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Addiction is a condition in which a person becomes heavily reliant on a substance or behavior despite the negative consequences associated with such behavior.

Substances can include alcohol, drugs, and nicotine, while behaviors may include gambling or even compulsive shopping. Substance abuse and gambling disorders share many similarities and can both be accompanied by mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. They also affect the brain’s reward, reinforcement, motivation, and memory systems and are characterized by poor control, social impairment, and cravings.

Continued substance use or risky behavior can harm relationships and responsibilities at work or school. Even though individuals with addictions may not realize their behavior is causing harm, the continuation of the activity can lead to feelings of hopelessness, failure, shame, neglect, and guilt.

Recovery from addiction is possible through various methods, such as natural recovery, peer-based support, or clinical treatment by a professional team. Relapses are common but not always the end of the journey toward recovery. After five years of remission, the risk of relapse in a former addict is similar to that of the general population. The brain’s synapses have the potential to be restored over time, with synaptic density associated with a healthy brain gradually returning to normal.

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Addiction and the myths that surround it

Addictive behavior is complex and cannot be attributed to a single cause. While certain genetic and biological factors may increase the risk of developing an addiction, social, psychological, and environmental factors also play a significant role.

It is impossible to predict whether a person will struggle with addiction based on a specific personality type. However, some traits, such as difficulty managing intense emotions, have been scientifically linked to the likelihood of addiction.

What are addiction symptoms?

Addictive disorders involve recurrent substance abuse or participation in an activity that leads to distress and impairment. These disorders are typically diagnosed based on certain features, including:

  • Using a substance or engaging in an activity for more extended periods or significant amounts than intended.
  • When the patient desires to reduce such use or have attempted unsuccessfully to cut down on harmful behaviors in the past.
  • Spending significant amounts of time using a substance, engaging in an activity, or recovering from the effects of such behaviors.
  • Experiencing cravings or desires to use a particular substance or engage in certain activities.
  • Missing obligations in the home, at the workplace, or school due to substance use or activity participation.
  • Continuing to use substances or otherwise engaging in a harmful activity despite the well-documented issues such behavior can result.
  • Ceasing or reducing participation in everyday activities (such as work or social responsibilities) due to substance use or activity participation.
  • Using the substance or engaging in the activity in physically risky situations (such as driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol).
  • Continuing to use the substance or engage in the activity despite having an understanding that such behavior is causing or worsening psychological or physical issues.
  • Experiencing tolerance, either in the form of needing more of the substance to achieve the same euphoria as before or noticing a decrease in the effectiveness of the same behavior.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
  • Engaging in a related behavior, such as ingesting a similar substance, to stave off withdrawal issues.
  • How severe an addictive disorder has become can be determined by the symptoms experienced, with symptoms indicating a mild condition. Four or five symptoms could indicate a moderate disorder, with more than five symptoms indicating a severe condition.

What are the leading addiction causes?

It is impossible to accurately predict the sort of person likely to develop an addiction to substances or behaviors such as gambling. Research has shown that many factors can contribute to the development of compulsive substance use or gambling behavior. It is impossible to identify a single cause or specific group of individuals who are more likely to develop these issues.

Addiction is most often a complex condition that is influenced by a variety of factors, including exposure to addictive substances or behaviors. Rather than identifying a single cause of addiction, it makes more sense to consider the various risk factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing addiction disorders.

These risk factors can include genetic, biological, social, psychological, and environmental factors. It is also important to recognize that protective factors can help reduce the risk of developing addiction, such as a strong social support system and positive coping skills.

Biological factors which influence addiction

Several biological factors which influence addiction are:

Genetics

Genes are estimated to contribute about 50% of the potential risk for developing an addiction. Specific variations in genes that affect the functioning of receptors in the brain for neurotransmitters like dopamine and the body’s response to stress hormones have been linked to an increased vulnerability to substance abuse disorders. However, it is important to note that genetics is only one of many factors that can influence the risk of developing a substance use disorder, and environmental and social factors also play a role.

Physiology

Certain factors, such as variations in enzymes, such as those within the liver that deal with substances like alcohol, can increase an individual’s risk of developing an alcohol use addiction problem. These variations in liver enzymes can affect the body’s ability to process and eliminate alcohol, which can contribute to the development of an alcohol use disorder.

