Health Review: Understanding Addiction and Improving Life
Addiction is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the need or strong desire to do or have something, or a very strong liking for something.” This makes addiction sound very simple. However the reality of addiction is quite the opposite. Addiction is typically a very serious symptom of a bigger underlying problem a person is facing or has been facing their entire lives. It is often deep-rooted in something that has happened to them in the past combined with the makeup of their brains.
It is not only bad and illegal things people become addicted to. Addiction can be to something that is positive in moderation or even necessary for survival. When something takes over a person’s life and well-being, it is recognized as an addiction.
People become addicted to things for several reasons. The top four include:
- To feel better or achieve a sense of pleasure referred to as a “high”
- To relieve stress
- To get ahead, or improve themselves
- To fit in
Addicted people are often unable to control their behavior or to abstain from doing or taking something. Many addicted people fail to recognize there is a problem with what they are doing.
- American Psychiatry Association: What is Addiction?
- American Society of Addiction Medicine: Definition of Addiction
Types of Addiction
There are many types of drugs; heroin, methamphetamine, pain relievers, but one thing they have in common is that they target the brain’s reward system by activating a dopamine response. Eventually, addiction leads to physical dependence.
Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in America. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that since alcohol is not illegal, it is okay to drink to as much as desired. However, alcoholism can lead to numerous health issues such as dementia and strokes if not kept under control.
Nicotine addiction does not just affect the physical health of the one using it, although it does have serious consequences for users. Cigarette smoking kills close to 500,000 Americans per year, and about 41,000 of these deaths are due to secondhand smoke. Cigarettes and chewing tobacco are among the most expensive habits.
Gambling is an impulse control disorder. One does not have to gamble every day to have a problem. Someone addicted to gambling cannot stop themselves from gambling, even if they have no money or are affecting their loved ones.
Food addiction is a very real problem. Just like individuals with drug addiction, the brain’s reward system is activated in response to eating when someone is addicted to food. These people are not always obese.
Video games have their place in society; they can be a harmless hobby to some people. Yet, too much gaming can cause developmental problems in adolescences. In both children and adults, it could lead to a lack of social engagement among other things.
When someone is so addicted to being on the internet they are accessing it when driving, in the middle of a conversation or are not able to do certain tasks because of its distraction; they are addicted. This has become an even bigger problem given how accessible the internet has become.
Individuals who are addicted to taking risks are essentially seeking the high they get when engaging in risky behavior. Often, these people will commit crimes or place themselves in a dangerous situation just to get an adrenaline rush.
Those addicted to shopping usually spend money to avoid other feelings such as fear, sadness, loneliness or low self-esteem. As a result, they face a strain on their finances and relationships. They also feel panicked and anxious if they are without a credit card.
Most people live for their days off, but there are some who dread or refuse to take them. Someone who is addicted to work is typically insecure in some aspect of their lives, whether it is financially or personally. They often think their self-worth will diminish if they are not constantly on the clock.
- National Institute of Drug Abuse: The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc.: Facts About Alcohol
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Burden of Tobacco Use in the U.S.
- Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery: Shopping
Addiction Warning Signs and Prevention
- Financial Hardships: One of the biggest warning signs of addiction is financial Addicted people will go to great lengths to support their habit. If the addiction is not recognized soon enough, their jobs and bank accounts will suffer. After these resources are depleted, they will resort to stealing and doing dangerous things to make money.
- Secrecy: Even if they won’t admit they have a problem, they recognize the disapproval of loved ones and society and will attempt to conceal parts of their day.
- Repeating behaviors despite negative consequences: Perhaps they have blacked out after drinking or overdosed on a drug. When addicted, this will not stop them from continuing their harmful
- Physical appearance: If someone has lost or gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time, does not keep up with personal hygiene, has poor skin or has changed physically without any explanation, there is a possibility they have an addiction. Compulsive shoppers may have new personal items each time you see them.
- Poor performance: the quality of their work at their place of employment or school declines
- Relationship break down: they are unable to maintain relationships because their addiction will always take precedence over others.
- Emotional changes: they may seem depressed, anxious, distracted or as if they are not in the present moment.
Prevention is easiest when started early. Being a healthy role model for children is the best way to prevent drug abuse or other addictive behaviors. Providing children with a safe, stable home and monitoring who they are spending time with will help prevent addiction. Encourage them to strive for success in school and sports, explain to them they need long-term goals they can reach for.
Moderation is key. Certain activities that have the potential to turn into addictions are not all bad. For example, shopping is fun and necessary. Keep in mind it is still ok to engage in certain activities, but not every day.
Having open channels of communication is another good prevention technique. If someone has an outlet where they can freely express themselves, they are less likely to turn to alternative measures to numb or overcome what they are facing.
One of the best things a person can do as an addict is change their routine. Addiction is a habit. By staying in the environment that activates and cultivates the addiction, the chances of recovery are slim to none. This is not to say their entire life must be changed, but key things do have to be altered. Stress, people, places and things may cause someone to give in to their harmful desires. It is important to recognize and change whatever is having a negative influence on choices.
Counseling is an option for families struggling with a family member’s addiction. It is important that the addicted party is willing to participate.
Do not be an enabler. If you are the person they turn to every time they need money, a place to stay or anything else that helps their habit, understand that you have a problem as well. By providing an easy way out for an addict, you are basically feeding their habits.
Long Term Help:
There are several outpatient programs that provide long-term help for certain addictions. Support groups, therapy, behavior modification and 12 Step Programs are available in every area of the country. Each of these things will better help understand and change the addictive behavior.
For very serious addiction problems, there are inpatient facilities that provide around the clock support for at least 90 days. These places are for people who are likely to or have relapsed in the past. They also are meant for addicts that are putting their lives at risk to get their high.
Supporting Someone with Addiction:
- Admit that they have a problem. Do not deny or excuse the fact that they have an addiction whether it is legal or illegal.
- Set boundaries. As mentioned earlier, do not let them steal from you, do not feed their addictions by giving them money, food or alcohol. Do not be manipulated and do not feel guilt about saying no.
- Understand it is not your fault they are addicted and encourage them to seek help. You will not be able to “fix” their addiction, and that is ok.
- Reach out for help immediately. The sooner they get help, the
Parents who have adolescence struggling with addiction can visit DrugFree.org.
Smart Drug Policy, Global Drug Policy for the 21st Century, has information about prevention.