What is Addiction?
Addiction has many definitions. Varing definitions typically include a need for the individual to avoid intolerable reality with an ongoing, compulsive and life damaging relationship with a mood altering substance or behaviour. Examples include alcohol and drug dependence, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, and addiction to such processes as sex, work, overspending, and extreme exercise. Additionally, those in addiction become progressively “hooked” over time and find that they are unable to successfully stop or cut down despite bringing considerable pain into their own lives and into the lives of those who care about them.
Addiction professionals typically view addictions as falling into different broad categories, those that involve the overuse of chemicals such as alcohol & drugs and those with an over involvement in a behaviour such as gambling or in a destructive relationship with food combined with significant body image issues. It is also important to note that individuals frequently have more than one addiction, such as addiction to both alcohol & nicotine or to cocaine & sex.
Does Addiction have a cure?
Although there is no known cure for addiction, it is a highly treatable condition. Throughout Ireland, thousands of those previously in extreme crisis have found recovery and are today living lives free of addiction, fully restored to good health and in trusting relationships with others.
What is Substance Addiction?
There are a number of substances and activities to which a person may become addicted. Some are more physically addictive than others. While it is by no means an exhaustive list, the following are amongst the most common substance addictions:
- Alcohol Addiction – Alcohol is readily available and is a legal substance for adults to use. Prolonged or excessive use can lead to a problem with addiction. Alcohol addiction is the same as alcoholism or alcohol dependence syndrome.
- Smoking/Nicotine Addiction – This highly addictive substance is the reason why smoking is such a difficult habit to give up.
- Drug Addiction – Includes both illegal substances and legal drugs. The problem is essentially the same whether the drug of choice is a street drug, only available on prescription, or freely available as over-the-counter medication.
What are Process/Behavioural Addictions?
Process or behavioural addictions are somewhat parallel to substance addictions but do NOT involve the intake of a chemical in order to achieve a mood altering or mind altering experience. Examples are as follows:
- Gambling – When it becomes a compulsive activity that the individual is unable to stop, despite the fact that continuing to gamble is creating problems, this is a sign that an individual has become addicted to gambling.
- Eating Disorders – Sometimes referred to as Food Addiction, Eating Disorders are a group of serious conditions in which preoccupation with food, weight and body image such that the sufferer can often focus on little else. The main types of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-eating Disorder.
- Internet Addiction – Internet use turns into addiction when an individual wants to be online most or all of the time. If an individual feels anxious or upset when they are not able to be online, it may be a sign they are developing or have developed an internet addiction. Internet addiction can include forms of sex addiction, on-line compulsive gambling and electronic or egaming.
- Sexual Addiction – Sometimes referred to as Compulsive Sexual Behaviour or Hypersexual Disorder, sex addiction is an obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviours that affect a person’s health, job, relationships or other key areas in life.
- Shopping Addiction – One of the forms of compulsive overspending, compulsive shopping is an all-too-real-problem. Those involved use this activity as a way to deal with emotional pain and other problems in their lives. This excessive shopping may lead to financial, relationship and self-esteem problems.
- Work Addiction – Hard work is generally something that people admire and many parents teach their children that it is the key to getting what they want in life. When work becomes an obsession, it is a problem. If an individual gets to the point where work takes over to the degree that one is thinking about work even when “off the job”, it may be a sign that work may be a serious problem, or has even turned into an addiction.
- Exercise Addiction – The brief definition is “someone who is addicted to exercise.” He or she no longer chooses to exercise but feels compelled to do so and struggles with guilt and anxiety if the opportunity to exercise is not present.
Why do people use alcohol/drugs or become involved in ‘Addictive Behaviours’?
The reasons are many and it is often the combination of one or more factors that will trigger off and reinforce a pattern that can result in addiction. Some factors include:
- Peer pressure
- Risk taking adventure
- Seeking enjoyment
- False belief that the drug/behaviour is harmless
- To cope with trauma (physical, emotional or sexual)
- School failure
- Relationship problems
- Low self-esteem
- Perceived lack of social skills and other interpersonal and intrapersonal reasons
When does a bad habit become an Addiction?
