Addiction is an illness of the brain. However, it is an illness that carries a lot of stigma. There is a misconception that those with addiction are bad or weak people, but this is not the case. The truth is that those affected by addiction are suffering from an illness in the same way that those with diabetes or cancer have an illness.
Most people think of substances such as alcohol or drugs when they think of addiction but, in reality, it is possible to become addicted to almost anything. When a person takes a specific substance or engages in a particular activity and cannot stop even if he or she wants to, it is known as having an addiction. Some individuals develop addictions to gambling, sex, shopping, food, pornography, the internet, their smartphones, and nicotine.
Nobody chooses to become an addict. They do not start taking drugs or drinking alcohol with the intention of becoming hooked. However, over time, they may begin to develop a tolerance to the effects of these substances until such a time that they cannot stop, even if they want to. This is because addiction changes the way the brain functions.
Those with addiction tend to become obsessed with whatever it is they are addicted to. It becomes the most important thing in their life, and the affected individual may neglect other responsibilities to their spouse, children, friends, or work. The need to satisfy the craving can lead to them cheating and hurting those they love the most in the world. People with addiction will continue with their destructive behaviour regardless of the fact that there will be negative consequences.
The Stages of Addiction
For most, addiction is not a sudden occurrence. This devastating illness tends to develop gradually, and most individuals pass through various stages before actually becoming addicted to a substance or activity. Although addiction affects people differently depending on what they are addicted to, those who develop drug or alcohol addictions tend to follow the same path and go through the same stages.
- Exposure – Exposure or experimentation is the first stage. This is when individuals first try alcohol or drugs. Everyone has a reason for drinking or taking drugs; it could be out of curiosity, or it could be peer pressure. Some turn to these substances to help them cope with the stresses of everyday life or a previous traumatic experience.
- Habitual Use – Those who have enjoyed their first experience with drugs or alcohol may do it again. If the person continues to enjoy the effects, he or she may become a habitual user. Not every habitual user will progress to the next stage of addiction. Many go their whole lives habitually using drugs or alcohol.
- Substance Abuse – When a person builds up a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, he or she begins to take more and more of it in order to experience the same effects as before. Nevertheless, the more he or she drinks or the more drugs used, the more chance of negative consequences. Some people view these negative consequences as a sign that it is time to stop while others will ignore them altogether and will carry on abusing the substance.
- Dependence – Dependence occurs when a person begins to lose control over their substance use and feels as though they need to drink or take drugs to feel better. They will be reluctant to stop even if the negative consequences are now worse than before.
- Addiction – Once a person has become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs, he or she will be addicted. The individual will be unable to stop, even if he or she wanted to. The person will probably suffer withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, and will learn quite quickly that these symptoms will subside upon having a drink or taking the drug.
Risk Factors for Addiction
Not every person who takes drugs or drinks alcohol will become addicted, in the same way that not every person who shops or gambles will develop an addiction. Some people are just more susceptible to addiction than others are, and there are also a number of risk factors that make a person more likely to develop addiction. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that having a risk factor or a number of risk factors does not mean that that individual will automatically develop an addiction.
- Family History – Research has shown that those with a family history of addiction are more likely to develop addictions themselves. Those who have a biological parent with an alcohol addiction are four times more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
- Traumatic Experiences – People who have unresolved trauma in their lives have a higher chance of developing addiction. This could include: physical, mental or sexual abuse; witnessing combat; neglect; the death of a loved one; being bullied; or, living with a mentally ill parent. Those who have experienced more than one traumatic experience have an even higher risk of developing addiction.
- Environment – Environmental factors such as the place where a person grew up, their friends, family members, and quality of life can all affect a person’s chances of developing addictions in later life.
- Age – The younger a person is exposed to substances such as alcohol or drugs, the greater the chance of this individual being affected by addiction. Many addicts experienced drugs or alcohol for the first time before the age of eighteen.
The Consequences of Addiction
Addiction is an illness that affects all areas of a person’s life. Becoming dependent on a particular substance or activity becomes an obsession that negatively affects physical and mental health, relationships, and work life.
Many people with addiction will neglect important areas of their lives as they become obsessed with drugs, alcohol, gambling, or whatever else it is they are addicted to. This will become the most important thing to the person, and everything else takes a back seat. This may lead to a breakdown in relationships and financial struggles.
Help for Addiction
Thankfully, addiction is an illness that can be treated; here at Addiction Helper, we have a team of experienced counsellors, therapists and support staff waiting to offer advice and support to those who need it. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, get in touch with us now so that we can provide information on treatments available for your type of addiction.
We can provide you with a fully comprehensive assessment so you know exactly what you are dealing with. We will then provide you with information on the most suitable treatment providers for your needs.
Our staff are compassionate and caring, and anything you tell them will be dealt with in the strictest confidence. Call today for more information.