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Addictions

There are many people who go through life without being fully aware of their actions, the motivation behind them and eventually the consequences that follow. There was a time when the word addiction was associated with heroin, alcohol and nicotine abuse, but lately many more destructive behaviors can be described as addictive. The word addiction comes from a Latin word, which means to be enslaved by. If you have ever had an addiction or have been helping someone else to overcome his own compulsions, you can probably rationalize this word’s origin. It may seem easy to preach something you have never experienced, so the worse approach to an addict will be to try to prove their erroneous activities and misbehaviors. There are many steps you will have to take until you become one and going backwards on the path is not as easy as making the headway. Whether you are the addict or want to help one, it will be easier to get to know their drives, whims and psychology.

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Above, crack smokers in a Vancouver, B.C. alley.

Addiction is an acute susceptibility to habitual dependence on a substance or thing. The degree of dependence varies with the severity of such inclination. Addiction generally brings up the picture of acute habitual dependence on intoxicants, such as, alcohol or harmful substances, such as, drugs, leading to adverse physical and psychological consequences, jeopardizing personal and professional life. However, in contemporary social scenarios, addiction is even associated with apparently innocuous habits, such as addiction to a particular social media or an addiction to luxurious material commodities, such as fancy perfumes, and expensive accessories. There are also workaholics and shopaholics. While these are milder behavioral habits, at the other end of the spectrum of behavioral addiction lie extreme activity addictions, such as, gambling, sex addiction, or addiction to adult films. A common thread running through the more serious forms of substance addiction or activity addiction is that, an episodic experience becomes a recurrent behavioral pattern, so that the victim continues to indulge in such behavioral patterns, despite serious after-effects. Due to the severity of its impact on the victim and his or her surroundings, it is essential to bring about a lifestyle change, develop healthy alternatives for coping with stress, and/or seek psychological treatment, to reverse the acute habitual dependence on substance or activities and cure the victim of the perilous compulsive disorder of addiction.

Causes of Addiction

The exposure to addictive substances or activities, releases dopamine, the neuro-hormone that produces a chemical reaction in the brain, transmitting signals of pleasure or heightened euphoria to the body, depending on the type of substance or activity, one is exposed to. The stimulant produces reward in the form of an exhilarating experience every single time, eventually perpetuating it into an overt dependence. Such a reward system motivates the victim to seek the stimulant repeatedly, despite the financial, health, or relationship hazards associated with it. Over a period of time, the acute habitual dependence becomes so severe that the person is unable to control his psychological control to abstain from such substances or activities. The loss of control over one's emotions and impulses creates addiction. The physiological or genetic predisposition of an individual determines his vulnerability to a particular addiction. Some people may naturally abhor the taste of alcohol, while others are unable to resist the thrill of gambling. Such differences in tendencies dictate whether an individual is prone to addiction. Typically drug addiction or alcoholism presupposes a psychological ailment, whereby the victim is unable to control his emotions and impulses, required to produce a calculated sensible response to various temptations/stimulants, ultimately succumbing to compulsive choices and behavioral patterns. Environmental factors play a crucial role too. Conduct and habits of family members, along with the spiritual/ethical principles have a profound impact on individuals and a key determining factor for one's propensities to such an acute habitual dependence. Peer pressure may also lead to addiction. Weaker family ties create loneliness and depression in people, making them prone to seek the rewards associated with a fulfilling family life elsewhere. Mental stress, resulting from adverse life situations, increases a person's susceptibility to addiction as a coping mechanism. Access to addictive substances in adolescence or early youth culd also potentially lead to addiction.

