It is estimated that around 2 million people in the UK have an addiction of some kind. However, as it is thought that most people with an addiction do not receive any treatment and many are ashamed of their addiction and therefore go to measures to hide it from others. It is also thought that the UK has the highest levels of addiction in Europe.
What is addiction?
There is an historic misconception that addiction solely means substance addiction i.e. alcohol, drugs and tobacco. However, nowadays, there is a lot more understanding surrounding addiction and a more accurate way to view it by definition would be; ‘A continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it. Pleasure and enjoyment would have originally been sought, however, over a period of time, involvement with the substance or activity is needed to feel normal.’ 
Addictions can be either substance addictions or behavioural addictions.
There are many different types of addiction, to name but a few:
- Illicit and Legal drugs
Addiction can be a physical and/or psychological dependency to a substance of behaviour.
It is estimated that 1 in every 13 people in the UK are alcohol dependent. Alcohol dependency causes many different problems; physical problems include cirrhosis of the liver, increased risk of a number of cancers, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke. Aside from the physical problems that alcohol can cause many problems with work, friendships and relationships. People with alcohol- dependency issues are also far more likely to suffer with mental health problems, from depression, hallucinations (in extreme cases) or even suicide.
Usually, in the treatment of alcohol, the only option is abstinence (no drinking at all), depending on the severity of the drinking a detoxification period, using medication, to prevent harmful withdrawal, and inpatient treatment may be necessary. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very helpful as an aid in the recovery of alcohol dependency.
It is vital to get help if struggling with a drinking problem to get help sooner rather than later.
It is thought around 35% of the UK population have tried illegal drugs. Although there are many problems with addiction to illegal drugs (such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis), legal drugs (such as sleeping tablets or Diazepam) can be just as harmful.
With physical dependency to drugs, very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can occur, such as shaking, sweating, cramps, nausea, diarrhoea, insomnia and so on. Psychological dependency is more of an obsession of the mind, causing the user to feel as though they need the drug.
As the use of drugs becomes more regular the tolerance that a person has to the drug increases, making it necessary for them to take more and more to get the same ‘fix’. Obviously this can have very dangerous consequences for their health and also makes them more likely to get into trouble with the police as some resort to crime to fund the ever increasing habit, not to mention- drugs are illegal. Over- dosing is also a risk.
When drugs have a negative effect on a person’s physical or mental health, then it may be time to get help. Depending on the severity of the problem, the treatment for drug addiction varies. For more serious addiction’s a detoxification period, with medication, maybe necessary. Sometimes inpatient treatment may be required. Counselling and psychotherapy can also be very effective in helping people take control of their drug addiction.
Other addictions- behavioural addictions such as shopping, gambling, over- eating and sex can also have hugely negative effects on the person concerned, potentially affecting their work and damaging their personal relationships. These addictions are similar to substance addictions as they are characterised by a lack of control over one’s behaviour. Some of these addictions can have huge financial consequences as well, potentially causing problems with things like housing.
What causes addiction?
There is some evidence to show a genetic link, some studies show that the number of people with substance dependency issues is higher amongst those who have family members with dependency issues. The flaw with this, of course, is that some people with dependency problems have no history of it in their family.
Another factor involved with addiction is to do with chemicals in the brain. When we indulge in pleasurable activities, such as drinking, eating or having sex, a chemical called dopamine is released, causing the ‘feel good’ feeling. When we use substances a lot of dopamine is released which actually causes an imbalance of these chemicals, the brain then tries to keep things in balance by building up a tolerance, hence why people need to use more and more to feel the same effect. The brain also limits the release of dopamine which is why users report feeling low and depressed without the substance.
Environmental factors play a clear part in addiction too. Should a child’s parents abuse or indulge in alcohol or drugs then the child is more likely to view that behaviour as acceptable thus making them more likely to take part in it. Studies have shown that in countries with strict laws or religious beliefs that prohibit or frown upon the use of alcohol or drugs numbers of people with dependency issues are significantly lower.
People whom have suffered psychological, emotional, physical or sexual abuse are also more prone to addiction, using the substance or behaviour as a coping mechanism in dealing with the negative emotions surrounding the abuse or the low self-esteem that the abuse was likely to create.
For the various forms of addictions, talking therapies are most frequently used. The 12-step approach which is used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), narcotics anonymous (NA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) has shown to be effective. In addition, CBT may also be beneficial. CBT teaches a person to identify the negative thoughts, feelings or behaviours that they may have and how to look at these with a different approach. It explores the conflict between what people want to do and what they actually do, which is why it can be so beneficial for people with dependency issues. Psychotherapy and counselling, both in group and individual settings can also be very helpful.
Drug therapy can play a role but must always be in combination with therapy to give the best results.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may require help and advice please call the Via Clinic on 01372 363939