Frequently Asked Questions
What is addiction?
An addiction is defined as a negative behaviour that a person finds hard to stop or moderate. Addiction involves compulsive behaviour, such as drinking alcohol or gambling. The compulsive nature of addiction happens as a result of rewarding stimulation in the brain, and a subsequent desire for the brain to crave that stimulation in order to induce pleasure. Addiction also often involves an obsessive psychological preoccupation with getting, using and recovering from an addictive substance or behaviour.
Addiction is also about continuing the addictive behaviour even though it has negative consequences such as career problems, deterioration of relationships, legal issues, financial troubles, or health concerns, amongst others. Another common component of addiction involves tolerance, meaning that over time an individual requires more of the substance or behaviour in order to produce the same desired pleasurable effects. Addiction also often involves withdrawal, meaning that when an individual is not engaged in their substance use or behavioural addiction they experience psychological or physiological withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms vary from person to person as well as between various forms of addiction.
What is a substance use disorder?
Among addiction therapists and specialists, the term regularly used to classify someone with an addiction to alcohol or drugs is “substance use disorder”. More specifically, this may be “alcohol use disorder” if the addiction is to alcohol or “stimulant use disorder” if the addiction is to a prescription drug. The term “substance use disorder” was updated from older terms such as “substance abuse” and “substance dependence”.
The term used by addiction professionals for gambling addiction is “gambling disorder.” Other addictions, such as gaming addiction, cryptocurrency addiction, social media addiction and other addictions are not currently officially recognized as a disorder by professional bodies and are currently not included in how addiction professionals make clinical diagnoses. This is to do with continuing research into these types of addiction that will enable the addiction profession to refine treatment to those suffering from them.
What is the difference between addiction and dependence?
Addictions are widespread and have a far-reaching impact beyond substance use disorder and gambling disorder. Two terms commonly used to discuss various problematic behaviours are addiction and dependence. The difference between addiction and dependence can be difficult to understand, and some may even use the words interchangeably. The term dependence is most notably used to refer to a physical dependency or physical reliance, most notably characterized by tolerance and withdrawal.
The term addiction is usually used to also include a psychological component, such as a mental obsession or preoccupation with a behaviour. An individual can be physically dependent on a substance, such as opiates for example, but may not have breached the mental component of addiction. Such individuals are able to detox from their substance and not think about it thereafter once the substance is out of their body.
Why do people become addicted?
There is no one reason why an individual becomes addicted, and anyone can become addicted to anything. However, two primary factors that may make someone vulnerable to becoming addicted are environmental factors and genetic factors.
i. Environmental variables include
- a home environment in which there is trauma, abuse, or addictive behaviours occurring;
- a living environment in which drugs, alcohol or other addictions are readily available and taking place;
- friends, family members or other peer influences of individuals who are addicted or regularly engage in problematic behaviours;
- social acceptance of problematic behaviours;
- or a culture that generally accepts addiction.
ii. Genetic variables include a family history of mental health or addiction.
Aside from genetic and environmental risk factors, there are other variables that may make someone at higher risk of developing an addiction. Underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or depression certainly can make individuals at higher risk of developing an addiction. A history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or other trauma can also be a risk factor for addiction. Also, the earlier someone begins to engage in a problematic behaviour the more likely they are to develop an addiction to that behaviour.
What is the worst addiction?
Addiction comes in many different forms, and there is no “worse” addiction. Yes, there are more deadly addictions. For example, an addiction to alcohol or heroin is potentially more deadly and dangerous than an addiction to video games. However, all addictions can have a substantial negative impact on the individual suffering from the addiction, and impact them and their loved ones in a variety of ways from their mental, physical, spiritual health to financial or relational health and more. Instead of asking what type of addiction is the worst, one should be asking how the addiction is negatively impacting their life and the life of their loved ones.
The term ‘addiction’ is most commonly used in relation to substance dependence such as alcohol, cocaine or prescription drug addictions, but it is also used in regard to behavioural addictions such as gambling addiction, technology addiction, porn addiction, sex addiction, food addiction and more. There are also subcategories of addictions, for example types of gambling addiction may involve sports betting, poker, cryptocurrency addiction, or day trading addiction. A technology addiction may involve social media addiction, internet addiction, phone addiction or gaming addiction.
Can you get addicted if you do it just once?
This question is often posed for drug addiction. While just one use of a substance contributes to chemical changes in the brain, one does not become addicted or dependent after one use. However, after one use an individual may experience a sense of pleasure that they want to repeat, and the habitual nature of addiction can begin to take effect after continued use. Some individuals may also be at higher risk of addiction, for example, if they have an underlying mental health issue or if there is a history of addiction in their family.
Is marijuana addictive?
The answer is yes. Although marijuana is a natural substance, it does not mean that it is harmless nor does it mean that it is not addictive. Marijuana can change brain chemistry and take over the pleasure centre of the brain in the same way as other drugs, and is especially dangerous for the development of the adolescent and young adult brain.
Are prescription drugs safe?
Before answering this question, it is important to always discuss your medication regimen with your prescribing doctor and to take medication safely as prescribed. That being said, prescription drugs can be highly addictive, especially Opioids such as Oxycodone or Oxycontin, Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin or Ativan, and Amphetamines such as Adderall.
Am I an addict?
