Addiction takes many forms. It leads to both physical and mental symptoms, and if left unchecked, the consequences can be crushing. Gaining a better understanding of addiction is the first step towards finding a solution.
To begin understanding addiction, we’ll first need to get a good picture of what addiction actually is. In this blog, we’ll also cover the different kinds of addiction, and take a look at what can cause a relapse and how you can avoid this.
Addiction can be a destructive illness, but it doesn’t need to be. Read on to hear our professional breakdown and help strengthen your own understanding of addiction.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic dysfunction in the brain that causes obsessive or compulsive pursuit of pleasure. We can also define addiction as a person not having control over something they do, take or use, to the point that it becomes potentially harmful. It’s tied in with the brain’s natural systems of reward, motivation and memory.
A person who is experiencing addiction may show some or all of these behaviours:
- An inability to stay away from enabling substances or conditions
- A lack of self-control
- Unusually high appetite for the substance or behaviour
- Lack of regard for consequences
- Apparent lack of emotion
Addiction exists at every level of society. Experts estimate that addiction affects at least two million people in the UK – that’s almost 3% of the population. People can become addicted to a massive range of substances or behaviours, from alcohol to the internet, smoking to relationships. Understanding your addiction is the key to finding practical solutions and learning to deal with it.
Types of Addiction
In broad strokes, you can divide addiction into two main types: substance or chemical addiction, and behavioural addiction. Remember though that this isn’t a gospel rule. Addictions can often coexist in the sufferer. They may overlap or enable each other in complicated ways.
Substance addiction is what most of us might imagine when we think of “addiction”. Commonly, it is linked to chemicals present in alcohol, opioids, nicotine, cannabis and amphetamines, among others. To truly understand substance addiction though, you need to expand this group to include chemicals like sugar or caffeine. Experts are frequently redrawing the lines between addiction, misuse, and dependency.
People addicted to substances will often experience cravings. Symptoms also include distress in the absence of the substance, increasingly risky use, difficulty managing, social issues, or withdrawal symptoms when the substance isn’t consumed.
Behavioural addictions are more murky waters. Medical professionals are locked in a running debate about whether certain behaviours truly constitute addictions. Officially, the American Psychiatric Association recognises only gambling addiction and internet gaming disorder as addictions in the traditional sense.
There is pressure in the wider medical community to go further. Many want to include behaviours like shopping, exercise, sex and love, food, TV and social media as medically recognised addictions.
The signs of possible behavioural addictions would include large amounts of time spent engaging in the activity, consistent urges to do the activity, using the behaviour to manage difficulties or hiding the behaviour from others.
Addiction.com ranked the top ten types of addiction worldwide in 2014. You’d probably guess, correctly, that nicotine, drugs and alcohol feature on that list, along with:
What Causes a Relapse?
Addiction is a powerful disease, and avoiding or abstaining from harmful substances or behaviours does not necessarily mean an addiction is under control. It’s important to understand that addictions work in a system of remission and relapse. Any number of things can trigger a relapse, and it varies from person to person.
For many, a relapse is often triggered by:
- Distress, be it emotional or physical
- Isolation and lack of a support network
- Daily pressures, like money or relationships
- Exposure to damaging substances or behaviours
- Overconfidence that the addiction is “defeated”
- Anger, boredom, or lack of self-esteem
You may have been ‘clean’ or ‘sober’ for years. Then something happens unexpectedly, and you find yourself in full relapse. This can be extremely difficult and upsetting for people in recovery. Understanding the relapse triggers associated with addiction can help people manage.
How to Stop the Addiction Cycle
The good news is, there are steps you can take to stop addiction in its tracks, whenever it rears its ugly head. Addictive urges don’t have to result in a full relapse or breakdown. Day-to-day, people can help themselves break the cycle of addiction using these tried-and-tested strategies and techniques.
Self-care: A healthy and balanced lifestyle works wonders for stopping the addiction cycle. Diet, exercise, and mental wellbeing are all key ingredients of this, and will also help to ensure quality sleep, which doctors report is essential in avoiding a relapse.
Meditation and Mindfulness: The essence of mindfulness is to become deeply aware of yourself and your situation within the grand scheme of life. Understanding addiction and yourself as part of a larger whole helps stave off unhelpful urges.
Understand Your Triggers: Making a list of the triggers that might bring about a relapse can be helpful in avoiding them. Triggers can be internal or external, and understanding them is one effective way to break the addiction cycle.
HALT: HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If you feel an addictive urge coming on, ask yourself: am I feeling any of the HALT symptoms? Identifying the root of an urge can help you prevent addiction taking hold.
Breathe Deep: Breathing deeply releases neurotransmitters, increases oxygen flow, and helps exhale toxins. The 4×4 method, or ‘box breathing’, teaches us to take four breaths in through the nose, hold it, and release for four seconds. This can have incredible benefits on your brain chemistry, emotions and mood.
Understanding Addiction and Getting Help
Another key element of understanding addiction is to know that help is available. Everybody needs somebody. There are a range of medically-accredited programmes to help you put your best foot forward on the journey of recovery.
Addiction counselling will help you identify the disease and treat it in the most productive way possible – a trained addiction specialist can equip you with an effective toolkit to help you in your journey with addiction. And don’t forget about your own network of friends and family. Keep a register of contacts you can reach out to and share your thoughts with – after all, a problem shared is a problem halved.
There are many varying aspects of addiction, and at times it can seem a little overwhelming. The fact is, the road to understanding addiction is long, but there is always light at the end. Reach out to The Awareness Centre today and talk to a trained professional. We can help you make your first step on the path to understanding addiction, and recovering from it.