Addiction
An overview

Addiction is a condition in which a person becomes used to in-taking a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or performing an activity (e.g. sex, gambling) that he/she may initially find pleasurable but over the time, his dependency on the substance/activity becomes compulsive and starts interfering with the ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, health or personal life. People who develop an addiction are many a times not aware that their behavior is out of control and that it is causing problems for themselves and others.

Addiction can be described in many ways including physical and psychological. It can develop from activities such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, gambling, having sex, eating and Internet browsing. More often than not, addictions begin when people find certain activities emotionally or physically pleasurable but with time they feel a powerful urge to carry out these activities again to recreate the 'high'. As a result, this develops into a repetitive cycle that becomes very hard to break.

Symptoms of Addiction

The symptoms of addiction vary according to the individual, the substance/activity they are addicted to, and their personal circumstances. These symptoms may include :

  • Inability to stop consuming substance such as nicotine, alcohol or drugs, even after trying.

  • Strong craving or compulsion to use the substance or perform the activity.

  • Withdrawal symptoms - Patient feel mood-related symptoms such as irritation, bad temper, poor focus and a feeling of being depressed in the absence of consumption of the substance.

  • Propensity to take risks (such as stealing or trading sex) to procure the substance or perform the activity.

  • Relationship problems - Very common in cases where atleast one of the partners is addicted to drug/alcohol.

  • Change in social behaviour - Addicts end up giving up some activities that they earlier used to participate in actively such as sports.

  • Obsession - An addicted person spend more and more time thinking about ways of performing the activity.

  • Causes of Addiction

    Any kind of addiction impacts neural circuits of the brain, that can modulate the brain reward system and in turn the brain experiences pleasure. Typically addiction is a result of a combination of physical, emotional and circumstantial factors, such as the following:

  • Family history - People whose parents have had addictions, are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.

  • Depression - People with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety have high propensity to become addict.

  • Early age exposure to substances such as drugs or alcohol - If a person becomes exposed to addictive substances (alcohol/drug) or activities (gambling) at an early age, then he/she is likely to become addict.

  • Social circle - People with friends at college or work who are addicted, have greater chances of becoming involved in addictive activities.

  • Childhood Trauma - Children who experience family conflicts or sexual abuse are vulnerable to developing an addiction.

  • Stress - Research has proven that there is a strong interlink between addictions and stress.
  • Addiction Types

    Addiction can be described in many ways including physical (dependency) and psychological addiction. Let's take a look at what exactly it means -

    Physical Dependence - When the body’s cells are unable to function without a substance (or drug), then the person has become physically dependent on that substance. Moment the body starts to become depleted of the substance, the body reacts by showing painful withdrawal symptoms. And since the quickest and the easiest way to ease the pain is to take more drugs. Some typical withdrawal symptoms caused by a physical addiction include tremors or chills, nausea, diarrhea and body aches.
    Examples of substances prone to cause physical addition are alcohol, nicotine (cigarette smoking) and Opiates (Heroin). The speed with which a person can become addicted to a substance differs with the type of substance in question, the frequency of usage, the intensity of pleasure, the method of use and the individual’s genetic susceptibility.

    Psychological Dependence - Psychological dependence means dependency of the mind over an act or behavior, which leads to psychological withdrawal symptoms (such as cravings, irritability, depression, insomnia etc). This type of addiction can be derived from any rewarding behavior and is strongly associated with a particular areas of the brain’s reward system. An example would be cocaine addiction. Another example would be compulsive overeating, which occurs because of a “feel-good” feeling a few individuals have built with eating. Something in the brain triggers a dependency on food to “feel good” even though they might physically feel awful after overeating.

    How Is Addiction Diagnosed

    In a few cases, family members or friends raise concern about the patient’s addiction behavior. In many cases, a patient himself is aware of the addiction problem when it comes to activities like gambling, sex or smoking. The psychiatrist or specialized addiction counselor will ask several questions, including the frequency of substance usage, personal habits, other aspects of his life to determine the symptoms of addiction.

    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria - As per DSM, a patient diagnosed with substance dependence (an addiction) must have atleast three of the following conditions:

  • Tolerance - the substance has less effect on the patient because their body has developed tolerance. They need more and more of it to get the same pleasure.
  • There are physical/psychological withdrawal symptoms, or the patient takes the substance to avoid experiencing withdrawal, or the patient takes a similar substance to avoid experiencing withdrawal.
  • The patient frequently takes higher-than-intended doses of the substance.
  • The patient often tries to quit or cut down.
  • More and more time is spent getting hold of the substance, using it, or recovering from its effects.
  • The patient’s drug use causes him/her to give up social, occupational or recreational activities.
  • Even though patients know it causes psychological/physical problems, they continue taking it.
  • Treatment of Addiction

    Addiction is a treatable condition and effective treatments are available. Even for most severe addiction problems, treatments exist.

    Recovery from addiction needs recognition of the problem. The whole recovery process can be hindered if a person denies having a problem and in such cases, the intervention of friends and family often prompts treatment.

    The first phase of addiction treatment involves withdrawal from the addictive substance/activity. When it happens, then there are obvious withdrawl symptoms that occur including physical signs as nausea and vomiting, sweats, chills, muscle cramps, sleeplessness, shifts in heart rate and even fever. There are emotional effects as well, which include irritability, mood swings, anxiety and depression. These symptoms typically last 3 to 5 days. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications during this period to reduce the discomfort of withdrawal.

    Counseling is another important elements of treatment, that often runs in parallel. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is generally used to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope with situations in which they are more likely to use drugs or perform addictive activities.