Addiction disorders are complex brain conditions which manifest themselves in the compulsive need to use substances or repeat behaviours despite the potential for them to cause serious harm and complex secondary health issues.
Patients who suffer from addictions and addiction disorders find that they have an intense and overwhelming focus on repeating the behaviour or taking the substance, to experience a sensation or to satiate a need, even in the knowledge that this will be detrimental to the patient’s health going forward.
However, there are plenty of support systems out there which offer addiction help to those seeking it, as well as help and advice to friend and family of addiction sufferers. We offer free, quality advice for sufferers of all types of addiction disorders.
With help and support, addiction sufferers can seek treatment and go on to lead a normal, healthy and productive lifestyle.
Why does addiction happen?
People may begin taking drugs, gambling, drinking, changing the way they eat or using the internet in any number of ways and for any number of reasons. Addictive disorders and addictions can occur very quickly or develop slowly over a long period of time.
Many different expert bodies have agreed that the four most common reasons for people to begin an addictive behaviour are as follows:
- To feel good – the pleasure of a high or a win, even if for a very short burst
- To feel better – stress-relieving, as a temporary release from mental health conditions, as a way of coping with excesses of emotion
- To improve performance – to artificially change reactions or to accelerate a path to a goal or personal target
- Curiosity – a desire to try something for the first time to see what all of the fuss is about
- Peer pressure – influenced by friends, family and other acquaintances
What are the risks of addiction?
Addictions to different substances and behaviours will carry different risks.
However, a common theme among all addictions is the increased tolerance to the addictive substance or behaviour. As patients fall further into the depths of addiction, they will find themselves needing more and more to satisfy the craving.
This increased base level needed to satisfy the craving means that with addiction there is an exponential increase in the risk of associated health issues. For example, as larger quantities of substances are consumed, although the fix may feel less strong, the impact of the drugs on vital organs will be increasing. This accelerates the path to ill health.
What are some of the symptoms or consequences of addiction disorders?
The difference between the symptoms and the consequences of addiction disorders can be difficult to distinguish. However, most of the symptoms and consequences can fit into one of the following six categories:
1. Lack of control
People suffering with addiction find that they have an overwhelming and intense urge to use a substance or to resort to a behaviour which satisfies a certain craving. This craving begins to rule over the patient, taking over from other emotions or rational thoughts and dominating their lifestyle and decision-making.
2. Difficulty socialising
Addiction disorders can take over all elements of a person’s life, and this can lead to a real difficult to foster and maintain relationships with other people. Addiction sufferers often find it impossible to maintain friendships, hold down jobs, make a good impression on new people and may find that family relationships suffer too.
3. Financial problems
Many addictions can be expensive. Gambling, substance abuse and alcoholism all require a considerable amount of money to maintain, often money which the patient does not have. Other addiction disorders take over the person’s life in different ways which can make it impossible to keep a job, which leads to financial difficulty in a different way.
4. Risk to personal safety
As patients become more desperate for a fix, they often resort to more drastic measures in order to satisfy their craving or complete a compulsive behaviour. This could cause the person to engage in illegal or highly dangerous activities which put themselves, or others, at risk of serious injury, harm or repercussions.
5. Associated Health Problems
Taking dangerous substances, denying your body food, sleep or compulsively repeating harmful behaviours will start to take a physical toll on the body. This leaves the body open to different diseases, infections and even organ damage as a result of addiction. This category also includes associated mental health issues resulting from addiction disorders.
6. Effects of the drug or substance
This category of symptoms and consequences only applies in cases where the addiction disorder refers to a substance. Whilst tolerance to substances will increase with increased exposure, the substances will continue to have an effect.
There is plenty of help available for people who suffer from addiction disorders, and their families who may also be affected by the consequences of these disorders. Drug addiction treatment, alcohol rehab treatment and all other addiction treatments all begins with quality, free advice about how to best to seek treatment and help recovery from addiction.
There are many different types of addiction disorders. Although they share some common traits and associated consequences; each type of addiction is different and therefore affects the patient in different ways. Some of the overarching free advice for addiction sufferers will be common for all types of disorder, but much will depend on the type of addiction
Before getting to know the different treatment advice for each type of addiction, first we need to know what differentiates each of these conditions.
The most common types of addiction include:
- Drug Addictions
- Eating disorders (and gym addiction)
- Sex addiction
- Internet Addiction
There are lots of different types of drug addictive disorders and addictions, but these can largely be split into 2 categories: prescription and non-prescription drug addiction. It is possible to become addicted to eithers.
Drug addiction causes chemical changes in the brain, and makes a person completely dependent on the effects of a particular legal or illegal pharmaceutical. These brain changes are often temporary, and can be reversed through treatment and avoidance of the substance going forward.
Drug addiction is known as a ‘relapsing disease’ as although complete recovery is attainable, patients can experience exactly the same symptoms, sometimes in an exaggerated form, if they ever take the drugs again.
Alcohol dependence is very similar to drug addiction, although the key difference is that it often creeps up on a patient more gradually.
