The word “addiction” conjures up an image of someone who has lost all self respect, ready and willing to commit crime just to feed a need which is out of control. Reality, as usual, is not like that. In general there are seven addictions, and of course there are many variations and sub divisions of these seven.
An addiction is a need that someone can no longer control. Addictions are therefore something that the person could better live without but cannot. The person is dependent upon the thing that they are addicted to.
People take to the various forms of addiction for a variety of reasons. The most frequent reason is that it is a method of coping with a psychological problem. It is like taking a painkiller for a broken leg. Unlike the broken leg, however, the source of the pain rarely goes away and the person is left with a dependency on their addiction to enable them to feel normal and able to cope with life.
The first addiction relates to drugs. Drug addiction must be divided into prescription drugs and banned drugs. The usual vision of an addict is the person addicted to banned drugs. Drugs cause damage to both the mind and the body and after a short while a physical addiction is established. The person can come off the drugs and be clear in just a few weeks but the psychological obsession remains, drawing them back time and time again.
There are more people addicted to prescription drugs than banned drugs. The usual prescription drugs include tranquillisers, anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. Once on these drugs it is very hard to come off. Some can take over a year for full withdrawal. Like banned drugs, they are used to cope with a deep psychological problem. Like banned drugs, they do not solve the problem just enable the person to cope.
Prescription drugs are notoriously difficult to give up. Because they are prescribed, people believe that they are safe and they can stop as soon as they feel better. This is not the case.
The second addiction relates to alcohol. This product would be banned immediately if it was invented today. It is the most readily available and damaging of the addictions. Widely acceptable, alcohol permeates into every part of our lives. It is not only socially acceptable, but almost a social requirement.
There are two types of people who are dependent on alcohol, the regular drinker and the binge drinker. Regular drinkers are physically addicted to alcohol and therefore need it every day. In the latter stages of the addiction, the alcoholic will readily substitute a drink for a meal. Whilst there are lots of calories in alcohol, it contains none of the other vitamins, minerals etc that the body needs so it gradually declines.
Binge drinkers can go for weeks without a drink but the need gradually builds up in the background. When a certain level of psychological tension is reached (of which they may be totally unaware), they will suddenly drink a large quantity of alcohol. When they come around from their drunken state, the cycle starts again.
A physical addiction to alcohol can be broken in about ten days depending on the individual. Abstaining is of no benefit unless the person also deals with the deep psychological issues that created the need in the first place.
The third addiction relates to work. This is the most socially acceptable addiction. It also carries with it financial rewards. Like all the other addictions, it easily takes over and becomes an obsession. The normal balance of life is lost and the person is either working, eating (and thinking about work) or sleeping.
The particular allure of a work addiction lies in its ability to provide an escape. The person can enter a legitimate activity where he feels empowered, needed and rewarded. Work not only becomes a method of providing income, it also becomes the hobby. Work addiction is usually accompanied by strenuous efforts to deny it exists.
The fourth addiction relates to sex. The person addicted to sex usually has a problem with long term relationships. Sometimes the person has felt rejection at an early stage in their life and is desperately seeking affection. The person may have lots of short term relationships, none of which are satisfying. Continually searching for confirmation that they are attractive, or valued, the person may accumulate an entourage of admirers. Though the person may become obsessed with sex, the real need is to feel good about themselves. Without support, the person is doomed in their relationships because one person will not be able to satisfy their need.
The fifth addiction relates to smoking. Though many people find it hard to believe, smoking is the easiest of the addictions to break. Unless a person has been smoking in excess of about 40 cigarettes a day (depending on their weight and sex), they will not have a physical addiction to nicotine. Withdrawal can take just one week for the physical need to disappear.
The psychological need for smoking is greater. People smoke to relieve pressure, for social reasons and to help them relax. In reality, smoking does not help with relaxation, but the person thinks it does and that is what matters. In order to stop smoking, the person must identify why they smoke.
Smoking is interesting because it is also a subject of fashion. Only relatively recently introduced to the world, smoking is now in major decline in developed countries though it is still growing in the third world. The only sector in the western world where smoking is still strong is with teenage girls who use smoking as an aid to weight control.
The sixth addiction relates to gambling. This is an unusual addiction because there is no physical need. All the other addictions appeal to one of the senses, gambling does not. The psychological obsession is powerful, with the person spending well beyond his ability to pay. Beneath the obsession is a belief that the person will win something. This belief in winning takes the person well beyond what could be regarded as entertainment. Even after winning, the person remains compelled to carry on gambling.
The seventh addiction relates to food. This is a common addiction; any food can be the target though often chocolate is the favourite. There are two main addictions. The first is a food allergy addiction where the person has an allergic reaction to a food. When the body learns how to cope with the reaction by metabolising it, the body then requires the specific food even though it is allergic to it.
The second addiction is more general where the person no longer eats to obtain nourishment. The person eats for comfort, out of boredom or out of stress. Food provides a method of coping but the person is rarely aware of the source of the stress.
Very rapidly people become obsessed with food. They will know every diet and cook book. Food may be in their mind almost all of the time. Chocolate is slightly different in that it contains a substance called PEA that induces the brain to release endorphins. This is endogenous morphine which makes the person feel better and also acts as a pain killer.
There are a number of common denominators regarding addictions, though smoking does not always fit the pattern.
1. The psychological addiction is always stronger than the physical addiction.
2. The addiction is not the problem since it is just a coping mechanism. The real problem is what the addiction is masking.
3. Though the activity appears to be destructive, it actually helps the person deal with an underlying problem.
4. The vast majority of people are unaware of the cause of the addiction.
5. The addiction becomes an obsession that excludes everything else in life.
6. Most addictions eventually destroy the family unit.
7. The only way to successfully remove the addiction is to deal with the cause first.
As mentioned, dealing with an addiction means finding what the addiction is masking. It may be an abusive childhood, a broken family or parents that were too protective. No matter what the cause, if it is not found, the unconscious mind will not give up its method of coping without a real fight. Why would anyone give up painkillers until the pain has gone?
Once the cause has been found and dealt with, there remains another problem. Once the unconscious mind has discovered that alcohol can reduce psychological pain, it will remember and use it again in the future. It is also important to explain to the unconscious mind that the next time a problem arises, it is better to work it out rather than head for the bottle.
There is no need to be afraid of people with addictions; they are just ordinary people that have a problem that they find difficult to deal with. Given some time and usually professional assistance, they can all be dealt with.
Addictions do not take years to remove; the physical need can be removed in weeks. The psychological need takes longer. For those wishing to resolve their addictions in a shorter time period, they can attend a residential clinic where they receive intensive psychological help. In choosing a clinic, it is important to ensure that psychological help is provided and it is not just for a “dry out” centre.