Addiction refers to someone’s compulsive habit to take drugs, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, gamble, and any other obsessive habits where consuming a substance or being dependent on a specific behaviour is involved.

When addiction takes control over the brain there are a few factors that can affect a person with dependence: motivation, reward, and memory. When the body craves a substance or behaviour it can cause a compulsive need for reward. This can lead to little or no concern over consequences.

A person dealing with addiction may find it difficult to:

  • stay away from the substance or stop the addictive behaviour
  • to control the increased desire for the substance or behaviour
  • to find self-control
  • to realise their behaviour is causing problems

The substance or behaviour dependence affects the decision-making brain area in the long-term.

Addiction can have a serious impact on a person’s life. Someone living with an addiction can a prolonged cycle of devasting relapse and periods of remission. 

Types of addiction

Addiction is usually associated with alcohol, nicotine, drugs, and gambling, but people may become dependent on various substances and behaviours: 

  • solvents – inhaling volatile substances (petrol or lighter fuel, glue, aerosols) can give a person a sensation of dizziness.
  • work – when obsessed with work a person may become physically exhausted and their relationships with family and friends can be deeply affected; some of the signs of work addiction are: refusal or finding excuses not to take holidays or time to rest.
  • internet – living in the era of technology, many people become dependent on computer or mobile phones, spending hours on Facebook, surfing the internet or gaming; neglecting family, friends, and work can lead over time to a considerable decrease in the quality of life.
  • shopping – a person living with this type of addiction may buy unnecessary items to fill the inner void; after compulsive shopping, feelings of despair, shame, and guilt may arise. 

When addiction is involved, negative reactions appear when the body does not get the reward. For example, people with television dependence may deal with withdrawal symptoms such as increased irritability when they cannot watch TV when they want and as much as they want. 

Signs of addiction

Living with addiction means difficulties in maintaining self-control. This can lead over time to unwanted changes:

  • personality changes (becoming suspicious, losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable, becoming depressed or anxious, engaging in risky behaviour)
  • health-related changes (insomnia, memory loss, liver damage)
  • behavioural (the need to hide the secret about their dependence)
  • social changes (making new friends or creating situations that encourage consuming a specific substance or engaging in addictive behaviours)

Even if they recognize the problems caused by their addiction, people with dependence will not stop consuming substances and they will not give up the addictive behaviour. In most cases, the lack of control will make them use more substances than they intended in the first place. 

Behaviour and emotional signs associated with addiction:

  • high level of stress and increased sensitivity
  • difficulties in identifying emotions and feelings
  • blaming other people for their problems and situation
  • increased levels of depression, sadness, and anxiety

What is causing addiction?

Addictive substances and behaviours can create a feeling of pleasure that can be physical and/ or psychological. Over time a person living with addiction will use more substances or engage in addictive behaviours longer just to experience the same pleasurable sensation again. This loop of addictive substances consumption can affect someone with dependence and make the quitting process difficult:

  • For some people, it is easy to experience different substances and behaviours and never try them again, while others become dependent. The brain’s frontal lobes are responsible for these different approaches. The frontal lobe of the brain helps to delay feelings of reward. When addiction is involved, the frontal lobe of the brain is not functioning properly and needs gratification to be immediate.
  • The anterior cingulate cortex and the nucleus accumbens, responsible for pleasurable sensations, can amplify a person’s response when experiencing addictive substances and behaviours.
  • Other possible causes for substance consumption or addictive behaviour include chemical imbalances in the brain or specific mental disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression). The person affected by a mental disorder will develop coping strategies that can become addictions.

If you are struggling with dependence you may prefer a substance to other healthy pleasures and may lose interest in the activities you once liked. When a severe mental disorder is also present, a person can also lose interest in their own or other people’s well-being. 

The changes in the brain may affect those with addiction long after they stop the addictive behaviour. They become vulnerable to physical and environmental triggers. There are at least five types of triggers that can increase the risk of relapse:

  • Stress
  • Negative or challenging emotions
  • Seeing or sensing the object of the addiction
  • People or places connected to the addictive behaviour
  • Birthdays and holidays (time of celebration)

Is willpower enough?

There are certain life events and external factors which could lead, more often, to the exposure to substances and eventually substance use disorders:

  • trauma
  • a family history of addiction
  • untreated mental health disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety)
  • family dynamics and interactions
  • friend groups (the sense of belonging to like-minded people is one of the factors that can maintain the addictive behaviour)
  • social media (when struggling with emotional problems, seeing others uploading photos on Facebook with their happy family may trigger feelings of isolation and low self-esteem)

Due to substance abuse, the brain can suffer changes thus the chemicals that regulate impulsive control and inhibitions regulation, or willpower, can be weakened leading to an inability to stop using or drinking once beginning. In short, NO willpower or self-will is not enough for full, ongoing recovery.

What influences recovery?

The recovery process requires a leap of faith and the first step is admitting that you find it difficult to stay sober. Taking responsibility for each choice and finding the motivation to start a rehab programme are important factors that can support your willingness to recover, along with the decision to put your recovery first.

At this point, your willingness  will be influenced by a difficult choice: avoiding the people, places and things that trigger your desire to use drugs, consume alcohol or engage in other addictive behaviours.

How to improve your willingness to recover? 

When lack of willingness to recover affects your daily decisions, it is recommended to make some changes in your lifestyle such as:

  • Meditate
  • Encourage yourself to stick to the plan (releasing bad habits to adopt better and healthier habits)
  • Learn how to manage stress and negative emotions
  • Get more sleep to help your brain manage energy better
  • Exercise regularly and eat healthier

All these five tips on how to increase your willingness to recover are important to follow when addiction becomes a problem. Following these tips will help you regain the skills needed to manage addiction and sustain recovery. Make sure to ask for help from a rehab specialist before starting the quitting process. The road to recovery is not an easy one, but with help from friends and family, and proper treatment anyone can overcome addiction. 

Are people with addiction responsible for their actions?

People with dependence are not to blame for their addiction, and they should be supported to overcome it. However they do need to take responsibility for their actions and behavior. With new coping skills, a support system to get over the trauma, therapy, and new daily routines they can learn how to stay clean and sober for life.

Stages of addiction

The stages of addiction are:

  • experimentation: the person with addiction uses or engages out of curiosity
  • social (regular): the person with addiction uses or engages for social reasons
  • problem (risk): the person with addiction uses or engages dangerously with little care for consequences
  • dependency: the person with addiction uses or engages in a behaviour daily, or several times per day, despite all the negative consequences

What are the complications?

It is recommended that addiction be treated to avoid negative long-term consequences. These consequences can be:

  • social (jail and ruined relationships)
  • economic (debt and bankruptcy)
  • physical (HIV/AIDS, heart disease, and neurological damage)
  • psychological and emotional (stress, depression, anxiety)

An addiction can cause serious complications such as health concerns or dangerous social interactions that can sometimes lead to death.

How to treat addiction?

With the right support, all addictions are treatable. Addiction Centre London specializes in offering customized treatment and different types of therapy for people with dependence.

Common therapies include:

  • medications (to treat depression or schizophrenia)
  • psychotherapy (behavioural, talk, and group therapies)
  • addiction case manager (support for coordinating and checking ongoing treatment)
  • inpatient rehab treatment
  • self-help and support groups
  • medical services (to offer support during withdrawal detox)

The type of treatment a rehab specialist recommends depends on the severity and stage of the addiction. For the early stages of addiction, the expert may recommend only therapy and medication. In later stages, the patient may need rehab treatment in a controlled environment.