Addiction is a pandemic with the latest data by the World Health Organisation showing that, in 2019, there were at least 180,000 deaths which occurred as a direct result of a substance use disorder. Worldwide, they confirm that, just a couple of years ago, there were over 35 million people estimated to be suffering from drug use disorders. Addicted.
In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of addiction, different theories about the condition and how you can help yourself or a loved one if you notice addictive behaviours.
What Is Addiction?
There are several definitions of addiction. Some say addiction is a mental illness while others define it as a behavioural disorder. Others say it is both a disease and a disorder. Most agree that addiction is a compulsion that leads to harm. However, some argue that addiction is not a disease because it does not affect the way the body works. They believe that addiction is a choice and therefore not a disease, unlike other illnesses like cancer.
The most common definition of addiction is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease”. It has been defined as a pattern of behaviour that results from repeated exposure to certain substances (drugs, alcohol) that causes changes in our brains and makes us crave more of those drugs even after we have stopped using them. This means that the person becomes dependent on these substances and requires increasing amounts of time, energy and money to achieve satisfaction.
When someone takes too much of a substance, it can cause physical dependence. Physical dependence occurs when your body gets used to the presence of a specific chemical in its system and needs it to function properly. If you stop taking it suddenly, you might suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms include irritability, insomnia, muscle aches, cramps, tremors, headaches and other issues. The effects of withdrawal can last between 24 hours and weeks, depending on the substance one is addicted to.
If we are looking into legal drugs, prescription medication, when someone stops taking their prescriptions, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, shivering, restlessness, anxiety and depression. These can also occur during pregnancy, so pregnant women should always look into supervised detoxification or managed rehabilitation to solve any pre-existing dependencies. Unless prescribed by a doctor who is made aware of the ongoing pregnancy, medications should never be taken.
Addiction as a Disease
Some have defined addiction as a disease. A disease is a medical issue that affects your health. There are multiple theories and claims when it comes to addiction, some putting a stigma on those suffering from one while others trying to find solutions to a long-lasting battle.
We cannot know whether addiction is a disease without studying the brain. Scientists have found that the brain of an addict looks very similar to the brain of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorders. Many researchers confirm that addiction is a chronic brain disease.
Other scientists disagree. They believe that there is no evidence that addiction is a disease. They point out that the majority of addicts do not seek treatment or get diagnosed. In fact, many people try to hide their addictions. They believe that addiction could be seen as a lifestyle choice rather than a disease.
It is important to understand that addiction is not something you can just choose to quit. You must find ways to change your habits and behaviours. This is where addiction help guides, charity websites, national health services and other similar platforms provide an indispensable resource.
It is possible for an individual to recover from addiction but this recovery will take time and effort. To overcome the urge to use drugs or drink, you need to first understand what triggers your urges. Once you identify your triggers, you can then learn how to manage them.
You may want to consider rehab if you feel like you have tried everything else. Rehab offers comprehensive care including counselling, group therapy, education and support.
There are different types of rehab available. Some offer short-term programmes lasting up to three months while others offer longer programs of 12 to 18 months.
Inpatient treatment is often the most effective option. It provides intensive care and supervision. You can expect to meet other patients who share your struggles and challenges.
Outpatient treatment involves attending weekly sessions at a clinic or hospital. This type of programme allows you to continue working and living normally outside of the facility. However, you may miss work or school.
Self-help groups are popular among recovering individuals. They allow you to discuss your experiences, listen to stories and receive advice. Self-help groups usually meet once per week and are led by trained facilitators.
Whichever route you choose for a start to your recovery journey, the first step is believing in yourself and believing in healing from addiction.