Most of us have our own ideas of what ‘addiction’ is.
Some of us have associates, friends, or family members who might use recreational drugs, drink alcoholic beverages, or gamble in what is a seemingly innocuous way. Some of us will partake in such activities ourselves.
What we are not aware of, however, is how this affects each person individually, including ourselves. How do we know that the person who enjoys a beer every night, a flutter on the Monday Night Football, or a cigarette during the day is doing so ‘in control,’ and is not in the grip of an addiction? Is our likening for a line of cocaine on a Friday evening actually the pathway to something much more serious?
The U.S English version of the Oxford Dictionary defines addiction as such:
“the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity”
To you and me, that means that our use or undertaking of a ‘substance, thing, or activity,’ goes far beyond simply doing it to be social, or fit in, as is the case at the start of many journeys into a state of addiction.
No, when we are addicted, we NEED whatever it is, or feel that we need whatever it is, to sustain ourselves and function as human beings.
In particularly severe cases of addiction, that need is real. For anyone who has never been addicted to something, it is easy to stand and say ‘well if it is doing harm, just stop doing it.’ Those who have woken up in the morning held by the compulsion to inject themselves with heroin or to consume a fifth of vodka know it is a far more complex process. After all, they are called ‘withdrawal symptoms’ for a reason.
One of the biggest problems with addiction is realizing that it is taking over your own life, or that of a family member, friend, or associate.
Why Do We Get Addicted?
Addiction is something that everyone in the world is a self-professed expert in dealing with. Generally, those without any potentially destructive vices are the ones pontificating over why addiction happens.
Science is the savior of us all in that respect, however, and research has been going on for decades to identify risk factors and by association those people who are more likely to become addicts at some stage of their lives.
Of course, many addictions do not need a great deal of scientific analysis to be understood. If a person is working long hours, has just lost their job, or is under pressure in their personal life, and is seeking a way to escape and relax, a ‘harmless’ beer or a ‘one off’ consumption of cocaine or heroin can easily become something more dangerous.
Reviewing the science behind the other reasons, however, can help us understand why we, or someone close to us, may be in the grip of an addiction.
- Genetics – So many aspects of life come down to ‘the luck of the draw,’ and whether you will become an addict is just another of them. If your parents were alcoholics, for example, then you are four times more likely than Average Joe to become one yourself. Having parents as alcoholics generally goes one of two ways: either we make a stand against it and vow to be teetotal our whole lives, or we seek solace in alcohol ourselves to block out the reality.
- Mental Illnesses, especially those that are unidentified, are a huge risk factor when it comes to addiction. Taking drugs can often be an easy release from symptoms of depression and anxiety, but with the potential to lead to something far worse.
- Early Experiences – According to ‘Kids Health,’ at least 90% of smokers take up the habit before the age of 18. Those figures are similar in terms of alcohol and recreational drug use, too. While most teenagers do not actively seek exposure to such substances, they will invariably encounter them at some point, and either curiosity or peer pressure will get the better of them at some stage. A person who uses these substances at an early age is far more likely to be an addict at some point in their lifetime.
- Social Surroundings – If your workplace culture is to head to a bar and get ruined every night, or drugs are an acceptable part of your social scene, then this level of exposure increases the risk of you becoming an addict.
- Childhood Trauma, unsurprisingly, plays a key part in leading people into addiction, even if they only become addicts later in life. Parents at war, sexual abuse, or a general troubled upbringing are among the factors that contribute to addictions developing.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it can help you to identify whether or not you may be at a higher risk of developing an addiction. If you are already addicted to something, then identifying with the factors that have led you into your condition will be a massive step on your path to recovery.
At the same time, if you know someone to whom some or all of the above factors apply, it does not necessarily mean they are certain to become addicted to something. You do, however, need to be aware of the influence such experiences can have.
Perhaps the most difficult scenario in terms of identifying addiction is that faced by those close to the addict themselves. Addicts are often the first ones to realize what is happening, but then become skilled at hiding their vices from those close to them, whether that be at home, work, or in a social environment.
There are many reasons why someone would want to hide an addiction. Unfortunately, addiction is similar to mental illnesses – some would even categorize addiction as a mental illness on its own – in that levels of understanding among the ‘man on the street’ are not especially high. As we hinted towards earlier, this leads to people feeling as if they are going to be blamed for their addiction, and be met with a wall of ‘it is your own stupid fault’ comments.
Being in the grasp of an addiction is not likely to open up many sympathy channels. It is still too easy for society to label individuals as ‘wasters, alcoholics, druggies,’ and many other derogatory terms, without actually knowing the background that led to this dark place.
At the same time, some addictions are viewed differently from others in the eyes of society. Those who are addicted to alcohol and hard drugs, for example, tend to be stigmatized as being ‘bad people.’ In contrast, a heavy smoker will be recognized as an addict, but as it is still, in general, a socially acceptable pastime, people are not often concerned with those who enjoy their nicotine fix.
Whether you are worried that you have become, or are becoming, an addict yourself, or have concern for someone close to you, there are a number of signs you can look out for which could indicate addiction.
If You Are Worried For Yourself:
- Do you find yourself habitually partaking in the use of a particular substance, or exhibiting certain behavioral characteristics? Is the occasional beer when you get home from work turning into the thing you spend the day looking forward to? Has the cigarette you have when out with friends become the first thing you reach for when you wake up?
- Do you find yourself doing things that you know you should not be doing, such as placing a bet when you really needed that money for food or heating?
- Be honest with yourself, and ask yourself how you feel when you do not have access to a particular product or activity. Do you get angry because you cannot afford beers this weekend; are you irate that your friend who can get drugs easily is unavailable one evening?
If you are exhibiting any or all of these symptoms and behaviors, you may be in the midst of an addiction. As in the case of any medical condition, the sooner accept that you are an addict and seek out help, the easier it will be to escape the clutches of whatever addiction you have.
Although it is difficult to do so, avoiding the mistake of failing to identify an addiction during its early stages could have life-changing repercussions.
Addicts are often unable to identify themselves with any of the factors we identified above, especially if they are still in the denial stage. This is where intervention from friends, family members, medical professionals, or work colleagues, can prove so critical.
If You Are Worried About Someone Else:
- Have you noticed that person becoming more isolated recently, or over a longer period? Do they decline invitations to social events, or as soon as they arrive home take themselves up to their room and rarely show their face? Addicts often use isolation as a means of hiding their condition, either to avoid a negative reaction, or to continue doing something.
- Are you seeing changes in someone’s personality? Are they more aloof and prone to what can be frightening mood swings if someone asks them to open up and discuss how they are feeling? Do they over-react or seem irrational even at the most innocuous of things?
- Has somebody close to you suddenly started asking to borrow money with increasing regularity, or have they listed all of their belongings on eBay or Craigslist despite having a steady job and no obvious reason to have financial troubles? At the center of almost every addiction is the need for money to continue providing a ‘fix.’ This can often be the easiest sign to identify.
Similar to self-identification, the earlier that these signs are seen and dealt with, the more likely a positive outcome is.
Of course, telling someone that you think they may be addicted to something is not easy, and unless you ‘catch them in the act,’ more often than not you meet with a firm, and sometimes unpleasant, rebuttal.
While many say that accepting you are an addict is the first stage to recovery, the reality is that understanding what an addiction is empowers us to reach this conclusion in the first place.
Later, we look beyond the identification and causes of addictions, and begin exploring the destructive consequences that can often come about because of them.