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Consequences of Addiction

Addiction could lead to serious consequences. It can damage inter-personal relationships, for the time and energy diverted to addiction may leave no room for investing quality time with the people who matter, or developing meaningful supportive relationships. Drug addiction and alcoholism may create a rift between the victim and his family members and close friends. In a state of inebriation, the addicts lose control of their senses, making them liable to behave irrationally, exhibiting rage and violence, even at the slightest provocation. It alienates the addict from his family and society. Addiction may have an adverse consequence on physical and psychological health. It may lead to anxiety, depression, and various forms of psychosis. Substance abuse creates chemical changes in the brain, leading to psychological disorders. The social isolation created by addictive behavioral patterns, aggravates the psychological ailments. Physically, the detrimental effects of addiction may manifest itself in the form of chronic diseases, such as, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and cirrhosis of the liver. Addiction hinders productivity at work and impedes professional growth by adversely affecting the person's reputation and attendance. It depletes the mental resources critical to academic accomplishments and achievements. The negative habit of addiction saps the addicts of the energy and enthusiasm, required for constructive and positive pursuits. The psychological imbalances created by addiction coupled with the negative emotions of excessive guilt, shame, remorse and a broken self-esteem engender self-destructive suicidal tendencies in addicts. Substance abuse is a fatal dependence, a major cause of sudden collapse and deaths of drug addicts. Sharing the same needle substantially increases the risk of spread of transmittable diseases, among the drug addicts. Inebriation, triggering recklessness, makes addicts more prone to accidents. Addiction increases the financial burden of addicts, resulting in debt traps and possible bankruptcy. The sense of powerlessness and loss of rational judgment leads addicts to take recourse to foul means for sustaining their addiction.

Addiction as an Instigator of Crime

Apart from tormenting one's personal/professional life, addiction also pushes the addicts towards criminal activities. While drug addiction or substance abuse is an illegal practice, funding for such an addiction may also be expensive, pressuring the financial resources of the addict, compelling him to commit theft to sustain his compulsive habit. Violation of legal codes is rampant by drug and alcohol addicts. Criminal activities of violence against family and friends, and vandalism are common in addicts. Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is a serious criminal offense associated with alcohol/drug addiction, with serious repercussions on life and property. The obsessive compulsive psychological propensity to addiction gives rise to rage, loss of emotional control, and sense of rational judgment, making addicts prone to commit legal offenses. Such levels of desperation may provoke the addict to resort to violent means when a well meaning family member or friend tries to prevent them from accessing their choice substance. Drug addiction has been observed to lead to prostitution for drugs. Alcohol addiction has been related to many cases of domestic murders by the medical associations. Addiction exposes the addicts to negative people or influences. The addiction to gambling also leads to criminal behavior such as theft and violence. Since addiction robs the addicts of a job/income, they are more vulnerable to commit crime to support their habitual dependence. An underlying psychiatric or personality disorder such as depression or passive-aggressive disorder, present in a majority of addicts is responsible for their susceptibility to commit criminal offenses.

Types of Addictions

Most people who are already listed as some sort of addicts are known to have behavioral addictive personalities. Don’t feel happy and exclude yourself from this category, because you can easily find your name in one, or several categories on that matter. Being addictive means to be dependent on something to the point where you don’t control your actions or behavior when it comes to the “drug”. You can’t overlook drug and alcohol addictions and you can only be in denial about the condition. In these cases, the addict may not be aware of what type of dangerous conduct is taking place until the first evident signs appear. These signs will be lack of motivation and energy, neglecting physical appearance and frequent change in moods and behavior. All types of drugs do not cause the same effect and side effects, however. If you suspect your teenage daughter or son is smoking marijuana, you may notice the abuse by their increased appetite, dwindled coordination, red eyes, weak memory, slow reaction time, paranoid thinking and especially, sensitivity to bright light and loud noises. Using drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and amphetamine will stimulate the individual. They might experience euphoria and increased energy levels, rapid speech and restlessness, but also: irritability, insomnia and depression after the drugs wears off. Ecstasy, GHB, ketamine and Rohypnol or “roofies” do not fall in the same category, but they do cause more or less the same effects. Rohypnol and GHB cause lethargy and blackouts, but all other listed drugs will cause memory lapses, hallucinations, increased sex drive, lowered or no inhibitions and poor judgment. There are no cases of overdose on marijuana, but all other drugs are extremely dangerous if the amount taken is more than the person’s body weight and condition can handle. Marijuana also doesn’t cause chemical dependence in the body or the brain, while all other drugs are highly addictive. Consider symptoms like delirium, passing out, vomiting, excessive sweating and deep confusion, a medical emergency and call an ambulance. Seizures, cardiac and respiratory arrest can leave the person in a coma or even result in death.

