What is Addiction?
Addiction to a substance or activity affects an estimated two million people in the UK. Addiction is a complex illness with physical and psychological symptoms affecting not only the addict but their family, friends and social environment too.
Addiction Counselling can help identify, understand and work through the social, environmental and psychological factors underlying the addiction, and can help to prevent relapses.
Here we outline the most common forms of addiction.
If you drink large quantities of alcohol regularly, you run the risk of becoming alcohol dependent. This means you could develop an addiction to alcohol and find it hard to live day to day without having a drink. You might find yourself drinking more and more alcohol, and planning your life around ways to find the next drink.
Feeling a compulsive need to drink and being unable to stop drinking when you start are also signs of alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence often isn’t down to just one cause, but can be the result of a number of different factors. A predisposition towards alcohol can be inherited, or it might be shaped by family attitudes towards drinking.
Some occupations, such as high pressure sales jobs, are associated with social drinking, which may increase the risk of dependence. People living through stressful events, like a death in the family, may find they start to drink more heavily
Co-dependency is often called relationship addiction or love addiction. It’s when a person is unhealthily reliant on a partner, and readily compromises his or own needs. Co-dependency thrives in toxic relationships, often when one person is needy and clingy, and the other person is distant and/or abusive. Co-dependent behaviour is often learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behaviour. Co-dependency can affect a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person with alcohol or drug dependence.
Co-dependency can lead to “people pleasing” behaviours, and there can be reluctance to express one’s true feelings for fear of being punished or abandoned. Deep down, there is a feeling of being unlovable.
Counselling can help you spot the co-dependent patterns in your life, and help you become more assertive. Being in therapy can also help you become more authentic with yourself and others.
Drug addiction is a dependence on an illegal drug or a medication. When you’re addicted, you may not be able to control your drug use and you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes. Drug addiction can cause an intense craving for the drug. You may want to quit, but most people find they can’t do it on their own.
For many people, what starts as casual use leads to drug addiction. Drug addiction can cause serious, long-term consequences, including problems with physical and mental health, relationships, employment and the law. Commonly abused substances include:
Heroin, Amphetamines, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Methylphenidate, barbiturates, benzodiazepines LSD, mushrooms, marijuana (cannabis) and hashish.
If you’re a compulsive overeater, or food addict, you may have an obsessive/compulsive relationship with food. You may experience frequent episodes of binge eating, where you feel out of control, often consuming food past the point of being comfortably full. Binging is usually done in private, and is often followed by feelings of guilt and embarrassment.
Unlike individuals with bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not compensate for their binging with purging behaviours such as fasting, vomiting, or using laxatives. Compulsive overeaters will typically eat when they are not hungry. They spend excessive amounts of time thinking about food, and secretly plan or fantasise about eating alone.
Compulsive overeating usually leads to weight gain and obesity, but not everyone who is obese is a compulsive overeater. If not treated, it can lead to serious medical conditions. High cholesterol, diabetes, disease, hypertension, sleep apnoea, and depression are some of the effects of overeating.
Gambling addiction is impulsive and progressive. If you’re a gambling addict, you may have difficulty controlling the impulse to gamble, even when you know gambling is hurting you and the people closest to you.
Regardless of the consequences, gamblers become consumed by gambling. Compulsive gamblers will continue to gamble whether they are happy or depressed. Their need to gamble overrides everything else, even the prospect of losing relationships and getting into serious debt. Even though compulsive gambling can leave a person feeling stressed, depressed and anxious, these feelings can create a vicious cycle – leading to a greater need to gamble.
Finding alternative ways to deal with these difficult feelings without gambling is an important aspect of therapeutic support for gamblers. Without challenging new ways of thinking and behaving, gamblers may resort to similar behaviours even after gambling is no longer a part of their life.
Internet addiction, compulsive internet use, computer addiction, internet dependence and problematic internet use – all of these terms can be applied to anyone who spends excessive amounts of time online to the detriment of other aspects of their lives. Internet addiction can include the following activities:
- Relationships: spending excessive amounts of time starting and maintaining online friendships in chat rooms and on social media, which replace real-life friends and family.
- Money: compulsively gambling online, trading online, or taking part in online auctions.
- Information searching: compulsive web surfing or database searches.
- Gaming: obsessive computer game playing, including multi-user games.
- Sex: addiction to adult chat rooms, cybersex or pornography on the internet.
Sex addiction (or hypersexuality) is where a person becomes obsessed with sex to the point where it dominates thinking and behaviour. Sex addiction can involve compulsive masturbation, extensive use of pornography, multiple affairs or one-night stands, and potentially risky behaviour such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, use of prostitutes, unsafe sex and obscene phone calls. As with other addictions, sex addiction is progressive, and the addict may turn to more extreme behaviours to achieve the same results.
Intimate relationships will become difficult or impossible for the sex addict, and emotional and physical wellbeing will be affected. Sex addiction can be a lonely place to be. It is important to note, however, that sex addicts don’t necessarily become sex offenders, and vice versa.
Nicotine addiction is recognised as being more addictive than heroin or cocaine.
Nicotine in cigarettes acts on receptors in the brain that cause a response to the feel-good hormones in the body. It is this release of dopamine in the brain that encourages the smoker to repeat the action. The positive reward for the behaviour is recognised due to the speed the nicotine gets to the brain (seven seconds) when delivered by efficient cigarettes.
Every time the smoker draws on the cigarette and inhales the smoke, the brain associates the action with the reward. Once levels of nicotine in the blood stream drop, the receptors in the brain start to crave more. This withdrawal from the substance is the reason that makes smoking hard to give up.
Work addiction, or workaholism, is a compulsive need to work, and an inability to relax when not working. It’s not the number of hours worked that makes a workaholic, but the obsessive relationship with work to the detriment of other aspects of life. Workaholics can be attached to their smartphones at all times, even when on holiday or in social situations. They value work over all other activities, causing issues with those closest to them. They can become stressed, anxious and depressed, and suffer psychosomatic illnesses.
Factors underlying workaholism can be perfectionism, fear of intimacy, a compulsive need to gain approval and success, and a fear of being exposed for not being good enough.
A dual diagnosis may occur if someone is experiencing a mental health difficulty coupled with a drug or alcohol related problem. When faced with a mental health issue, some people may turn to drugs or alcohol to make them feel better temporarily. However, quite often using substances can exacerbate their feelings, particularly with depression and anxiety. Counselling and support groups can be an effective way to address both diagnoses.
[vc_message color=”alert-info”]Disclaimer: Counselling or Psychotherapy Treatments are not a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified doctor or other health care professional. Always check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your condition or treatment. Clients are responsible for assessing the outcome of their treatment and are advised to refer to NICE guidelines for further information.[/vc_message]