Addiction can come in a variety of forms, and treatment options range from medical to psychological.
What is Addiction?
Addiction means that someone using a particular substance or engaging in certain activities cannot control their behavior regarding that product or action. It can become harmful to relationships, work, finances, and psychological health. Addicts may also break the law. Addictions generally fall into two categories: substance dependence and behavior addictions. There are many varieties of addictions, including alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, gambling, food, sex, smoking, internet (i.e., social networking), shopping, video games, and even exercise. Habits are “done by choice”. People can choose to stop if they want to. When the habit starts to take on a psychological or physical aspect, and the person cannot control their behavior any longer, then it is an addiction. Sometimes addiction is called dependency. When the person needs more and more of the substance or activity, then they have developed tolerance. Withdrawal of the activity or substance can feel so unpleasant that the addicted person then has difficulty quitting. “Compulsive and repetitive use” feeds the addiction cycle.1 Denial is another aspect of this uncontrollable habit, but there are long-term costs that follow the short-term rewards. Some of the consequences are physical and psychological, such as in withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include cravings, nausea,irritability, hallucination, tremors, cold sweats, and headaches. There are environmental and biological mechanisms involved in addictions. Professionals often differ on the division of “nature versus nurture”. Some believe DNA, mental disorders, genetics, and family history can play a role in that these dormant addictive aspects can be triggered. Others feel the environment and relationships in the addict’s “world” change the person’s behavior. Over time, regardless of the cause, the brain mechanisms change. Dopamine can reinforce addictions, as its secretion naturally reinforces sex, water, and food. Drugs, for example, can “hijack these mechanisms”. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is in charge of impulse control, judgment, and risk-taking may have deficiencies or under-development, such as in adolescents. People with mood disorders who self-medicate with substances or activities are at risk of addictions. Impulsivity also plays a role in addiction, as individuals seek reward or ignore negative consequences.2
Even though experts disagree over whether or not addiction is a disease or a mental illness, many effective treatment options are available.3 There are self-help programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous that can help patients cope with this uncontrollable habit and avoid triggers. Family members of addicts, who need support, could benefit from Al-Anon.4 Depending on the addiction, treatment can be inpatient or outpatient. The types of therapy available are groups, counseling, sponsors, and medication. Addicts can receive help with cravings, triggers, and withdrawal symptoms. For some, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and will require inpatient medical attention. There are medications available (i.e., methadone) to help with physical withdrawal from certain drugs (i.e., opioids).5 Some complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment options can also assist with withdrawal and addictions, such as yoga, mindfulness exercises, and vitamin B1 (thiamine).6