Types of Addictions

Workaholic

Workaholic is a word used frequently these days, and most people addicted to work don’t consider this condition to be dangerous. It’s true, this type of addicts are not likely to fall into a coma from too much work or experience hallucinations in the middle of the meeting. Although after a hard day’s work, they might start hallucinating for a bed or a hot cup of cocoa. This addiction gives them a different kind of high. Some of them feel emotionally pleased when they accomplish something before the deadline, others might do it for the praise. Stressed out working environments for some people is the trigger that releases adrenaline, and that is their hook. They constantly think about work and work related problems, even if they don’t like their job and it’s Sunday. That is a type of compulsive disorder, where the individual fixates his or her energy, time and thoughts on work, with no regard to the private life and relationships. What’s worse about this addiction is the fact that today’s society values work ethics to the point where the overworking habit is encouraged instead of deterred.

Internet Addiction

If one day you hear yourself saying you will be better off shopping on eBay that with your friends at the mall, you should check for other signs of Internet addiction. Today’s technology provides many available options we didn’t have in the past and a wide field of possibilities where you can learn, research and develop your mental skills. Message boards, forums, social networks and blogs are the easiest way to talk on any subject without being objectified as you would be in your real life. Although spending time online can be healthy, too much time behind the keyboard can cause antisocial disorders and hindrances. Not all of our interests can be shared with real human beings and people we interact daily, but every once in a while a human contact is necessary. Just like any other drug, compulsive Internet use will only become a bigger problem as time goes by. Neglecting relationships will soon become ignoring personal hygiene and unhealthy dieting for the sake of staying a little longer online, and as soon as you know, you are the nerd everyone bullied in high school. When you start losing track of the time you spent surfing, feeling guilty or offended when someone comments on your excessive Internet use or you have difficulties completing the household chores because of the time spent on your computer, you should shut down all of your devices and start enjoying your real life a little more.

Sex Addict

Love and sex addicts are two different types of addictions. Love buffs are constantly searching for the emotional high in a relationship. They have felt the chemicals released in their last love conduct and they became addicted to the feeling or the person. This type of codependency might fit perfectly into the scenery if the other person in the relationship has a corresponding personality syndrome. If not, the love addict might find him or herself jumping from one relationship to another, until they find a satisfying connection. Sex addiction is a more severe condition than love addiction. The factor causing this inclination varies from patient to patient. Sometimes biological changes might cause increased and chaotic sex drive, other times social or psychological factors may contribute to its development. More than 30 million people have been diagnosed with this type of addiction in America alone. These addicts find pleasure not in conventional sexual behavior but rather in unusual, exotic and sometimes less accessible sexual activities. If neglected and not treated, this negative behavioral pattern may lead to many emotional, medical, legal, occupational and social complications.

Negaholic

Negaholism is another unfortunate addiction, which unlike the rest of the above mentioned conditions can easily be turned around. It may be considered a factor in causing other addictive behaviors because of its pathology. A negaholism is an addiction toward negative thinking patterns. The words “I can’t” are these addicts mottos and obsessing over the problem instead of the solution is their best hideaway. One can become a negaholic in childhood and live with this addiction without knowing that there’s better life. These addicts usually had parents, teachers or mentors who emphasized the child’s deficiencies, used negative reinforcement constantly over time and with a penetrating, judgmental voice, tone and glance. This condition thrives in adulthood because the person has adopted a pessimistic outlook on life and considers his or her behavior as normal. Deep feelings of uselessness, low self-esteem and dependency create a dramatic atmosphere, where the negaholic feels most comfortable. This addiction can also be activated after a heavy emotional trauma, and psychotherapy or self-help workrooms proved to be beneficial.

Shopaholic

Shopping is another disease that seems to afflict many people these days. Oniomania is the name of this addiction and it’s characterized by buying things you don’t need, shopping when you already owe the bank a butt load of money and feeling unable to resist a bargain or a sale. Shopaholics usually feel high when they’re about to walk into a store. They frequently lie about their purchases’ prices and hide the new bought stuff from family members out of guilt or shame. There are a bunch of items they don’t even use laying around their homes, some of them with their price tags on, so they can return them later for a new purchase. Even when they buy something for someone else, they always remember to buy a little gift for themselves , as an excuse for completing the “heavy chore”. Excessive shopping is a dangerous addiction, not only for the credit card balance, but because it’s a harmful remedy for treating the emotional problems, shocks and stress.

