Updated: Aug 7
What is addiction? Addiction can come in many forms, be that through substances, such as alcohol and drugs, or through behaviours and activities, such as working or shopping. Addiction is defined by the NHS as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. It’s the highs that we get from substances or activities that are responsible for creating that are responsible for creating and maintaining addictions. These highs can be both physical and mental e.g. taking drugs gives you a high and once addicted you continue to chase that feeling despite it getting harder and harder the more you do it.
How can addiction effect you?
An alcohol addiction is when you cannot control your use of alcohol. Alcohol is legal in the UK, often making it harder to recognise an addiction. Within the UK, there is a culture of drinking alcohol in pubs, at parties, with a meal, at Christmas, at weddings etc. Warning signs of an alcohol addiction include: ● You often feel the need to have a drink ● You get into trouble because of your drinking ● Other people warn you about how much you're drinking
● You think your drinking is causing you problems
Physical impacts of drinking alcohol excessively include multiple forms of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, brain damage and nervous system damage. Drinking alcohol also impacts the chemicals in our brain, so can cause and worsen depression and anxiety, as well as hinder our ability to handle stress. Having an addiction to alcohol can also cause withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, sweating, insomnia and irritability. In addition to these other negative impacts, children of parents with an alcohol dependency are more likely to go on to have an addiction to alcohol, alcohol can decrease your libido, and it can cause arguments with those closest to you.
These highs that come with addiction are more often appealing if you are facing any external stressors in life, it can feel like they provide some relief to these issues. Addiction can take a hold of someones life, and can also create further stressors, this can cause a big impact on your work, family and relationships as well as impact your physical and mental health. This is why its really important we understand what addictions are and have to seek help if we think we have an addiction.
As previously discussed, in some fizzy drinks there is the potentially addictive substance of caffeine. But as most of us are aware, there is also sugar present in soft drinks, which can also be a source of addiction. This is because sugar can impact our brains in the same way as addictive drugs. Symptoms of a dependency on fizzy drinks include:
● Strong cravings ● A thirst that can only be satisfied by soda ● A mental preoccupation with drinking soda ● The inability to moderate your soda intake
A dependency on these drinks can also bring an array of physical problems, obesity, dental issues and diabetes.
There are many forms of drugs, both legal and illegal. You can get a drug addiction from illegal substances such as cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and MDMA. However, the misuse of legal drugs can also be considered an addiction, and you can be addicted to drugs that you can buy over the counter or are prescribed. Recreational (illegal) drugs are defined by Patient as ‘chemical substances taken for enjoyment, or leisure purposes, rather than for medical reasons’. Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine can also be considered recreational drugs, but they will be discussed elsewhere in this article. Legal, prescription drugs can also lead to addiction, despite being given to you by a doctor. A common prescription drug addiction is an addiction to painkillers, including opioids. Prescription drugs are given to treat an ailment, and they can be very strong. This makes an addiction to prescription drugs particularly dangerous, with fatal overdoses being very common. People may use drugs for many reasons, including escapism, peer pressure, or experimentation. You can get addicted to some drugs after the first use, and others it may take repeated use to become addicted. Drugs affect our brain's reward system, and can make us feel good, leading us to want to continue use. However, they can also reduce the enjoyment we get from other non- addiction highs, such as food, sex and social activities, which can heavily impact wider life.
Long term drug use can impact many areas of our brain: ● Learning ● Judgment ● Decision-making ● Stress ● Memory ● Behaviour
Drug addiction also increases the risk of many mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders, as well as causing many physical issues, including kidney and liver damage.
The risks of smoking tobacco to our physical health are well known, such as the increased risk of many forms of cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease. However, what are lesser known are the impacts smoking can have on our mental health. It is a common misconception that smoking makes people feel less stressed and reduces negative feelings of anxiety. However, it has been reported by the NHS, that smoking instead increases levels of anxiety and stress, as well as increasing the chances of depression in the long term.
