and daily life, relationship problems, mental issues, and other difficult parts of life. These things are hard to keep track of some times, and the addict feels less stress once he or she has escaped those problems with their addictive substance or object. They can come to believe that they actually need the substance to deal with these issues. This rationalization is what leads to an increase in the addictive behavior because the addict has convinced him or herself that it is necessary.
Cravings are a lifelong challenge for people who are prone to addiction or have dealt with addiction in the past. It is interesting to note that the circuits in the brain that activate when an addicted drug is presented are the same ones that activate when presented with food or sex. It implies that a craving is very similar to the need for food or sex. The addictive substance soon becomes a necessity that the addict needs as much as food. Unfortunately, many people struggling with addiction find it an easy choice to take their drug instead of eating a meal are getting a good night of sleep.
The human brain has both a "stop" system and a "go" system that exist to help us make smart and logical decisions. When a person has a desire to do something, their "go" system tells them so. In contrast, when a person knows they should not do something and simply avoid it all together, their "no" system leads them to that choice. A person who is addicted to a substance or object usually has unbalanced "stop" and "go" systems. When a visual or other type of reminder is presented to the addicted person, their "go" system can be triggered within just milliseconds. On top of this, the system responsible for the "stop" part of the brain does not respond as appropriately or as strongly as it should. The result of this unbalance is that the addicted person allows that trigger to push them into further addictive behavior.
Dealing with cravings is a skill that must be learned and practiced over time.
The process of removing all of the addictive substance from someone's body is known as detoxification. This can be one of the most challenging stages of an addict's process of becoming clean. The substance the person was addicted to will determine the affects of detoxification and the types of withdrawal symptoms they will show. Withdrawal symptoms are basically the ways a person's body reacts to a sudden lack of their addictive substance. Some drugs, such as heroine, are much more difficult and literally painful to stop using, as opposed to other substances such as alcohol or marijuana. When a person becomes too addicted to help themselves, they may need the help of a residential rehabilitation clinic where they can spend all of their time under the care of professionals who are dedicated to helping them kick their habit. Although these clinics are quite expensive, they are often the only practical option for people who are seriously addicted to hard drugs and other substances.
A relapse occurs when a recovering addict gives in to their desires and partakes in the addictive behavior once again. For people recovering from addiction, relapse is a repetitive and frustrating step backwards. There are many possible causes for a relapse, each one unique to the person it is affecting. The most common causes of a relapse are reminders of the addictive behavior, such as a cigarette if the person is addicted to tobacco. Other common factors that can cause an addict to enter relapse are negative moods, positive moods, stress, or having a small sample of the addictive object. Every person has a unique brain and will react differently and at different extremes depending on their addictions and situations.
Treatments for Addiction
While the treatment of an addiction can take on many different forms, there are basically three main stages people go through. The first stage of the treatment process for a struggling addict who wants to improve their life is detoxification and stabilization, a step we discussed earlier in this article. Basically, the addict must begin the process by ridding their body of the substance completely so they can start fresh and allow their body to begin healing and working naturally.
Rehabilitation is the second main step to recovery for struggling addicts. Within this stage of recovery, the person will address the ways their addiction has damaged their lifestyle mentally, socially, and physically. This step can also take place in a rehabilitation center or a residential detoxification center, but often takes place without any exterior help aside from family and friends. No matter situation an addict finds themselves in when trying to heal, they must continue a consistent routine in order to curb their cravings and slowly move away from the addictive behavior. Doing this without the help of other people can be very difficult depending on the addiction the person is attempting to stop. One great reason for entering residential programs is the constant support group that is living right around you at all times. Having access to conversation, support, and kindness provides a big advantage for the addicted person. Beyond individual and group therapy, people struggling to stop addictive behavior can take advantage of certain types of medication that help curb the cravings and ease the person through the withdrawal symptoms.
The final, ongoing step for a recovering addict is the care taken after they have been rehabilitated. No matter how well an addict does during the rehabilitation process, they are still at risk for a relapse. The power that common triggers have over recovering addicts completely depends on the individual in the situation, but anyone can eventually give in if they are repeatedly surrounded by triggers. Therefore, it is important to continue providing support to the recovering addict throughout the first year of their recovery. While some people only take a few months to move past an addiction, some people may still struggle for a few years and beyond. People who are willing to offer their help and support can be essential to a recovering addict. It is imperative that a recovering addict having trouble with cravings to join a support group. Not only will a support group give the person a place to express their thoughts and emotions about the situation, but will also allow them to relate and connect with others who have been through some of the same difficult problems. Because each support group is different, the recovering person should visit multiple groups and choose the one that fits their personality the most. A support group is pointless if the person looking for support does not even feel comfortable enough to express their honest emotions.