What is addiction?
Addiction refers to a difficulty in controlling certain repetitive behaviours to the extent that they have harmful consequences. They are the result of powerful compulsions to use and do certain things excessively, often out of a need to escape from upsetting emotions/situations. These compulsions can trigger a self-perpetuating process, which can cause pain and suffering not only for those addicted, but also for their friends and family. Addiction counselling can help.
Addictions can develop from many activities, including drinking alcohol, taking drugs, eating, gambling, having sex and using the Internet. Often addictions begin as a result of how these activities make people feel emotionally and physically. These feelings can be pleasurable – triggering a powerful urge to carry out the activity again to recreate this ‘high’. This can develop into a repetitive cycle that becomes very hard to break.
In many cases people who are addicted are not aware of their addiction and the impact it may be having on their work, relationships and health. As a result many are unable to quit on their own and treatment is required. Addiction treatment such as counselling is crucial for helping sufferers to recognise their condition and how their emotional needs are affecting their behaviour. This can be an important step on the road to recovery and, eventually abstinence.
This page will explore addiction counselling in more detail, whilst also providing insight into the nature of addiction, including the symptoms, causes, and why it is important to seek help for addiction.
What is the difference between habit and addiction?
Generally an addiction is defined as a habit that has become out of control to the extent that the sufferer is dependent on it for coping with daily life. It can also have negative repercussions on a person’s emotional well-being and physical health. The psychological link in particular is what separates an addiction from a simple activity that someone does on a regular basis. A standard habit is something that people can choose to stop, and will subsequently be able to do so successfully. Put simply, with a habit a person is in control of their choices, but with an addiction they are not.
Common addictions that people can develop include:
What causes an addiction?
Nearly anyone can become addicted, and it is estimated that two million people in the UK are currently suffering from an addiction of some sort. The reasons why people become addicted vary, although they are not fully understood. Typically addiction tends to be a result of a combination of physical, emotional and circumstantial factors, such as the following:
- Family history – Numerous studies have shown that children who have parents with addictions are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
- Mental health issue – Addictions tend to be more common among those who have mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
- Early use of substances such as drugs or alcohol – Evidence has shown that the earlier a person is exposed to certain addictive substances and activities, the more likely they are to become addicts.
- Social environment – People are thought to be more vulnerable to addiction if they live, go to school or work in an environment in which use of addictive substances, and involvement in addictive activities, is common.
- Childhood trauma – Extensive research has shown that children who suffer from abuse or neglect – or experience persistent family conflict, sexual abuse or other trauma – are more vulnerable to developing an addiction.
- Stress – Science strongly supports a link between addictions and stress.
Types of addiction
Identifying the causes of an addiction can help to establish what type of addiction someone is struggling with. There tends to be two common variations of addiction.
- Physical addiction
A physical addiction is a dependence on a substance or particular activity to provide pleasure and emotional ‘highs’. For many people struggling with a physical addiction, the sight or thought of an activity can evoke sensations of anticipatory pleasure. These individuals will crave a fix to provide a rush of warmth, clarity and a release from everyday life and pressures. For a brief period, everything feels right, but the inevitable low that follows a high – and a sudden return to reality – can increase feelings of hopelessness. This in turn increases the desire to partake in the activity once again. This type of addiction is referred to as a biological state, in which the body adapts to the presence of an addictive substance so that it no longer has the same effect. Because of this ‘tolerance’ there is a biological reaction when the addictive substance or activity is withdrawn. This reaction increases cravings and traps addicts in a spiral of escalating use.
- Psychological dependency
Not all addictions are simply the result of a search for pleasure. Often people fall into gambling, drug abuse, alcohol addiction etc., as a means of coping with an overwhelming psychological issue. Their addiction tends to fulfill a valuable need and makes up for a void in their life – helping to block out negative experiences and relieve the stress associated with them. Psychological addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, and this can explain why some people will frequently switch addictive behaviours and actions – for example, from one drug to a completely different one. The focus of the addiction isn’t important – there is simply a need to take action under a certain kind of emotional strain. For most, this type of addiction brings further problems, such as feelings of guilt, despair, failure and shame, which eventually create an increasingly destructive cycle, involving family and friends.