Gender

Men are generally more susceptible to addiction disorders than women, although the gap may be narrowing for alcohol use disorders in men versus women. Females may also be more prone to experiencing intoxication at lower substance doses.

Psychological factors which influence addiction

Several psychological factors which influence addiction are:

Personality disorders

Sensation-seeking and impulsive personalities are two traits that positively correlate with substance abuse and other addictive disorders. Being impulsive has also been related to the risk of relapse in people with these disorders. This is because impulsive individuals may be more prone to making impulsive decisions, such as using drugs or engaging in risky behaviors, without fully considering the potential consequences of their actions. On the other hand, sensation-seeking is characterized by a desire for novel and exciting experiences. Individuals with a penchant for sensation-seeking may also be more likely to engage in substance use or other risky behaviors.

Abuse and trauma

Both experiences can increase an individual’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. Exposure in developmental years to significant adverse experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse, can profoundly impact an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. These experiences may overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, leading them to turn to substance use as a means of coping with emotional pain. Trauma and abuse may also alter brain pathways involved in emotional regulation and stress, making it more difficult for individuals to cope with stress in healthy ways. As a result, individuals who have experienced trauma or abuse may be more prone to developing a substance use disorder as a way of coping with the ongoing stress that they may experience.

Other mental health conditions

Anxiety, depression, ADD (attention deficit disorder), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increase the risk of addiction. These conditions can make it difficult for individuals to cope with strong emotions and stress, which may lead them to turn to substances as a means of self-medication. Substance use can temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions, but over time, it can worsen these conditions and create additional problems. Additionally, difficulties in managing painful emotions have also been linked to addiction, as individuals may use substances to cope with negative emotions or avoid dealing with them altogether.

Environmental factors which influence addiction

Several environmental factors which influence addiction are:

Family

Relationships and functioning can play a role in developing addictive personality disorders. A close, supportive family can protect against addiction, but certain familial circumstances can increase the risk. For example, having a close relative with an addiction issue can increase an individual’s risk of developing an addiction. Similarly, a lack of family support or supervision and troubled parent-child dynamics can also increase the risk of addiction. Family disruptions, such as separation or divorce, can also contribute to addiction risk. On the other hand, research has shown that stability and stepping up to the plate for child-raising responsibilities can lessen the potential for addictive behaviors.

Accessibility

The ease of access to alcohol and illicit drugs can increase the risk of repeated use. If these substances are readily available in an individual’s home, workplace, school, or in their community, it can make it more likely that they will use them regularly. This is because the availability of these substances can make it easier for individuals to obtain and use them without having to go through any extra effort or planning. As a result, the risk of regular harmful use may be higher in environments where substances are easily accessible.

Peer pressure

Human beings are social animals and can be easily and strongly influenced by the people around them, especially during adolescence. During this time, people often seek to fit in with their peers and may adopt certain behaviors to feel liked by or part of a “gang” with others. This can include the use of substances, as individuals may feel pressure to use these substances to impress friends or be perceived as “cool.” On the other hand, positive social relationships can provide strong protection against substance use. Having supportive, positive relationships with others can provide individuals with the emotional and social support they need to resist the temptation to develop harmful addictions and make healthier choices.

Employment status

Holding down an occupation and continually developing employment skills can reduce the risk of addiction. Employment provides an individual with a sense of stability and structure, and as well as providing mental and financial rewards, being gainfully employed can make it less likely that an individual will turn to substance use as a way of coping with life’s challenges. Developing the skills necessary for employment can also provide an individual with a sense of accomplishment and purpose, which can further reduce the risk of addiction. Overall, the combination of financial and psychological rewards and the sense of stability and purpose that comes with having a job and developing employable skills can help mitigate the risk of addiction.

Can addiction be treated?

As a condition, addiction can be treated, and individuals can achieve complete remission. However, recovery can take a long time and may involve several attempts before an individual breaks the cycle of harmful behaviors. Relapse is understood to be a regular part of the addiction recovery timeline, and many treatment programs focus on both preventing relapse and managing recurrent substance use when it occurs.

Any improvements made during treatment are considered transparent and defined evidence of progression in beating addiction. Treatment programs are now developed to give a helping hand to individuals who recognize that they have issues with addiction, despite not being ready to commit to total abstinence. These programs can help individuals to learn new coping skills and to make positive changes in their lives.

