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Addiction is More Common Than You ThinkMillions of people worldwide struggle with addiction. After all, life is challenging, and coping mechanisms are a common response to a world full of stressors. However, some of these behaviours are not in our best interest and can turn into damaging habits. Some people are born with brain chemistry that predisposes them to addiction. Others develop addictions over time as a result of substance abuse. Addiction is an illness, and just like a physical illness, it requires treatment to get better. While there are many misconceptions and stigmas surrounding addiction, there is nothing wrong with seeking help for it – in fact, recovery can actually be a very joyful and fulfilling aspect of your life!
How do I Know if I am Addicted?Addiction often begins with casual or occasional behaviour that increases in frequency and intensity over time. If you are concerned that you may have an addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, eating or other substance or process, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you use substances as a coping tool or reward?
- Do you have trouble controlling how much you use?
- Are you preoccupied with your next drink, high or addictive activity?
- Do you lead a compartmentalised life to hide your addiction and appear functional?
- Do you continue using despite the negative consequences?
- Are you have been neglecting your career, education, family or partner in favour of your addiction?
- Do you require increasing amounts of alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. to achieve the desired effects?
- Do you experience cravings or withdrawals such as anxiety, irritability or nausea?
- Do you want to cut back or quit, but cannot?
How Does Addiction Take Hold?Addiction is a chronic, progressive disorder – it gets worse over time. Addicted people often have a genetically inherited lack of the brain chemical dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Symptoms of dopamine deficiency are:
- extreme boredom
- lack of meaning
- lack of purpose
When you experience these symptoms, you may begin to use substances like drugs or alcohol, or processes like sex, gambling or eating to make yourself feel better. The resulting pleasurable feeling is short-lived and must be done over and over, in increasing amounts, to achieve the desired effects. Over time, the brain learns these patterns and begins to think that it needs them – and constantly sends you messages to that effect. This is why it is so hard for addicted people to quit on their own.
The Consequences of AddictionAddiction is characterised by the impulse to continue using despite the negative consequences. People can act in ways they would never expect as a result of their addiction, which impacts every area of life:
- Physical health – Substance abuse strains the nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, causes organ damage and premature death. Intravenous drug users run the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.
- Mental health – Drug use can cause brain damage, paranoia, depression and aggressive or unpredictable behaviour. It can also exacerbate other mental health conditions in people with co-occurring disorders.
- Career and finances – Addiction often results in job loss, debt and frivolous spending habits that wreak havoc on finances. Legal trouble can mean exorbitant fines or even jail time which further impacts career prospects.
- Loved ones – You may not think so while you are in its grasp, but addiction impacts everyone around you. Family, friends and partners suffer as a result; divorce is not an uncommon outcome.