For some the transition from use of a substance or behaviour to misuse to dependency and addiction can occur quite quickly, while for others the process seems to take place gradually over an extended period of time. Addictions tend to take root at an increasingly deeper level, claiming a greater proportion of an individual’s time and attention. Although it is not unusual for an individual to seek out a mood altering experience – such as a few drinks after a stressful day – the vast majority of individuals do NOT become addicted.
If they sometimes overuse a substance, they will often learn with experience and maturity to be in better control. For some, their relationship with a substance or behaviour can be problematic but not yet addictive. For others however, the nature of addiction is such that often an individual thinks that they are in a temporary difficulty and hopes to soon be back in reasonably good control when in fact their situation is becoming progressively more advanced.
Of great importance is the fact that often individuals are already in addiction before they realize fully what is going on. Whether one views addiction as a medical illness or as a behavioural disorder, it is important to remember that once addicted, an individual may progress through the various stages of the addictive process fully believing that they don’t have an addiction when in fact they do.
For example, the vast majority of those with a serious alcohol problem can probably be described as functional alcoholics, yet we in Ireland often proceed with the assumption that one has to be drinking excessively on a daily basis to be designated as such. This simply is not true.
What is denial?
This tendency to minimise the full reality of what is underway is typically referred to as ‘denial’, a feature of addiction that is reinforced by BOTH lack of good information about addiction and the ‘shame & stigma’that accompany addiction for both the individual and the family. This tendency to deny or minimise the full reality of what’s underway is experienced not only by those in direct difficulty but can also be experienced by the partner and family as well.
Is there a Stigma associated with Addiction?
There is unfortunately a stigma associated with addiction and seeking help through counselling. Although it is common and socially acceptable to say that you are seeking professional medical help from your doctor for various ailments or illnesses but the same acceptance does not extend to those seeking counselling support.
One of the Addiction Counsellors of Ireland key objectives is to seek to reduce these stigmas so people don’t feel the need to suffer alone and in silence.
Is there a growing problem with Addiction in Ireland?
Addiction is evident in all social classes and age groups in Ireland. The traditional area of illegal drugs and misuse of alcohol continues to increase. No longer confined to Dublin, illegal drugs are readily available throughout Ireland. Access to alcohol is fuelled by below-cost selling, increased outlets and is now cheaper and more available than ever before. The Addiction Counsellors of Ireland welcomes the commitment of the government to introduce legislation to tackle these issues. Behavioural/process addictions have grown significantly over the last number of year’s e.g.
- Sex Addiction – which is fuelled by widespread access to the internet and social media.
- Eating Disorders – which are also on the rise with over eating, which is self-evident in the country’s obesity problems, increasing cases of anorexia nervosa and a significant increase in the number suffering from the less evident bulimia.
Compulsive gambling is also on the rise due in no small part to the explosion in the availability and ease of access to online gambling sites.
Is there awareness of the problem associated with Addiction in Ireland?
The Addiction Counsellors of Ireland sees a key part of its role as creating awareness through dialogue in public discourse about the increasing prevalence and the reality of the problems with addiction in Ireland. Addiction affects nearly all families nationwide and there is a pressing need to address this health concern by ensuring that there is a clear understanding of its effects. The Addiction Counsellors of Ireland believes that this can no longer be dealt with behind closed doors and that any stigma associated with addiction, not just alcohol and drug addiction but also behavioural/process addictions such as gambling, sex, pornography and eating disorders, must be put aside.
The active role the Addiction Counsellors of Ireland play in counter measures for addiction include the following:
- Highlighting the extensive suffering caused to family, friends and colleagues of those suffering from addiction.
- Promoting the effectiveness of counselling as one of many counter measures for addiction.
- Helping to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and the equal stigma arising as a result of seeking professional counselling.