Alcohol is commonly used as a coping mechanism, and the line is often blurred between recreational use and dependency. As alcohol is widely available and social acceptable, complete recovery and sticking to treatment guidance can be extremely difficult.
It may seem counter-intuitive for eating disorders to be classed as an addiction.
Compulsive eating is an eating disorder and an addiction. It is possible for some people to be addicted to comfort eating, using the instant pleasure of taste to cope with certain emotions or feelings.
Even eating disorders which comprise denying the body of food, can also be classed as addictions, as patients become addicted to the behaviour associated with food deprivation.
An addiction to gambling is sometimes referred to as compulsive gambling or a gambling disorder. It is a problem which affects impulse control, which stops people from being able to control their instincts and impulses when it comes to gambling.
It doesn’t matter whether the person has the money to fund the bet or not, or whether there will be serious consequences for family and friends as a result. Whether they are up or down, a person with a compulsive gambling disorder will continue to gamble, even when they know that they cannot afford to lose or that they stand little or no chance of winning.
Sex addiction can encompass a whole range of different disorders where a person’s need for sexual activity becomes out of control. This could refer to an out of control amount of sex with a partner, but also refers to conditions where a person is addicted to masturbation, pornography, relying on the services of prostitutes, webcam sex and chat lines.
In the majority of cases, people’s sexual activity remains in moderation, but for a small percentage of the population, their relationship with sex becomes a compulsive and addictive one.
Those with sex addictions are no longer able to control their urges, despite them being potentially inappropriate. It can involve high-risk sexual activity which stops being fulfilling in its own right, but which the person is unable to stop.
An addiction to sex can lead to the breaking down of romantic and sexual relationships, as well as difficulties in normal social situations.
Sex addiction can also lead to an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation of sex with a partner.
There is still a lot of research being done into what defines an addiction to the internet. Many of us think that we would be lost without our phones, but in reality, we would find it straightforward, if a little inconvenient, to cope without the internet for a day, or a week.
Those suffering from internet addictions could find it impossible to live without video games, social media or other forms of digital entertainment. They will find it increasingly more difficult to be away from technology and engage in the real world.
A person addicted to the internet or a type of digital technology would find themselves experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as severe anxiety and depression even at the thought of being separated from the piece of technology.
Not all addiction disorders are the same, so not all ways to treat addiction should be the same. If there is a root cause of the addiction, such as trauma, chronic pain or a mental health condition, this root cause should of course be addressed as part of the treatment for the addiction disorder.
There are many different treatment programmes out there for people who suffer from addiction, as well as free advice and support for friends and family of addiction sufferers.
In all cases of addiction, the first step towards recovery is always for the individual to recognise that they have a problem and to want to seek help. There is little which can be done to help individuals who deny that they have a problem with addiction, or who does not want to be helped with their disorder. Intervention from those who are close to the individual can often be a trigger for them to get help, but will not help in all cases.
Once a person suffering from an addiction has decided that they would like to seek help, trained healthcare professionals can make an assessment to formally diagnose an addiction disorder. Many people who would benefit from treatment for their disorders are unwilling to seek help, despite the obvious benefits to doing so. This becomes difficult if a patient refuses to engage with treatment programmes.
Addictive disorders and addictions begin to affect every aspect of an individual’s life. It is not like other health issues, where an operation, set of therapies or course of medication is enough to restore the patient to health.
Addiction sufferers need a much more holistic combination of treatments which can help to re-engage the patient with society, as well as dealing with the causes and symptoms of their addiction disorder.
Treatment for addiction disorder therefore encompasses a combination of medical, social and psychiatric treatments to help get the individual regain control of their life. The most common types of treatment for addiction disorders include:
- Rehab centres or communities
- Sober houses
- Outpatient support programmes ie. An addiction clinic
- Self-help groups
- Medical intervention
- Prescription medication
Medication is sometimes used in treatment for addiction, although it is rarely the main part of treatment. It can be used to control and supress cravings, replace harmful substances with controlled, safer options, restore the function of organs which have been damaged as a result of the physical effect of substances on the body or to help patients suffering from certain mental health conditions.
Psychotherapy is a common part of addition treatment, helping patients to better understand the root cause of their addiction, and how they might cope without the substance or behaviour they are addicted to.
Not all of these treatments need to be formally prescribed by a doctor or healthcare professional. Group therapy sessions run by organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous are a vital pillar of support for many addiction sufferers and a key part of their recovery.
Drug addiction treatment is complex and will often involve many different types of therapy, could potentially include courses of medication and will certainly require a lot of determination to complete.
Substance abuse treatment is not easy. There is no quick-fix solution and this is precisely why many individuals never seek or complete the course of treatment.
The addiction is sometimes easier to maintain than the treatment, despite the potentially fatal dangers and risks it carries.
The first steps towards drug and alcohol addiction recovery sound simple, but are often the hardest to take, as they require serious willpower to overcome the controlling and compulsive nature of addiction.
There is plenty of free advice on how to get started on a recovery journey, but here are the first steps:
- Admit that you have a problem and accept that you need help
- Make an appointment with the doctor, or attend a drop-in clinic to talk about
- Have a formal assessment to establish your individual needs for your substance abuse treatment
- Engage in the drug and alcohol treatment open to you and continue to ask for support where you need it.
