People can become addicted to a variety of substances over time, both of a legal and illegal nature. Some addictions do not even require substance consumption, but can also revolve around addictive behaviors, such as a gambling addiction. Though there are no specific demographics which are a prerequisite for developing an addiction, as anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background can become addicted, some forms of addiction are more common among certain groups than others. It is estimated that over 23 million people above the age of 12 are affected by some form of drug addiction each year, and this costs the US billions of dollars in related fees annually. Further, having an addiction can have a detrimental impact on a person’s quality of life. So why is it that people struggle to fight addictions, even knowing that it would be in their benefit to do so?
Different types of addiction
Addiction is characterized by the persistent use of substances, or continued portrayal of problematic behaviors, despite knowing there are strong negative consequences. There are many different types of addiction, each with their own unique set of side effects and repercussions, which will impact different parts of an individual’s life in different ways.
Alcohol or drug addiction is progressive, and though once they realize they have a problem, people will often try to reduce their substance abuse on their own, and relapse is incredibly common. The two issues which lead to continued substance addiction are physical, or psychological, dependence and tolerance. When someone becomes tolerant to the effects of a substance on their body, increasing amounts of the substance are needed to fulfill the desired effects. In turn, this only serves to aid the growing development of dependence. This is when the body and mind become reliant on the continued use of a substance just to function normally, and if the levels of the substance are not maintained within the body, people will start to suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
Certain substances are more commonly used by people of specific demographics than others. For example, marijuana abuse is more common amongst younger generations, as is that of other inhalants (such as nitrous oxide) which are made easily available to people of this age group. The long-term and short-term effects of different drugs vary from substance to substance. However common symptoms include behavioral and mood changes, declines in mental health (often leading to depression, anxiety or other psychological disorders such as schizophrenia or manic depression), as well as physical impairments such as changes in blood pressure, decreased motor control and organ damage or failure. Occasionally, a coma can be brought on by substance abuse.
Though behavioral addictions differ in their effects from substance abuse, they still fulfill a specific need or desire within an individual, which bring about feelings of reward in a similar respect to alcohol or drug use. Over time, a person becomes dependent on the effects of these behaviors (e.g., the euphoria felt when gambling), and they begin to act compulsively and irrationally in order to fulfill their behavioral needs, with complete disregard to the negative consequences or possible repercussions of their actions. It is this loss of control which turns problematic behaviors into an addiction which needs to be properly managed. As well as gambling, other types of behavioral addictions include exercise and food-related addictions. Wherever a behavior becomes compulsive and detrimental to the quality of life, it is often considered an addiction, so the possibilities of what a person could become addicted to are virtually endless.
When someone begins to dedicate a great deal of time to fulfilling their addiction, it can get in the way of other important tasks, such as socializing with friends and family members, going to work and remembering to pay bills. Therefore, both substance and behavioral addictions can have a dramatic impact on the state of a person’s health, as well as their financial security and personal relationships.
Why do people become addicted?
For some, addiction starts out with nothing more than some innocent recreational substance usage. Drinking at parties can quickly turn into drinking at all social events, which can potentially spiral into drinking during the day until a person finds they are thinking about alcohol from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. Often this downhill development into dependency occurs when an addictive behavior is feeding some sort of desire within someone, even if they don’t realize it at the time. For example, an individual who is shy and struggles with socialization might drink to gain confidence. If they find that the alcohol has the desired effect, for example, it makes them feel more self-confident, then they might start using the substance to fulfill this need on a regular basis until they begin to feel they need to drink to partake in even the most innocent or straightforward of interactions.
Another example of this would be someone who is taking some sort of pain relief, such as codeine. This is a strong opiate used to treat pain, and as it is so strong, it will often relieve other minor infractions within the body, as well as the pain it was prescribed for. Over time, a person may feel they are able to function better on pain relief, and so may take higher than prescribed doses, or continue to take medication once their prescription ends. This dependency leads them to take higher doses as their body becomes tolerant, which increases side effects such as reduced cognitive and physical functioning.
People may also become addicted if they are already subject to risk factors. Biological factors, such as a genetic predisposition to developing addiction could mean someone is more likely to become addicted to something that another person who is subjected to the same environment as them. Mental health issues can also put a person at risk of developing addictive behaviors or becoming substance dependent. Alternatively, environmental factors such as peer pressure, or trauma could cause someone to turn to addictive behaviors to fulfill a physical, emotional need. Examples of this would be a person developing an eating disorder in a bid to become more physically socially acceptable or abusing drugs as an escape from past traumas.
Possible barriers to quitting an addiction
As explained earlier, when a person becomes addicted, their bodies become dependent on the substance or behavior, because without these supplements they would struggle to function normally. This is because substance abuse causes chemical changes in the body, as certain natural neurotransmitters become increased or inhibited by the chemicals in the substances. For example, dopamine is often increased when smoking or drinking. A similar effect can occur in behavioral addictions, such as the increase of endorphins in the body which can be felt when exercising. Once addiction sets in, if a person does not get their fix, these neurotransmitters struggle to be stimulated, as they have become reliant on unnatural stimuli to trigger their production. This is one element which contributes to the feelings of withdrawal.
Depending on the type of addiction, withdrawal symptoms can vary. However, withdrawals are often unpleasant no matter which forms they display themselves in. This is one factor which can be off-putting to those considering trying to combat their addiction. Quitting is hard, no matter if you are quitting smoking or a certain drug. Quitting an addiction can also mean facing all of the underlying problems which caused the addiction in the first place, or which developed as a direct result of that individual’s addiction. These factors can be difficult to put right, such as trying to fix broken relationships or get out of debt. This will also require people to experience painful emotions, such as pain or guilt, which they might have been self-medicating with their addiction.
What help is available?
For those who experience some form addiction, it can be difficult to separate themselves from their dependency. However, it is not impossible, especially when someone seeks assistance. For substance abuse, often the most common first step in treatment is to slowly wean a person off of their substance. This is a slower process than stopping an addition altogether but in severe cases of addiction, where a person is taking high doses of a substance, going ‘cold turkey’ can be incredibly dangerous, as well as painful. A professional chemical dependency center, such as turning point rehab PA, can provide the specialist assistance needed to help someone break free from substance dependency in a safe and controlled environment.
Counseling may also be required. Firstly, this will help an individual get to the route of the desires they were trying to fulfill with their addictive behaviors, but also to help an individual get used to the changes in their life, and develop coping strategies to keep them on the right path. Group therapy or support from friends and family can also be incredibly beneficial, as they can offer support and advice in low moments to help the individual stay away from any bad habits or negative behaviors which could someone to spiral. Though recovering from addiction is hard, it is possible so long as professional advice is followed and a program is strictly adhered to.