The Psychology of Addiction

It’s easy to say that addictions can be controlled by keeping your impulses under control, watching your stress levels and staying away from emotional triggers. But after a busy day at work when your brain is already tired, your toddler is having a tantrum while the phone is ringing and you are making dinner, staying under control is not an easy job. Once your nervous system becomes overwhelmed, there is no going back and no meditation can help you achieve tranquility. Almost every human being will reach for the Xanax, while some might even light a joint and others will open a bottle of wine they were keeping it for special occasions. Keep in mind that every pill was invented to help you treat some sort of ailment, but using it more than frequently will certainly cause addiction. The problem with abuse is the fact that once your body and brain learns the calming effect of the drug, it gets used to it and every time you feel strained, overwhelmed or sad, the brain orders the body to use it. At first, you think it’s not a big deal and you’ve read that marijuana doesn’t cause addiction, but the problem is not the drug, but your compulsive behavior. And the brain chemicals released during the abuse play a big part also. When our brains find something that increases that chemical production, we naturally develop a habit to boost that production. However, whichever chemical you want to stimulate with shopping, sex, cocaine or alcohol can be aroused naturally as well. The good news is: all happy chemicals, whether dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin or serotonin, can be roused with regular exercise, eating different foods, listening to music or even dancing. The bad news is: you won’t be able to feel the happy flow as fast as you would with drugs and alcohol. But on the other hand, once you adopt healthier habits, your body and brain will feel the long term effects of the naturally induced chemical reactions. When you want to help a close friend or family member to fight an addiction, be extra careful. That is a job reserved for professionals. No matter how great and noble your motivations are, you may only make things worse and cause them to relapse in the middle of the process. Your job in that case is to be supportive, inspire them to cross the bridge and be by their side whenever they need a helping hand.

Breaking Addiction

A potentially harmful activity that started off as an experiment or a stress buster could eventually turn into a bad habit, with a lack of emotional and impulsive control. This acute habitual dependence on a substance or activity may destroy inter-personal relationships, thwart professional growth, obstruct academic excellence and devastate the morale of the victim, leading to self-destructive behavior. The escapist and reckless/unethical attitudes implicit in addiction sets bad examples for the society, and may encourage youngsters to emulate the negative behavioral pattern through social observation. Addiction also means diminished productivity at the workplace or school. Denial of the existence of a serious issue and downplaying or underestimating the degree of its severity will only compound the problems, and arrest any attempt towards a successful recovery. Adopting positive stress reduction techniques/ coping mechanisms, including meditation, jotting down the negative emotions, ventilating through constructive conversations, deep breathing exercises, may relax and soothe the brain. The importance of a reliable support system is vital for people undergoing the process of recovery from addiction. A complete overhaul of one's social world and lifestyle may be required, so as to bypass the negative influences of one's habits and environment, while channeling one's energy towards positive constructive development. Prevention of access to addictive substances or activities may help in curing addiction. This can be achieved through conscious efforts of the individual and/or community. If all else fails, clinical psychological counseling, behavioral therapy and medication is resorted to, for curing the personality disorder underlying the obsessive compulsive habit of addiction.

Conclusion

Addiction is a ruinous habit, spelling devastation for personal relationships, professional growth, financial stature, and casting a shadow of negativity on the society. Chronic addiction cripples the victim physically and psychologically, rendering him ineffective for meaningful and productive pursuits. Addiction may drain talented people of the time and energy that could have been used towards a positive goal. It creates helplessness and despair, leading to poor self-esteem, and self-destructive behavior in many addicts. The motivation to change one's habit, backed by a strong support system, may help in crossing the initial hurdle of passive aggressive resistance to change. An acknowledgement of existing problems and development of alternative mechanisms to cope with stress and anxiety may help. Lifestyle changes, such as developing constructive hobbies, building relationships, working towards getting a job, and concentrating on enhancing academic performance, may distract the victim from addictive activities. An evaluation of the psychological state of the addict and counseling/ behavioral therapy, may go a long way in reversing the destructive habit of addiction.

References


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