This article has been written to give general background information about Addiction. Additional information can be accessed from web site links shown below. Cyprus Samaritans can help by listening in confidence to anyone affected directly or indirectly by Addiction.
The term “addiction” is used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive physical or psychological dependence, such as alcoholism, Internet addiction, money, work addiction, compulsive eating, gambling, psycho-sexual addiction, etc.
The term “addiction” was used almost exclusively for substance addiction/misuse, namely people who were very dependent on prescriptive or illegal drugs, nicotine, or alcohol. That form of addiction is now known as “substance addiction/abuse”.
Experts also recognize that people can become addicted to certain behaviour. Some individuals may develop a dependence on gambling, shopping, sexual activity, eating, or many other activities.
Addictions cause enormous personal harm not only to the addict, but distress to their families and friends as well.
People who become addicted to drugs may develop any number of health problems. They may also experience personality changes and lose the ability to interact with other people socially.
Addiction is also responsible for a host of social problems, because many addictions are expensive, addicts may turn to crime in order to fund their addiction.
Addiction is a very complex behaviour. Experts have been trying to understand its causes for many years. At one time, moral weakness was accepted as the primary reason for addiction; nevertheless, health professionals no longer accept this theory.
Presently, researchers understand that a variety of factors can contribute to making a person an addict. Many events in a person’s background may lead him or her to begin using addictive substances, some of these events include:
- Use of illegal substances by family members and friends.
- Poor family upbringing where love, warmth, praise, and acceptance are lacking.
- Poverty, poor living conditions, or isolation from other people.
- Failure in school.
- Failure to develop the ability to get along with peers.
- Frequent family moves to new homes.
- Medical use of prescription drugs for legitimate reasons.
Addictions grow stronger over time. A person’s body may become biologically dependent on the substance or behaviour.
People can also become psychologically addicted to substances and activities. That is,the substance or activity makes them feel happy, more self-confident,or better in some other way.
In order to keep experiencing these feelings, they believe they must continue to use the substance or activity that gave them these feelings. In this case, a person is said to be psychologically dependent.
In many cases, addictions involve both physiological and psychological aspects.
All forms of addictions have some common symptoms, including:
- Loss of control. Addicts are unable to manage their behaviour or their use of a substance.
- Tolerance. In most forms of addiction, a person needs more and more of the substance or behaviour over time.
- Impairment. Addicts often continue to use a substance or demonstrate behaviour even when they know the undesirable effects it may have. For example, a gambling addict may continue to wager money even though he or she has lost everything in previous gambling experiences.
Diagnosis of an addiction may be made by a medical doctor or by a mental health professional.
Often, people go for help because they feel they can no longer deal with their addictive behaviour by themselves.
Sometimes family or friends intervene and bring the person for diagnosis and treatment.
In some cases, individuals are brought to the attention of professionals because of legal problems related to their addiction.
There are many treatments available for people who suffer from addiction.
These treatments are designed to deal with one or both forms of addiction: physiological and psychological. For example, people who are addicted to certain substances must often go through withdrawal therapy.
Withdrawal therapy involves placing patients in rehabilitation centers where they have no access to the substance to which they are addicted. Withdrawal therapy can be very difficult.Medications are also available for treating some addictions, the best known is Methadone.
Talking therapies (psychotherapy or counselling) are also used to treat addictions. The theory behind therapy is that people become addicts because of serious problems in their lives. If those problems can be resolved, they may be less inclined to depend on addictive substances or behaviour.
Group counselling is another option. Perhaps the best-known example is the 12-step programmes originated by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Other groups working to overcome other types of addiction now use the AA 12-step model.
The prognosis for addictions is varied. Many factors are involved in determining whether a person can recover from an addiction, including:
- The substance or activity to which a person is addicted
- The reasons for the addiction
- The length of time the addiction has existed
- The persons desire to be cured of the addiction
- The amount and type of support available to the addict
Importantly however, recovery is likely to be partial and temporary unless underlying issues that led to the addiction have been resolved.
Dr Vasilios Silivistris DipSup DipComp BA MA FRSH MBACP PhD
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