What is an addiction?
When we think of addictions we tend think about gambling, drugs, alcohol or nicotine but the term can refer to almost any behavior where we have lost control over something that we are taking or using to the point that it could be harmful. Even activities that are beneficial, such as exercise, can take on some of the characteristics of an addiction when done to excess . Being obsessed with work, use of the internet or shopping can also be seen as examples of addictive behaviours especially when these take over and cause us to neglect other important areas of our lives.
What causes addictions?
There isn’t a single cause for an addiction and there are many reasons why an addiction can start to take hold. Addiction to a substance such as drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect the way we feel physically and emotionally. Because these substances often produce pleasurable feelings they can create a powerful urge to use them again. Some people may be especially vulnerable to using a substance to help them feel better if they are suffering from anxiety or depression or if they are feeling worried about difficulties at work or in a relationship. In these instances using an addictive substance such as alcohol or drugs is more of a symptom rather than a cause and becomes a way of coping with personal pain and distress.
A gambling addiction may not necessarily be accompanied by the use of a substance but it can still produce the same sense of euphoria or "high" after a win and creates the same urge to repeat the experience again. Because of this, a gambling addiction can often start out as a harmless "flutter" but go on to develop into a habit that is hard to break free from.
Highs and lows - how addictions take over
When an addiction takes hold we can experience withdrawal symptoms if we can't continue to feed the habit. Because the feelings associated with this "come down" are generally unpleasant we are likely to crave more of the substance or behaviour to make us feel better. This leads to a cycle that can be difficult to break and it can feel easier to repeat the addiction rather than tolerate the bad feelings that come with withdrawal. A further problem occurs as the addiction becomes more out of control and even more is needed to achieve the same level of "high". Some people feel compelled to try to experience the same feelings they had when they started using and this keeps the addiction going in the hope that the original high will be achieved.
Addictions can take several forms. Common addictions include:-
How addictions can affect you
Having an addiction can place an enormous strain on work and relationships. Substance misuse such as alcohol or drugs can also have harmful psychological and physical effects. Addiction can start out as a pleasurable activity and grow in to an uncontrollable dependence as the brain and body becomes increasingly tolerant and more and more of the drug or activity is needed to produce the same feelings or high. One of the clearest indications of an addiction is the way that it can develop into an exclusive behaviour that takes priority over the things that are usually important to us such as family, friends, work and school. Sometimes the need to satisfy cravings can make us engage in behaviours that we wouldn't usually consider to be safe or wise. Of course, different people experience substance use in different ways and feel different effects. Some people describe substance use as recreational - part of a social scene that is widespread and does not appear to cause any noticeable problems. Despite this, it's generally recognized that most addictions, particularly substances, can be harmful and may lead to serious long-term health and social problems as well as causing psychological damage. For this reason many substances which are known to lead to addictions are prohibited under the law and strict penalties can be imposed even for possession.
What is the treament for an addiction?
Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very effective in treating addiction problems. But the starting point for overcoming any addiction is yourself. No one can make you give up an addiction. You have to genuinely want to change and believe your life will be better without it. If you’re committed to finding a solution to your addiction I can help you make a plan for the future identifying the challenges you are likely to meet from withdrawal and developing the skills to help you cope with them effectively. You will find me supportive and non-judgemental as you work towards a new life free from addictions.