Therefore, quitting smoking can provide us with many positive mental health benefits: ● Anxiety, depression and stress levels are lower ● Quality of life and positive mood improve ● The dosage of some medicines used to treat mental health problems can be reduced
Smoking can also negatively impact your social life. This is because as society acknowledges the risk of smoking tobacco, smoking has been moved from inside of public places to outdoors in recent years.
More recently, smoking has also been banned outside of pubs and restaurants by some UK county councils, making it harder to socialise as a smoker.
There are many reasons why a person may take up gambling. Some of these reasons include money, to get a ‘high’, social status, social circles, and the appealing and mainstream nature of casinos and other gambling venues.
There are many different self-help options : ●Learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways
● Strengthen your support network
● Join a peer support group ● Seek help for underlying mood disorders
Gambling may not harm your physical health, but it can add a lot of strain on relationships and finances. Gambling addictions can also come hand in hand with other mental health issues, such as substance abuse, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Therefore, for some people, a gambling addiction may be a sign of other untreated mental health problems.
Things that are harmless hobbies, such as gaming, both on and offline, can become a problem. The World Health Organisation has now included the term ‘gaming disorder’ as part of its classification of diseases.
It is still disputed amongst scholars whether gaming should be considered an addiction, but there are some signs to look out for if you are concerned: ● Thinking about gaming all or a lot of the time ● Feeling bad when you can’t play ● Not being able to quit or even play less ● Not wanting to do other things that you used to like
● Using gaming to ease bad moods and feelings
But, there are some things you can do to avoid developing an issue with gaming:
● Set time limits for play and stick to them ● Keep phones and other gadgets out of the bedroom. ● Do other activities every day, including exercise.
Getting help for this type of addiction is similar to other mental health issues, and the first step is to speak to your doctor. Studies in this area are mostly still in their early stages, but there has been some suggestions that CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) could have a positive effect.
Shopping addiction can be a challenging pattern to break, but with commitment and self-awareness, you can regain control over your spending habits. Begin by identifying the underlying emotions that trigger your shopping impulses. Developing healthier coping mechanisms, such as engaging in hobbies or practicing mindfulness, can redirect your attention away from shopping. Setting clear financial goals and creating a realistic budget can also provide structure and prevent impulsive purchases. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who understand your journey and can provide encouragement. Remember, it's important to be patient and kind to yourself as you work towards overcoming shopping addiction, one step at a time.
Some tips for managing shopping addiction:
• Identify triggers: Recognise what prompts your urge to shop. • Create a budget: Set clear financial goals and establish a realistic budget. • Remove temptation: Avoid situations that lead to excessive shopping. • Practice mindfulness: Evaluate purchases based on needs and values. • Track progress: Keep a record of spending habits to monitor progress. • Reward yourself: Celebrate milestones with non- material rewards.
While there are well-known addictions such as drugs, alcohol, and gambling, there are indeed some lesser- known addictions that receive less attention. Here are a few examples: Internet Addiction: With the rise of technology and online activiti
es, some individuals may develop an unhealthy obsession with the internet, social media, or online gaming, leading to neglect of real-life responsibilities and relationships.
Exercise Addiction: While regular exercise is beneficial, some individuals develop an addiction to exercise, where they obsessively engage in excessive workouts and experience distress when unable to exercise. Food Addiction: Similar to substance addiction, food addiction involves a compulsive relationship with certain foods or a continuous overeating pattern, often leading to obesity, guilt, and shame. Work Addiction: Known as workaholism, this addiction involves an uncontrollable need to work excessively and obsessively, often at the expense of personal relationships, physical health, and overall well-being.
It’s important to remember that addictions can have serious consequences and may require professional help to overcome. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, seeking support from healthcare professionals or support groups can be beneficial.
What to do next?
As has been shown there are many different types of addictions, both involving substances and behaviours. If you have concerns that you may have an addiction, it is important to speak to a mental health professional. On a positive note, as society is moving forward, the taboo surrounding addictions is slowly decreasing. In addition, there is also a wide range of treatments for addictions, both involving medication and therapy, with a steady stream of new studies constantly providing positive developments in how we can both prevent and treat addictions.