Alcoholism is not an uncommon addiction disorder. Most people can name at least one person in their life who has been affected by a problem with alcohol addiction. The road to recovery is possible but can be long and difficult. Each person’s treatment journey will be different, as each person will experience alcoholism in a slightly different way.
Depending on the seriousness of the alcoholism suffered by a patient, and the extent of their dependence on alcohol, the alcohol addiction treatment plan may start at a different point.
For patients who are worried about their drinking but who may not yet be experiencing serious and life-threatening implications on their health, a brief intervention may be the first step.
This intervention might last just 5 or 10 minutes, and will walk the patient through the risk of drinking, ways to reduce alcohol intake and the various different alcohol addiction treatment services and options available. At this intervention, the patient may be recommended to start a drinking diary, or to start swapping every other drink for a non-alcoholic one. Lowering your alcohol intake, or stopping drinking immediately are both options to help with alcohol dependence, but will only work for patients with a low-level dependence on alcohol.
Alcohol rehab treatment
Treatments for patients whose dependence on alcohol is very high will often involve hospitalisation or rehab programmes. This will come either as a result of the patient being hospitalised following serious secondary health problems or if the patient voluntarily seeks treatment for their addiction.
Rehab centres and specialist alcohol clinics will use a combination of counselling, group therapy, medical management of withdrawal and medication in order to treat each patient’s addiction.
There are many different types of eating disorders, all of which affect patients in different ways and therefore require different treatment plans. For example, a compulsion to overeat will have different causes, symptoms and consequences than a compulsion to deprive the body of food. However, there are some common treatments which span many different types of eating disorder. These include:
Aside from treating the medical implications of an eating disorder, the main course of treatment is to try and understand the psychological roots of the patient’s compulsion, in order to help them to manage this in different ways. The most common treatment for this is individual counselling. Group counselling is not often offered as a treatment for eating disorders, but may be an option for a small number of patients.
Eating disorders can begin to have a physical effect on the body very quickly if they are causing the patient to change their eating habits in drastic ways. This can lead to hospitalisation or admittance to specialist clinics in order to monitor the patient and ensure that their physical and mental health does not deteriorate.
Compulsive gambling is a type of addiction disorder which can be treated in much the same way as many other addiction disorders. The main ways to treat addiction to gambling include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and individual and group counselling.
There are many free advice and support services for those who have problems gambling, including services which offer rehabilitation programmes for those with very severe cases of gambling addiction.
Gambling problems can be the result of other mental health issues, or can be a root cause of mental health issues, which may require further treatments than those mentioned above.
As with all addictions and disorders, sex addiction can be almost impossible to overcome without professional addiction help and treatment.
Admittance to hospital
In the most extreme cases, it can be necessary to remove a person suffering from a sex addiction entirely from the day-to-day setting of their routine and lifestyle. This is particularly important in serious cases of sex addictions as these can pose a danger to the partners of sex addicts and potentially to strangers in their vicinity too. Inpatient treatment gives patients the opportunity to regain control of their lives through access to individual and group counselling, as well as medication as necessary.
There are structured and supported recovery programmes which can help patients to overcome their addiction or compulsion without having to be admitted to a hospital or addiction clinic. These programmes will provide more structure and routine than counselling or group therapy sessions, but do not completely take over a patient’s life.
It might not be necessary for patients to be admitted to a sex addiction clinic, but they may still benefit from individual counselling or therapy. Counsellors can help patients to understand the cause of their compulsion, as well as offering coping strategies and support systems to help aid recovery and regain control of their lives.
Group support sessions
Group therapy can be a helpful way of reminding patients that they are not the only ones to be suffering from their particular addiction disorder. They also give the chance to share stories, and to help understand their own behaviour in a different light. It is a chance to feel supported and understood as well as an opportunity to swap methods of dealing with their condition.
Internet addiction is a relatively new condition and there is much debate within the industry as to whether it can be classed as an addiction in the same way that the other disorders in this article can be. However, even professionals who do not class a compulsive internet user as an addict do realise that such disorders can be damaging and do require treatment.
There are four treatments which are most commonly used to help patients with internet addiction disorders. These are:
Reducing the amount of time spent online
This can be by employing apps which block certain sites for periods at a time, by using sheer willpower or by switching off the Wi-Fi. The first port of call for internet addiction treatment is to reduce the time spent online.
Excessive and compulsive use of the internet can often be a coping strategy for or a symptom of an underlying mental health issue. CBT and counselling can be used to treat the root cause of the addiction and help patients to manage their compulsions.
Peer support groups
Group support puts addicts in contact with others suffering form the same condition and it can be helpful to know that patients are not alone in their struggle. Coping strategies and stories can be shared between those suffering with similar conditions in order to provide support and offer help.
The internet is a huge part of most of our lives, so cutting it out entirely is almost impossible. Those struggling with internet addiction will therefore need to find methods of coping with their compulsions so that there are able to use the internet in a more restricted and less damaging way. All of the treatments listed above can help patients to discover such methods.