Addiction comes in many different severities and can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. Someone may not fit into the box of having an alcohol use disorder or an addiction to alcohol, but they may be a binge drinker or problem drinker. In other words, they may on occasion be unable to control their alcohol use or their alcohol use may occasionally cause problems in their life. If alcohol, drugs, gambling, social media, gaming or other behaviours are causing a problem in your life or a loved one’s life then it should be enough to recognize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
If you answer yes to any of the below questions, your relationship with an addictive substance or addictive behaviour is something you should take a closer look at.
- Have you had times when you ended up engaging in your behaviour more, or longer than you intended?
- Have you more than once wanted to cut down or stop your behaviour, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Have you spent a lot of time engaging in your behaviour or spent time recovering from the aftereffects of your behaviour?
- Have you wanted to engage in your behaviour so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
- Have you found that engaging in your behaviour often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused career troubles? Or financial problems?
- Have you continued to engage in your behaviour even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Have you given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to engage in your behaviour?
- Have you continued to engage in your behaviour even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem?
- Have you had to engage in your behaviour much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Have you increased the frequency, duration or quantity of use or engagement in the behaviour?
- Have you found that when you stopped engaging in your behaviour for hours or days you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, irritability, agitation, depression, sweating, or other unwanted psychological or physiological symptoms?
Can addiction lead to mental health disorders?
Yes. Addiction can lead to a variety of mental health concerns including depression and anxiety as well as other psychological problems. In some instances, such as with alcohol or drugs, mental health issues can be induced while under the influence of the substance or in other cases the mental health issues may continue to persist long-term.
Mental health issues can also serve as an underlying cause of addiction; this can lead to uncertainty as to whether the mental health issue contributed to the addiction or if the addiction contributed to the mental health issue. In both cases, it is important that the addiction and the mental health concerns are both addressed in treatment.
Is addiction treatable?
There is no cure for addiction, but addictions are treatable. In other words, addiction can go into remission when an individual has abstained from their addictive behaviour for some time, but there can be a recurrence. Individuals with a history of addiction will always be vulnerable to relapse.
At Kennedy Street, thanks to our own lived experience of recovery and what is widely accepted by the addiction recovery community and addiction specialists, we promote and signpost people to abstinence-based approaches of recovery involving complete abstinence from addictive behaviour. We fundamentally believe that linking people to peer supporters to build a long-term connection to other people in the community is key to long term recovery.
At our Brighton based recovery hub, we focus on supporting people into recovery by connecting them to a variety of recovery resources.
We help those in recovery to build their self-esteem, confidence, resilience and employability skills.
For those choosing recovery, we offer business-for-good workshops, as well as business planning and leadership skills through volunteering and work experience opportunities.
Some people who experience addiction may seek treatment that can take place in a variety of settings, privately or publicly funded. These include community-based medical detox via your GP, home-based detox, inpatient rehabilitation centres and outpatient rehabilitation centres. Some individuals choose to work privately with an addiction therapist, addiction psychiatrist, or addiction recovery coach (sober coach).
Common methods of treatment involve various behavioural therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), or Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), among many other forms of therapy.
Medication can sometimes play an important role in recovery in curbing withdrawal symptoms, curbing cravings, and addressing underlying mental health concerns (medication should always be discussed with your GP or a specialist medical professional).
There are also mutual aid self-help groups available such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Gamblers Anonymous and many other community-based programs that are specific to the addiction.
What do I do if my loved one is addicted?
Some addictions can be fatal, so it is always recommended that individuals encourage their loved ones to get professional help for their addiction if they are unable to stop on their own or with self-help support. If your loved one is in denial about their addiction or if they are unwilling to get help, then an intervention may be needed. There are different forms of intervention, but most commonly involve gathering loved ones to help encourage the addicted individual to seek out some form of help for their addiction. During the intervention process, loved ones may be expected to express their love and concern for the individual and set boundaries that they are going to hold with the addicted individual should that individual choose not to get help. Lastly, it is also important for loved ones to seek out their own personal support regardless of if the addicted individual seeks out help or not. Such forms of help for loved ones can be with a family therapist who specialises in addiction, family therapy, or mutual help groups such as Al-Anon, Gam-Anon, or SMART Recovery Family & Friends.
How can I support someone with an addiction?
It is not your job to get a person sober or to get them to stop destroying their life via their addictive behaviour; your job is to take care of yourself. If your loved one is ready and willing to receive help or is in recovery, you can serve as a great source of strength and support. Some healthy behaviours you can implement are to actively listen, express empathy, set healthy boundaries, reduce environmental triggers, encourage healthy habits, role-model healthy behaviours, and educate yourself about addiction.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is a concept that attempts to characterize imbalanced relationships where one person enables another person’s self-destructive tendencies (such as addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement) and/or undermines the other person’s relationship. Definitions of codependency vary but typically include high self-sacrifice, a focus on others’ needs, suppression of one’s own emotions, and attempts to control or fix other people’s problems. People who self-identify as codependents exhibit low self-esteem, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or an effect of characteristics associated with codependency. Codependency is generally defined as a subclinical, situational, and/or episodic behavioural condition similar to that of dependent personality disorder. Codependency is not limited to married, partnered or romantic relationships as co-workers, friends and family can be codependent. (Wikipedia)
References: Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht unless otherwise stated.