I have discussed, in other articles, how the experience of severe childhood trauma can lead us to have a powerful need to dissociate’(‘mentally escape’) from painful reality in adulthood (click here to read my article on dissociation). One of the main ways in which individuals attempt to do this is via an array of possible addictions.
In this article I want to look at :
1) The types of substances/activities/behaviours individuals most frequently develop an addiction to (and it is worth noting that most people with one addiction will also have at least one other addiction).
2) The signs that a person may be addicted to a particular substance/activity/behaviour.
So, let’s begin :
1) A list of the types of substances/activities/behaviours individuals most frequently develop an addiction to :
– street drugs
– prescription drugs (both legally and illegally obtained)
– danger (eg dangerous sports)
– fast driving (eg joy riding)
– watching television
– playing computer games
– social networking/chat rooms
Of course, many of these are harmless or beneficial in moderation, so at what point would a clinician be inclined to diagnose an unhealthy dependence on, or addiction to, the substances/activities/behaviours listed above?
The criteria listed below are generally used as a guide as to whether or not a person has an addiction to a substance/activity/behaviour (I will call this ‘x’).
a) is the person preoccupied with x?
b) does the person experience a loss of personal control in relation to x?
c) does the person suffer from withdrawal effects if s/he has to go without x?
d) does the person try to hide his/her dependence upon x from others?
e) does increased tolerance of x lead to an increasingly growing need for more and more of it?
f) does the individual seem to be ‘in denial’ in relation to his/her problem in connection with x?
g) does the person have rigid views in relation to x (eg completely dismissing the concerns of others about his/her dependence upon it).
h) does the individual blame others for his/her need of x? (eg says that others drive him/her to it).
i) does the person suffer from blackouts related to x?
j) does the person have physical problems relating to x (eg weight loss, shaking etc)?
k) does the person seem to be suffering from mood swings or personality changes connected to his/her dependence on x?
l) does the individual seem to be losing his/her sense of personal values because of x (eg putting x before needs of family)?
Clearly, different types of addiction will lead to different types of problems featured on the above list; however, in general, the more of the above problems a person has, and the more intense they are, the more serious the particular addiction or addictions.
The diagram above shows a typical addiction cycle which can underpin all addictions.
THE TWO COMPONENTS OF ADDICTION :
Addictions tend to comprise two main components :
COMPONENT 1 – biological/physical
COMPONENT 2 – social/emotional
Examples of when the biological/physical component plays a part in addiction :
Research suggests that there is a genetic component to alcoholism that causes the individual to metabolize alcohol in a different way to how ‘normal’ drinkers metabolize it – it is thought that, in alcoholics, the intake of alcohol leads to the production of an opiate-like substance in the brain. It is believed that it is this opiate production to which the alcoholic becomes addicted.
– ‘LOVE ADDICTION’ :
Neurological research suggests that in certain individuals the act of ‘falling in love’ produces far greater quantities of a particular neurotransmitter in the brain than it does in ‘normal’ individuals. It seems that this particular neurotransmitter, in high quantities, produces intense feelings of euphoria.
Unfortunately, however, this very pleasurable mental state soon begins to fade.
It is therefore hypothesized that individuals who produce these large quantities of the neurotransmitter may become addicted to repeating the euphoric high which comes from forming new, intimate relationships. Because of this, they may have frequent, short-term relationships and find it very hard to stay faithful to one partner.
Examples of when the social/emotional component plays a part in the addiction :
The emotional/social component, in fact, seems to play a part in all addictions, irrespective of the biological/physical processes involved. I list below the various aspects of the emotional/social component that addictions may lead to :
– temporary reduction in level of anxiety/stress
– temporary feeling of well-being
– avoidance of ‘real’ feelings
– avoidance of dealing with vital life problems
Whilst addictions offer temporary relief, they serve only to compound our problems over the long-term. For example, drinking a lot, or going on an over-spending spree, may provide a short lived ‘high’ but this is soon replaced by feelings of guilt, shame, emptiness, despair, anxiety and depression.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).