What is Addiction?
Addiction is a psychological and physical disorder, characterised by an inability to stop consuming a substance or activity, even though it has negative, harmful consequences.
When we experience addiction, we cannot control how we use a substance or engage in a compulsive behaviour, and are completely dependent on it to cope with daily life.
There are two features that all addictions have in common:
- The addictive behaviour is maladaptive. It causes problems for the individual (and those around them) rather than helping them to cope effectively with situations or overcome difficulties. The addictive behaviour undermines the individual’s ability to find alternative, healthy coping strategies, which can be as destructive to their life as the actual addiction itself.
- The addictive behaviour is persistent. The individual will continue to frequently engage in the addictive behaviour, despite the trouble it causes them and those around them. An addict is not able to stop or moderate their behaviour, regardless of the negative consequences to their health, mental wellbeing, career, finances and relationships. (Not without the right professional help and treatment.)
Addiction is an illness; just as cancer or heart disease are illnesses. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. It can happen to anyone, at any age, and at any time.
According to the charity Action on Addiction, 1 in 3 people are addicted to something.
Recent studies have identified high instances of co-occurring mental illnesses in those suffering from addiction. It is believed that addiction can create mental health problems or result from an attempt to cope with them. In either case, both conditions need to be treated simultaneously, in order to guarantee a full recovery.
What are the Different Types of Addiction?
There are no different types of addiction as such, only different manifestations of the condition. While one person may become dependent on alcohol, someone else might become addicted to prescription drugs, and another to a combination of both. The principal dynamic is the same in each case – an all-consuming relationship with a substance or activity that changes our mood.
The term ‘addiction’ is most commonly associated with alcohol and/or drugs (including prescription medications). These substance addictions include:
- stimulants (e.g. Adderall, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy)
- depressants (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, Xanax, Valium)
- opioids (powerful painkillers, such as heroin, morphine, codeine, Vicodin)
- dissociatives (e.g. Ketamine and PCP)
More recently, the term has been expanded to include a number of addictive activities or behaviours, called process addictions. These include:
- sex and love
- new technologies (the internet, mobile phones, social media, videogames)
Regardless of the type, an untreated addiction will have far-reaching consequences that not only cause damage to the addicted person but also impact negatively on the lives of their family, friends, work colleagues and extended community.
What are the Causes of Addiction?
Addiction is a progressive disease that doesn’t just happen overnight. It is rare to become addicted after using a substance, or engaging in a certain behaviour, just a few times. Not everyone who uses substances, or engages in certain behaviours, will become addicted to them.
Addiction is a highly complex condition and there is no single cause that determines if we will become addicted. However, there are several factors known to contribute to whether a person is more likely to develop an addiction, including:
- Family history
- Genetic factors
- The presence of other underlying mental health problems
- The brain
Addiction can be influenced by the environment we grew up in, e.g. if close family members struggled with addiction, or we were exposed to parental behaviours, such as negative communication, inconsistent parenting, misplaced anger, neglect, abuse and/or self-medication.
Research shows that addiction can be genetic and that parents can pass genetic markers for mental health and substance use disorders to their children. This does not mean we will become an addict, but it makes us more vulnerable to the condition.
Environmental factors, such as access to addictive substances, peer pressure, stress, lack of social support and poor coping skills, can all greatly affect the likelihood of addiction developing.
Over time, using substances, or engaging in certain behaviours, can actually change our brain structure and function – as they stimulate and overload the reward circuit. Long-term use has been shown to cause adverse changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits, including memory, learning, judgment and decision-making.
Substance use and addictive behaviours are often used as a way of blocking out difficult issues or relieving painful emotions, and will only continue to get worse over time. Seeking help, support and treatment to get to the root cause of our addiction – and address any dual diagnosis – is vital to our recovery.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Addiction?
The mental and physical effects of addiction can vary from person to person, depending on the type of substance and / or behaviour addiction, and on our individual circumstances.
The strain of managing any addiction will have serious psychological, emotional and physical consequences, resulting in a wide range of unpleasant and distressing symptoms. Symptoms that are common to most types of addiction include:
- an inability to stop, despite negative consequences
- changes in mood, appetite and sleep
- denial and/or defensiveness
- engaging in risky behaviours
- being preoccupied with the substance or behaviour
- neglecting or losing interest in people and activities we used to enjoy
- putting the substance or behaviour ahead of other parts of our life, including family, work, friends and other responsibilities
- secrecy – hiding substances or behaviours from others
- needing increasingly larger amounts of a substance – or to engage more frequently in addictive behaviours
- relationship/marital problems, especially with those who detect the dependency
- declining physical health
- financial problems
- lack of concern over physical appearance / personal hygiene
- withdrawal symptoms, if the substance use or behaviour stops.
As the condition is progressive, over time we will develop a higher tolerance, engage more frequently in the behaviour, and experience more intense cravings and extreme withdrawal symptoms.
The first step to getting help is recognising these signs and symptoms as soon as possible and acknowledging we need help. All addictions are treatable and there are a number of effective treatments available to ensure a full recovery and prevent relapse.
How can Addiction be Treated
Addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed, but not all routes to recovery are the same. It is a complex and chronic condition, which causes a wide range of mental, emotional and physical problems, each requiring different, specific treatments.
Research has shown that people participating in treatment programmes have a much higher chance of achieving recovery. Without the correct approach, relapse is common.
The recovery journey can take time and requires persistence. The best addiction-treatment programme for each individual will depend on a variety of factors, and needs to be carefully designed in collaboration with an experienced therapist.
Some common treatment approaches include:
- Behaviour therapy and counselling to address the thoughts, emotions and behaviour patterns that are contributing to the addiction – including family therapy and group therapy.
- Treatment for related mental health problems, such as anxiety or trauma.
- Medication and drug-based treatment to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as to treat underlying mental health disorders, such as depression.
- Community support, including in-person or online support groups, as a source of education, encouragement and social support.
Research has shown that modern approaches to treating addiction are more effective, especially those that treat the addiction and co-occurring mental illness together.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most effective treatment programmes typically include:
- understanding that addiction is a treatable disease that alters brain function and behaviour, and there is a risk for relapse even after long periods of abstinence.
- understanding that no single treatment programme is right for everyone. A person’s individual problems and needs must be considered when matching them to treatment options.
- being immediately availability.
- attending to needs in addition to treating the addiction, including medical, psychological, social, employment, and legal issues.
- combining behavioural therapy and medication-assisted treatment tailored to a person’s age, gender, ethnicity, and culture (for an appropriate length of time).
- involving the individual, as well as their family, in planning.
- delivering support for co-occurring mental health issues.
- providing medically-assisted detoxification.
Addiction Treatment at White River Manor
At White River Manor we have our own unique approach to treating addiction, alongside any co-occurring conditions. We provide a holistic treatment programme, which is shaped around your personal preferences and therapeutic needs. This can include various elements from the traditional 12-Step Programme, which are known to provide a solid foundation for recovery.
Using a combination of traditional methods, ancient philosophy and cutting-edge science, the team at White River Manor treats the whole person and not just the addiction. Our personalised, holistic approach ensures deep transformational healing and a full recovery.
We understand that recovery is a lifelong pursuit of positive habit building, maintaining mental wellbeing and avoiding triggers, which is why we also include a complete aftercare plan to support you following treatment.
We will be there to guide and support you, and your loved ones, throughout the whole recovery process.