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Addictions

What Are Addictions?
When we think of addictions, illegal drugs, alcohol, and nicotine likely come to mind. More recently, addictions to other substances and behavioral addictions have become a real and growing problem. People may become addicted to gambling, the internet, sex, work, pornography, exercise, shopping, food, and caffeine to name a few. Addiction is considered a chronic disorder that occurs when a person develops an uncontrollable habit of using substances or participating in behaviors despite negative consequences. Many of these behaviors can become physically addictive, which means that the person’s body begins to crave the substance or behavior. More of the substance or behavior may be needed to achieve the desired effect. Addictions also have a psychological component that is often even more difficult to overcome.

Psychological addiction includes the rituals and emotions that often surround using the substance or the addictive behavior and the addiction may start to feel like it is a major part of who they are as a person. People can become addicted to almost any pleasurable activity and their behaviors become addictive when they lose control and “need” the substance or behavior instead of “want” it. When a behavior becomes an addiction, it always has some negative consequences, but sometimes they may be hard to see. Negative consequences could be neglecting family, legal problems, financial strains, or negative impacts on their physical or emotional health. Addictions almost always affect the person’s family and friends and the addicted person is so caught up in their own behaviors that it is difficult for them to see how their behavior impacts those around them. With proper treatment the person can overcome the addiction that has become a significant problem in their life.

How Prevalent Are Addictions?
Because addictions are such a broad and diverse subject it is difficult to identify exactly how many people struggle with addiction. According to research conducted by the Department of Preventive Medicine at University of Southern California, it is estimated that 47 to 61 percent of U.S. adults suffer from a form of addiction. 

What Causes Addictions?
Addictions usually begin out of pleasure seeking behaviors. People may take substances or partake in behaviors to change how they feel, like the rush associated with gambling, enjoying the feeling of being loved through sex, or the calming or “highs” experienced through cocaine or Ecstasy. . What often starts out as a relatively casual or even helpful behavior (e.g., one drink makes it easier for a person to relax before a date), can lead to an addiction over time. Everyone likes positive feelings and over time, our bodies can crave these feelings and we may feel emotionally incomplete or empty without them. This can result in repetitively engaging in these behaviors, which increases the need; before you realize it, an addiction has formed. 

How Do I Know if I Need Help?
It is likely that a person has an addiction problem when they continue to use substances or engage in behaviors despite the significant problems in their lives being caused by the addiction. On an intellectual level, an addict may “know better” but can’t or won’t stop. Other times, the addict is in complete denial and often lies to others and to themselves about the severity of their problem. These problems may include health problems, relationship and financial difficulties, or problems at work or school. People with addictions may have difficulty with good insight and judgment concerning their addiction. Many times people feel shame or guilt associated with their addictive behaviors and think about stopping or try to stop on multiple occasions without sustained success (e.g. Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it 1000 times!”) Often you will hear addicts say, “I can stop at any time—I’m not really addicted!” Stopping for a brief period may often not be that difficult for the person who is addicted to a substance or a behavior. However, “staying quit” is more difficult with extremely high relapse rates. People with addictions often have family or friends that have expressed concern about their behavior and they may become irritated when these concerns are raised. Any of the above experiences may indicate that you are suffering from an addiction and require immediate help. 

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Addictions?
Specific symptoms vary greatly from one addiction to another. All addictive behavior has some unwanted negative consequence; nevertheless the person continues to engage in the behavior. Many addictions also result in tolerance and/or withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance simply stated means that the person needs to increase their behavior or substance use to get the desired effects (i.e. takes more alcohol to become intoxicated). Withdrawal is cravings that occur when the behavior or substance is dramatically decreased or stopped. These cravings can be physical (i.e. seizures, headaches) and/ or emotional (i.e. irritability, obsessive thoughts about the addictive behavior). The primary symptom of addiction is that the behavior or substance has taken over the person’s life and they can no longer control their behavior, though they may think they can, as in, ”Sure, I can go to the party and just have one drink!”

Getting the Help You Need
The treatment of addictions is complicated and usually includes a 12-Step Program, such AA, SA (sexual addictions) or GA (gambling addiction). In addition, individual therapy support groups and psychotropic medication may be helpful. Addiction treatment focuses on eliminating both the physical (if present) and psychological dependence on the substance or behavior. Counseling may examine how and why the addictive behavior developed and progressed, what maintains it and what needs to be done to eliminate it. People suffering from addictions have lost control and focus in their lives. The goal of a successful treatment is for the person to regain control and eliminate the addictive behavior so that they can return to successful functioning. OHEL’s licensed mental health professionals can provide individual therapy and medication evaluation and management if needed, and can help the person coordinate the other services they need outside of the OHEL system, such as a 12-Step Program. 

Remember, at OHEL, we are only a phone call or a click away from your road to recovery.

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