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Addiction and addictions

Addiction can refer to physical dependence on substances, such as drugs or alcohol, or to repeated behaviours or activities that someone feels they have no control over. A person may be addicted to alcohol, smoking and nicotine, illegal drugs or prescription drugs, such as painkillers. Some people are addicted to gambling, work, solvents, sex, sugar, pornography, tanning beds, shopping, the internet and even lip balm.

It is estimated that two million people in the UK have some kind of addiction.

There is a difference between habits and addictions. Alcohol for example, may be a habit, something to enjoy regularly in moderation for many people, but they don't need a drink to get through the day as an addict does.

Most addictions can be treated, with professional support and willpower.

Symptoms of addiction

Whatever the addiction, a person is dependent on it every day of their life. In the case of many drugs and alcohol, a person's tolerance to the drug results in them drinking more or taking higher doses to get the same effect.

It is common for people to develop a tolerance to their pain-relief medication and to need higher doses to achieve the same level of pain relief. In most cases, such a situation is normal and is not a sign of addiction. However, you should talk to your doctor first or if this effect becomes troubling.

An addiction may start to affect a person's relationships, work, education and their usual routine.

The health of an addict may also be affected.

The relationships organisation Relate says sexual addiction describes any sexual activity that feels out of control. This might include sex with a partner, pornography, masturbation or visiting prostitutes.

When someone has an addiction, stopping taking a substance or stopping an activity can cause withdrawal symptoms. In the case of narcotic abuse, 'cold turkey' may result in symptoms such as nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhoea and shaking.

Causes of addictions

There is no single cause of an addiction. It can affect rich and poor, men and women, young and old.

Pressures and stresses in life may be to blame in some cases, from high powered jobs to unemployment.

There may be family links, with children of addicts more likely to become addicts themselves.

Some studies have suggested genetic links to addiction, but environmental factors are also important and being brought up by a parent or carer with an addiction is believed to increase the risk.

In the case of sex addiction, the 'feel good' chemicals our bodies produce during sex become addictive to some people.

Am I addicted? Am I an addict?

Questions a person might ask themselves to help decide if they are an addicted, or addicted to some thing or activity include:

  • Is the activity or use of a substance increasing over time?
  • Is there less pleasure or stimulation from the same amount of the substance activity?
  • Is there a feeling of discomfort or unease when the activity is not available?
  • Are behaviours or activities continuing beyond what was originally intended?
  • Is there a desire to stop the activity but attempts to quit have been unsuccessful?
  • Is there a pre-occupation with the activity, either doing it or thinking about it?
  • Is the activity leading to social or other commitments being avoided?
  • Is the activity continued even though there is clear harm from it?

WebMD Medical Reference

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