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Addictions

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An addiction is an obsessive, uncontrollable and often damaging attachment to an activity, behaviour or substance.

There are records of a huge variety of addictions across the world, from substance abuse to odd addictions to eating inedible objects such as glass and sofa foam. More common types of addiction include alcoholism, smoking, drugs, gambling and Internet addiction. Awareness is currently being raised about other, less common and accepted addictive behaviours such as sex addiction, porn addiction and love addiction. 

Addiction or habit?

Addictions are a more powerful and more dangerous advancement from a habit. A habit is a behavioural pattern that:

  • is an automatic response
  • has become second nature due to frequent repetition
  • is not particularly damaging.

Habitual behaviour is a natural part of our lives and includes everything from changing gears as you drive, to tucking your hair behind your ear. Of course, some habits can be bad. We commonly refer to things like forgetting to wash up, or biting our nails as 'bad habits'. These bad habits can be broken because they are, more often than not, unconscious or passive actions. Once we get a conscious handle on them, we can stop them.

Addictions on the other hand, are conscious and impulsive responses that can become very difficult to control.

Symptoms of addiction

Your habit has become an addiction when it:

  • overrides other feelings and emotions
  • distracts you from normal life
  • causes physical withdrawal symptoms
  • generates a dependency
  • becomes increasingly difficult to control.

What causes addictions?

For years, scientists have been searching for the ultimate 'cause' of addiction. So far, no one answer has been found. It seems an individual's risk of addiction can be attributed to a number of factors. These factors can be split into two categories:

  1. behavioural
  2. chemical.

Behavioural factors include:

  • Genetics - researchers found that people whose parents had an addiction to alcohol had a ten-fold chance of having an addiction themselves, compared to people whose parents did not have an addiction to alcohol1.
  • Background - experts have found that people with troubled backgrounds that involved neglect or abuse are more likely to become addicted later on in life2.
  • Personality - experts believe that people who are generally anxious and nervous in their approach to daily life are more likely to develop addictive behaviour1.

Certain behavioural traits can cause us to form addictions because they can make us more likely to try addictive substances in the first place. Addictive substances are thought to affect our brains by releasing or triggering certain substances.

Chemical factors include:

  • Dopamine - some substances trigger the creation of the hormone dopamine, which causes a feeling of satisfaction. This rush of pleasure can make us want to experience it again.
  • Endorphins - scientists believe endorphins (a type of hormone) may play an important role in the development of cravings.

Addictive substances

The most common addictive substances include:

  • caffeine (found in tea, coffee and energy drinks)
  • nicotine  (25% of Brits smoke on a regular basis3)
  • alcohol  (a significant part of British culture)
  • inhalants (solvents such as glue or paint)
  • opioids (heroin and morphine)
  • hallucinogens (LSD and mushrooms)
  • cannabis
  • cocaine.

Addictive activities

Although there are chemical causes for addictive substances- how can we account for the thousands of people who become addicted to certain activities? The most common activity-based addictions include:

  • gambling
  • sexual activities
  • eating
  • extreme sports
  • Internet use - social networking and gaming

These activities all have one thing in common- they trigger the release of the hormone dopamine, which causes a rush of pleasure, or a 'buzz'. Addicts repeat this process again and again because they become dependent on that 'buzz'.

Stages of addiction

How do addictions start? Experts believe addicts usually experience a set of stages:

1. First try - some people are more likely to try something than others. For instance, a bored teenager with a troubled background may be more vulnerable to the temptation of illegal drugs than, say, a vicar.

2. Try again - some people try a substance once and never touch it again. Others, however, enjoy the feeling so much that they actively seek it out again.

3. Increased dosage - the body can build up a tolerance to the effects of dopamine in the brain, so the user may increase their dosage of the substance or activity.

4. Dependence - the user finds they can no longer function normally or happily without the substance.

Symptoms of addiction

Symptoms of addiction vary greatly depending on what they are addicted to. Some general signs include:

  • rapid mood changes
  • change in sleeping patterns
  • changes in energy levels
  • weight loss or gain
  • weakened immune system - seems unwell
  • pupils smaller or larger than usual.

Risks of addiction

Doing or taking anything in excess can be damaging to the body. Some addictions can be more physically damaging than others. All addictions can have a psychological effect on the addict him or herself, as well as their friends, families and colleagues. Extreme or long-term addictions can be fatal.

  • Internet Addiction - malnutrition, repetitive strain injury, headaches, dehydration, weight gain or loss. Find out more about the effects of Internet addiction.
  • Alcohol Abuse  - liver and kidney failure, slurred speech, impaired cognitive functioning, bad skin, headaches. Find out more about the effects of alcohol addiction.
  • Smoking - lung cancer, throat cancer, respiratory problems, reduced fitness, bad skin. Find out more about the effects of cigarette addiction.
  • Eating Disorders - weight gain, heart disease, heart attack, diabetes, organ failure. Find out more about the effects of food addictions under 'binge-eating disorders'.
  • Drug Abuse - heart failure, psychological illness, liver and kidney failure. Find out more about the effects of drug addiction. 

Hypnotherapy for addiction

How does hypnotherapy for addiction work? Hypnotherapy aims to get to the route of the addiction by inducing a state of heightened awareness in the patient. In this relaxed and open state, the patient becomes more susceptible to suggestion, which the hypnotherapist can take advantage of by talking over different ideas about the substance or activity the patient is addicted to. A hypnotherapist will attempt to help the patient gain control over their addiction while providing the support and guidance required to alter ingrained behavioural patterns. 

Further Information

Time Science, 'Addiction and the Brain' 

References

1BBC, 'Health'

2BBC, 'About Addictions'

3HGI

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