Because addiction can affect many aspects of an individual’s functioning, including their relationships, work, and mental health, good treatment programs focus on multiple facets of life. Treatment may include various components, and specific treatment plans are not static or linear. Instead, they evolve as the individual’s needs change over time. Some tried-and-tested components in addiction recovery include the following:

Detoxification

The process of allowing the body to rid itself of a substance. This may be necessary for some individuals and should be undertaken with professional medical supervision (in a rehab center, for example). However, detoxification is only the first stage of treatment, and additional support is typically needed to achieve long-term recovery.

Medications

Some medicines may be used to counter harmful addictive substances in specific individuals. In some instances, medicines can be used to treat other disorders associated with addiction, like depression or anxiety.

Motivational interviewing

A short-term form of counseling can help an individual to resolve apprehension about entering treatment and help them discover incentives and positive reasons for change.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Also known as CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is designed to help people cope with situations that trigger the desire to use substances and to recognize when such triggers are likely to occur.

Group therapy

Support programs involving group discussion can be helpful for individuals in recovery, as they can provide a sense of community and support and help prevent addictive behaviors.
Family therapy: this can be used to help individuals repair any damage done to family relationships and to establish more supportive ones.

Life skills

Teaching things like how to seek gainful employment or undertake basic life skills, such as cooking, may benefit an individual recovering from addiction.

Effective treatment programs should also include monitoring an individual’s progress to ensure that their treatment plan is meeting their needs and helping them to make progress in their recovery.

Where can I get treated for addiction?

Addiction treatment can be available in various settings, including doctor’s offices, outpatient clinics, and residential rehabilitation facilities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment; the best treatment option for an individual will depend on their specific needs and circumstances. Some research suggests that an individual’s desire to change and beat addiction may be more crucial than their specific treatment program.

If you are considering substance use disorder treatment, choosing an effective program is important. Independent researchers have identified several features that are common to effective treatment programs, including:

  • A focus on the individual’s specific needs and goals.
  • Treatment modalities include individual therapy, group therapy, and medication.
  • A supportive, welcoming environment.
  • A commitment to ongoing support and aftercare.
  • A team of trained, compassionate professionals.

What are the most common substance abuse disorders?

The medical community currently recognizes ten distinct substance use disorders, defined according to the drug class used. These disorders are:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Cannabis use disorder
  • Sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Hallucinogen use disorder
  • Inhalant use disorder
  • Polysubstance use disorder
  • Other (or unknown) substance use disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder

Each of these disorders shares the defining features of addiction, which include the intense involvement of the brain’s reward and reinforcement systems and the development of compulsive use that often leads to the neglect of normal activities and negative consequences.

While there are some variations in the specific symptoms of these disorders, they generally share common symptoms such as withdrawal, tolerance, and the inability to control use. However, the specific withdrawal symptoms can vary significantly among different classes of drugs, and some substances, such as hallucinogens and inhalants, do not typically produce withdrawal symptoms.

Understanding other compulsions (such as gambling)

While many of us equate addiction with alcohol or drug use, it can take other forms. Addiction can also involve other risk-taking behaviors, for example, gambling, shopping, or internet use. These behaviors can quickly become compulsive and may lead to a loss of interest in standard life goals and the development of harmful consequences, such as the loss of money, disrupted relationships, or physical or mental health problems.

The fast feedback from these types of behaviors can be gratifying and make it difficult for individuals to stop engaging in these behaviors even when such behaviors are causing problems. As a result, it is important for individuals to be aware of the potential risks associated with these types of behaviors and seek help if they cannot control their engagement in these activities.

Conclusion

The common denominator of all addictions is the continued use of a substance or engagement in a behavior despite the development of negative consequences and the inability of an individual to control use. This can include consequences to an individual’s physical or mental health, relationships, finances, or performance in school or work.

Regardless of the substance or behavior involved, addiction is characterized by a compulsive need to continue using or engaging in the activity, even when it is causing problems. This can be difficult to overcome, as the brain’s reward and reinforcement systems can make it difficult for individuals to stop using or engaging in these behaviors, even if they are aware of the negative consequences. As a result, it is often necessary for individuals with addiction to seek professional help to overcome their addiction and regain control of their lives.