Addiction, or Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a complex condition that affects the brain and has many underlying causes. While the causes of addiction are still not completely understood, research over years has been able to identify various risk factors like genetics and the environment of the individual.
Addiction is a treatable disease and recovery is something that is achievable given the right treatment plan. Understanding more about addiction can help prevent developing addiction in you and those around you.
Addiction, substance use disorder, or substance abuse is a complex condition that arises from the repeated consumption of alcohol or other substances despite the negative consequences on the individual’s health. It is a relapsing condition where the individual is unable to quit or cut back the consumption.
The American Psychological Association describes addiction as a state of psychological or physical dependence (or both) on the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Addiction can be chemical/substance-related (like drugs) or behaviour related (like internet gaming or gambling).
Chemical addiction refers to addiction that involves the recurrent consumption of substances. These substances can be –
Unlike substance addiction, behaviour addiction refers to a persistent, compulsive, and repeated performance of certain behaviours even though there is no real benefit derived from the performance of said behaviours. Most common addictions include –
- shopping addiction
- exercise addiction
- food addiction
- sex addiction
- TV addiction
- Social media addiction
Addiction is very similar to how other diseases function. It is associated with both short-term and long-term health effects. While the effects might depend on the type of addiction, in general addiction has the potential to disturb every organ of the body and also affect the mental health of the individual quite significantly. The most severe consequence of substance use disorder is most often death.
Apart from a severe mental toll on the people around the addicted individual, addiction also leads to other issues such as financial problems and trauma. In cases that are very extreme, the loved ones also experience trauma because of death. Addiction is therefore also a societal problem and adds a lot of pressure to the system.
Addiction usually starts from the point of craving and tolerance first. Because it works with your brain’s reward system, individuals crave for the substance or performance of a particular behaviour to experience euphoria as they did the first time. Soon after craving, the individual will lose interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed. And finally, there’s a loss of control. Because of the inability to control consumption or the performance of certain behaviours, there is often a negative consequence everywhere – work, personal, and social.
Because addiction is just like other diseases, the likelihood of developing addiction differs from person to person, similar to other diseases. There is no one single factor that can determine whether or not an individual would get addicted. There are, however, certain risk factors that research shows which would increase the risk of getting addicted. Some of these are –
- Aggressive behaviour in childhood
- Lack of parental supervision
- Low peer refusal skills
- Drug experimentation
- Community poverty
While the exact causes of addiction are still unknown, scientific research has identified a few risk factors that may predispose an individual to develop an addiction. The more risk factors an individual has, the more likely they are to get addicted.
Addiction is considered to be moderate to highly heritable, and therefore genes play a significant role in the development of addiction – especially in immediate family members. Scientists estimate that genes account for 40 to 60 per cent of a person’s risk of addiction
The individual’s environment, what they are exposed to, and those around the individual also influence whether or not the individual would develop an addiction. Factors that increase the risk include –
- Home and Family
The environment at home, especially during early childhood is very important. If those around the child participate in such activities, especially the primary caregivers, it can increase the child’s risk of developing addiction in the future.
- Peer and School
During the early teen years, friends and peers have a very strong influence on the individual. Those without any risk factors may be pressured into tryin drugs for the first time by their peers.
Exposure to trauma, especially in the early years of development, is strongly associated with the development of addiction. Both positive and negative childhood experiences impact the mental health of the child significantly. Traumatic childhood experiences include –
- Physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse.
- Verbal abuse.
- Physical or emotional neglect.
- Parental separation or divorce.
- Having a family member with a mental illness.
A strong link has also been established between an individual’s mental health and substance abuse. Those with anxiety-related disorders or depression or bipolar mood disorder might grow dependent on these substances for temporary relief, thus turning it into a coping mechanism. Those with personality disorders also have a high risk of drug and alcohol addiction.
Diagnosis usually requires a thorough evaluation which includes assessments by a psychiatrist or a clinician. Blood, urine or other lab tests are also used to assess drug use. Many health professionals use criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for a proper diagnosis.
There is no cure for addiction but there are various kinds of treatment options that differ from addiction to addiction and based on the severity of the addiction. There are 3 basic models that are followed for treatment.
The socio-cultural model focuses on the environment of the individual and what can be changed around the environment. This includes going to a rehab, participating in self-help groups and various other activities.
The psychological model focuses on a therapy-oriented approach to help with addiction. It focuses on the individual’s harmful motivations or emotional distress as the primary cause of substance abuse. It often includes psychotherapy and behaviour therapy.
The medical model focuses on medication that helps reduce the craving for substances and help reduce the withdrawal symptoms. Medication is particularly helpful in preventing a relapse, and is often used along with other methods like therapy and rehabilitation.
Aftercare is also as important as treatment. It should be considered as a continuation to treatment or a type of treatment to help prevent relapse. Aftercare is usually immediately followed after treatment to addiction such as inpatient rehab.
There are different kinds of aftercare treatment that help prevent relapse. This includes –
- Support groups
- Individual therapy
- Support programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous
- Group therapy