It is no surprise that the word “addiction” comes from the Latin term for “enslaved by”. Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction understands why. Its chains are heavy, and it will drive you to do almost anything.
So, what is it? Addiction is craving something intensely, losing control over its use, and continuing to do it despite negative consequences.
For many years, experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. Now, neuroimaging technologies have shown that many pleasurable activities, including gambling, shopping, and sex, can also become addictive.
The way society looks at addiction has also evolved. The blame has traditionally been laid at the feet of the addict, saying it is after all their choice. This view has changed. We recognise it as a disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart, addiction hijacks the brain.
And the stats are bad. Nobody starts out intending to develop an addiction, but millions get caught in its snare. For example, at least 15 percent of South Africans are said to have a drug problem, according to the country’s Central Drug Authority.
How does addiction develop?
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way. When it is engaged by pleasurable stimuli, be it a five-star meal, or a briefcase of cash, it activates its reward system, and floods itself with dopamine.
Drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, and addictive behaviours, from shopping to sex, have the same effect. They both know the shortcut to the brain’s dollops of dopamine.
Over time, tolerance develops. The brain decreases the release of dopamine and inhibits the dopamine receptors. Addicts then adapt too, by using more, and more, and more. It’s all about chasing that first high – and it’s a high that’s increasingly elusive.
Addiction versus dependence. What is the difference?
The two words are so closely related, and often used so interchangeably, you would think they meant the same thing.
Addiction is a disease characterized by behavioural issues. It is caused by changes to the pleasure and reward system of the brain. On the other hand, dependence refers to a physical reliance on a substance, and affects different parts of the brain called the thalamus and brain stem.
The two conditions often occur at the same time, but a person can be dependent on a substance without being addicted to it.
The warning signs. How to know if you have a problem
Here are some signs of addiction you should watch for in yourself and your loved ones.
- Hiding your substance use. Drinking secretively or lying about your drug use indicates shame, which means it is a problem.
- Using substances as a coping mechanism. If you feel like you cannot relax without indulging, chances are you have developed an emotional crutch.
- Failing to use in moderation. If one is too many, and two’s not enough, this is an indicator that you may be addicted.
- Continuing despite negative consequences. It is a problem when your alcohol or drug use causes trouble at home, or affects your health, yet you continue to use.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms. If you feel shaky, sweaty, tired, nauseous, or depressed when not using, you are exhibiting physical withdrawal symptoms.
- Using at inappropriate times. This might mean drinking right before work or using cocaine before picking up your kids at school. Your priorities are messed up.
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. You may trade healthy pursuits you once enjoyed for the comfortable feeling of being drunk or high.
Dangers of binge drinking. Yes, it too is addictive
You do not need to drink all day every day to be an alcoholic. You can be addicted to liquor in different ways, and that includes binge drinking.
Binge drinking is when you drink to excess whenever you drink. This heavy, long-term alcohol use can lead to liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and is a major cause of trauma, crime, accidents, and injuries.
Addiction – and the devastating effect in can have on your family
When you are addicted to a substance or a behaviour, it is not just you that suffers the consequences. Your family and friends suffer them too.
- Impact on children. It affects your kid’s development. Addicts often neglect children’s nutrition, hygiene, education, and social life. There is also an increased risk of child abuse.
- Loss of trust. Addicts do not follow through on promises, and this causes strain and frustration in relationships.
- Financial problems. Paying for an addiction is not cheap. Addicts have been known to squander their life’s savings to feed their habit. That means the bills are going to pile up. And up. And up.
- Physical and emotional abuse. Addicts can be the perpetrators of abuse, but their vulnerability puts them at risk of becoming victims of it, too. And children of abusers have a higher likelihood of becoming abusers themselves.
- Fear and confusion. Addicts are erratic and can be prone to flying off the handle. That is not a good fit for a healthy home life.
Recovery is possible
We will look into recovery steps in later articles, but as a parting word of advice, it’s not enough to “Just say no”, as that famous 1980s slogan told us. You also have to “Just say yes” to healthy pursuits, that will fill the hole left by your addiction.
If you need support, advice, or counselling, please contact us on 0861 GOLIFE (465433) or SMS “Wellbeing” to 43821 or click here to visit the website for more information.
References https://www.crestviewrecoverycenter.com/addiction-blog/relapse-prevention-therapy-covid-19-a-qa-to-help-you-better-understand-addiction-depression-amidst-the-pandemic/ https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/addiction/what-is-addiction