Addictions are repetitive and potentially harmful behaviours that an individual has difficulty controlling. They can be triggered by the overwhelming need to escape from distressing emotional or physical situations. The compulsive urge to do or use specific things repeatedly can seem to be a solution to the initial issue; however the consequences of this excessive behaviour can be dire for both the individual and those around them.
Addictions can often stem from generally pleasurable activities such as eating, having a drink with dinner, having sex, smoking, taking occasional drugs, using the internet or having a flutter at the races. Many people do these things regularly without being addicted to them. However, sometimes the urge to recreate the ‘high’ that follows these experiences can become all consuming. When that happens, the person goes out of their way to experience it again and they begin a repetitive cycle that can be extremely hard to stop.
Often, people are not even aware of their addiction – at least at first – let alone how it affects their work, health and relationships. Even when they do become aware of it the majority find it almost impossible to stop without some form of support or treatment. Addiction counselling and related treatments are crucial for helping addicts to acknowledge their condition and its consequences. This is a very important step as it opens the door to recovery and eventual abstinence.
Everyone has habits or simple things that we do on a regular basis. It could be having a glass of wine with dinner or chatting with friends online at night. It is when these habits become out of control and begin to have a negative impact on a person’s emotional and physical well-being that they become problems. The psychological urge to repeat the habit as a top priority is what defines it as an addiction. In other words, a habit is a behaviour that a person can successfully stop at any time and they remain in complete control. Conversely an addiction is a behaviour that a person can no longer control.
Some of the more common forms of addiction include:
There is no single cause of addiction and it is not limited by age, race, class or any other social demographic. Hundreds and thousands of people across the country are suffering from an addiction of some sort and the flow on effects on their lives and society in general are enormous. Yet the reasons why people become addicted vary greatly and are still not fully understood. It often stems from a combination of several physical, circumstantial and emotional factors including:
Knowing the causes of an addiction can help to determine the kind of addition a person has. Addiction tends to fall into two categories; physical and psychological.
Physical addictions actually have a biological effect on the body. When someone becomes dependant on a substance such as alcohol, they constantly strive to reach a pleasurable and emotional ‘high’. This state gives them a sense of bliss and contentment and it provides an escape from daily life. However this feeling is only temporary and is always followed by an emotional crash and an influx of negative thought patterns. This ‘low’ state increases the desire to indulge in the activity again so the cycle continues.
When this occurs on a regular basis, the body adapts to the addictive substance so its effect is reduced. Many internal organs and functions can be affected by the substance to the extent where they can lose function or even fail if it is withdrawn. As a result, the body increasingly craves the substance to the point where the person can lose all control and they have to succumb to the craving.
While some addictions start out as a result of the search for positive experiences, others come about as a way of avoiding negative ones and all the stresses that radiate from them. Addictions such as gambling and drug abuse are often a means of coping with overwhelming psychological issues. The addictions are an irrational way to fulfil a need or compensate for a void in the person’s life.
Psychological addictions do not cause physical changes within the body which is why sometimes people can switch from one addiction to another. The focus of the addiction it not that relevant – the person simply has a powerful urge to indulge in addictive behaviour in any form. For the majority of sufferers, psychological addiction creates even more problems than physical addiction as it generates strong feelings such as failure, shame, despair and guilt. These accentuate the problem and often involve friends and family.
Addiction manifests in many ways; some more obvious than others. The signs and symptoms may vary depending on the focus of the addition; however all forms of addiction have a notable impact on confidence and self-esteem and can invoke negative feelings like hopelessness and shame. Other common physical and emotional symptoms include:
Many sufferers are genuinely unaware of their own addiction or the flow-on effect it has on those around them. They slowly build an illusion that what they are doing is safe (or at least that it won’t hurt anyone) and that they can stop it at any time. Sometimes the individual might recognise the addition for what it is but they remain in denial about its consequences or ignore them out of fear – particularly if they see their addiction as a key to coping with their current situation.
Sadly, while the person remains in this state of denial, their addiction can cascade into something well outside their control. When they finally confront it, the addiction is often in its more advanced stages. At this point, the person’s home and work life may be slowly crumbling in around them. Their relationships could be under strain, their job could be in jeopardy and they may have massive debt all of which can drive them further down the road to addiction. In some cases, they may have even had brushes with the law.
Sometimes the person may only face up to their addiction when it has led to a major crisis or when their access to the substance or behaviour is removed. The intensity of the shock and raw emotions that follow often provide the motivation needed for the person to voluntarily seek help. There are some who recognise the problem at an earlier stage and who attempt to do something about it before the situation gets worse. They may even be able to wean themselves away from their addiction either on their own or with the help of one or two others. However, it is well documented that most people will need some form of interventional treatment and that the earlier this is implemented, the better the outcome is likely to be.
If you feel you are ready to take the first step in seeking help for your addiction, congratulations. That is a huge step that takes lots of courage. You can try starting by talking to someone you trust about how you feel. This could be a family member, friend, your GP or you could find a community organisation in your area that offers help to people with additions, such as the Salvation Army.
Most trained volunteers and medical professionals should be able to answer your questions without judgement and provide you with a safe environment in which your discussions can take place.
A medical practitioner will generally go over your full case history and also give you a complete physical assessment to determine if your addiction has caused any health concerns. In particular, they will discuss your behaviour to see if it has become:
Several different types of treatment are generally used to help people effectively overcome their addictions. In most cases, a combination of medication and talking therapies is used. These are aimed at providing support for people in the weeks and months after abstaining from their addiction. They can take the form of self-help groups, one-on-one counselling and supporting therapies. The combination of treatments can be tailored to suit the individual and their circumstances.
The most common form of therapy for addictions is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is done by a qualified counsellor who helps the person to reflect on their thoughts and behaviours and identify negative patterns. Some of these patterns may have deep roots in the past and the person may not even be aware of them; however the underlying issue(s) may have been affecting their emotions and behaviours for many years.
Once the negative thoughts and behaviours that led to the addiction have been identified, they can then be discussed openly. Drawing out the root cause in this way helps to minimise its impact. The person can then be encouraged to think, feel and act in more positive ways. This process is essential to follow once the person has given up their addiction as it helps them to maintain the change and avoid relapse. This is usually considered to be much more challenging than giving up the addiction itself.
In Australia there are currently no laws that specify what qualifications or training a counsellor needs to have before being allowed to offer addiction counselling services. However there are a number of tertiary and professional development courses that are available. Practitioners can also apply to be registered with the Australian Counselling Association.
It is generally recommended that people struggling to overcome addiction undertake a detox program alongside CBT or similar therapy. When that person is in a relationship or has a family then couples or family counselling may be also needed so finding a professional with experience with addiction in these circumstances would be very beneficial.