A Guide to Understanding Addiction

Addiction is not caused solely by life experiences

For any behaviour that is addictive and destructive we need to realise that the problem is not a phase or because of incidents in our lives, it is because we are choosing daily repeated destructive behaviour and, despite the increasing downward consequences, we are unable to stop.


Addiction now affects more young people

One of the biggest problems with any addiction today be it alcoholism, gambling, drugs or an eating disorder, is that it is starting to affect a younger population than ever before.  This young generation sees it as unfair that in their early 20s they have to consider an addiction treatment programme that is abstinence based. So, although family and friends will be encouraging them to seek help, they will be reluctant to, simply because of their age, and they will feel that they are able to sort it out themselves. After all, it seems incredible to anyone of that age that alcoholic liquid in a bottle could take them to the gutter.

There is less stigma now around addiction

Undoubtedly there is more of an understanding around addiction in general. There was in the past a much more marked stigma around it. Now it is more accepted that it is a medical condition and the judgement now is more likely to be that if you have got a problem, then do something about it.

For example, there is still no concrete evidence on why some people could become addicted to alcohol.  It has long been thought to potentially be genetic and there is a claim that some people could be born with a predisposition for a dependency. However, the important thing is not why we have an addiction but to accept that we have and to do something about it. Certainly addiction holds no discrimination about upbringing or background or levels of employment or even where we live.

How does addiction develop?

Addiction is a neuropsychological disorder characterised by a persistent and intense urge to engage in certain behaviours that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. But how do we get to that state?  Simply, by the pleasure we get from the initial release of Dopamine in the brain which we find pleasurable and will have experienced from a kiss or a particular food we like. Any drug will produce an overbalance of dopamine in the brain and this overbalance will produce increased feelings of pleasure which we like. This dopamine rush can be experienced not just with alcohol or drugs such as cocaine and heroin but also gambling.  

But over time the level of the rush will decrease as the brain reacts to the higher levels and to compensate will produce less dopamine. We in turn will increase our consumption to try and chase that pleasurable effect and in doing so our body will become more tolerant to the drug / alcohol. In time this will again change in that we will consume our drug of choice to just feel basically normal and to stop the effects of withdrawal.

We are now in what is known as addiction.  Gambling addiction is very similar to an alcohol dependency or drug addiction where the brain’s reward system is stimulated with dopamine but in this case that involves chasing bets, for example. The compulsion centres around both winning and losing and being willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value.

There is more potential now to become addicted

The world has changed very quickly over the last few years. Delivery services will drop off your alcohol, at your home your local drug dealer will pop round with what you need, and the internet allows anyone to gamble 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or to get non prescribed medication delivered in the post. With the now accepted practise of working from home, there is no need to go out to get what you crave and people are more likely to get away with drinking or using while at work. This certainly is one of the reasons that the problem of addiction is hitting a younger generation. People previously had a degree of constraint with leaving the house and having a structured working day.

Seeking help for addiction

To make changes to our addictive thinking and behaviour there needs to be an acceptance and recognition that our behaviour is on a downward spiral and that we need the help of others to get well and get on the path of Recovery. Undoubtedly, our partner or family or friends will have seen how we have changed and may have already challenged us.  Usually, we will respond with a reason as to why we are drinking or using more but this is just an excuse. We may argue our case and become defensive, but all we are really doing is prolonging the time before we will have to seek help.

There are free support groups based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Programme of Recovery such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.  A local group can be found by going on to the appropriate website and entering your postcode.  However, one of the problems that we often hear raised at The Haynes Clinic is people saying they have attended a support group that is appropriate to their addiction and “it’s not for them” or ‘it is too religious.” (It is actually not religious at all).  These remarks are generally from those with an alcohol problem or drug addiction where they need a residential medically assisted detox in a clinic or  alcohol and drug rehab before engaging in a process of Recovery or who may just not be ready to get well. Actually, the one drug that you can just stop using and there is no detox medication for is Cocaine but using Cocaine usually goes hand in hand with alcohol, so there may be the need for an alcohol detox.

If willing to get well and put the work in, recovery from addiction is possible

Addiction is one of the medical conditions that you can get well from though apart from free support groups there is very little available help and support. The local drug and alcohol teams throughout the UK are poorly funded and if you get to a medical level that you call an ambulance then they will probably not detox you in hospital but hydrate you and discharge you from treatment within 24 hours. 

Your GP, due to health and safety legislation, will not be able to now prescribe a medicated home detox. Therefore, the only option for immediate help is within the private sector at a residential rehab clinic. Being admitted into an addictions rehab will usually provide you with a medicated detox. You will also be able to engage with the very important daily structured therapy programme and attend support groups with other people in treatment. This will help you with your understanding of the ongoing support they provide and their role on your road to Recovery.