Addiction

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Addiction is dependence on a substance which alters the body chemistry and so changes the user’s moods.

Everything, from Illegal drugs to medically prescribed tranquilizers, sleeping pills, the nicotine in cigarettes and caffeine in coffee, have the same effect. It is an uncontrolled compulsion by a person to consume or practice anything, despite being aware of the harmful effects on the individual's health, mental state or social life.

Contents

Background

To most people the word ‘addiction’ conjures up pictures of drug addicts but hard drug addiction is only one aspect of a growing problem and is not even the most common or the most important. For addiction has become a part of everyday life.

There is tobacco addiction and alcohol addiction. Countless men and women are addicted to tranquilizers such as valium and serepax and a large proportion of the population needs its ‘fix’ of tea or coffee several times a day. Or it can be about food, sex, pornography, gambling, shopping etc. And this list can go on and on.

Addicts can be people from all ages and all kinds of backgrounds. The underlying cause is often a problem or situation in life which they cannot face or escape from -- social pressure to conform or simply a wish to experiment, out of curiosity.

Kinds of Addictions

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of classifications-

Simple addiction - Simple addiction is something that one is hooked into but it can be reversed and modified by will power and determination. Though it does involve withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings, it does not require strong medical intervention. And can be also helped by self-hypnosis etc.

Complex Addiction - Complex addictions on the other hand, involve more of a psychological hold on the person and almost always requires medical help. It involves strong elements of pleasure or ‘high’ and cravings. And it requires in-depth treatment along with abstinence, therapy and rehabilitation.

Humans can be addicted to a number of things. Though not as dangerous as alcohol and drug addiction, caffeine addiction can cause high blood pressure, irregular heart beats and even insomnia. Heavy caffeine users grow irritable, get headaches, or feel lethargic when they can't get that cup of coffee, soft drink, Energy Drinks, or even a cup of tea.

Then there are the addictions that deal with behavior such as excessive television viewing. According to some reports, in 1997, 700 Japanese children were taken to a hospital with epileptic fits because of over watching an exaggerated version of the Pokemon game. Studies have shown that TV viewing has a numbing effect, and its reaction to the body is likened to that of a tranquilizer. One can suffer from acute drowsiness and even experience depression.

The key to breaking addictions lies in understanding it and its roots. First identify and see what the symptoms are and understand if it is chemical (alcohol, drug etc) or non chemical( over eating, shopping, TV viewing etc).

Then look at the causes of addiction. It could be because of a chemical imbalance in the body, a habit gone out of control, increased tolerance of the body to that substance, psychological reasons etc. Try and explore options of self help available and then take professional help for your addiction.

When habits become addictions

For most people, a habit is something one does or indulges in often but it does not harm the person in any way. Then comes bad habits which is something that is perceived as negative, may be annoying and yet is not very dangerous to one’s health or the surroundings. But once a habit spirals out of control and becomes self destructive, it is seen as an addiction.

As the body gets accustomed to the stimulation induced by the mood changing substance, more and more of it is needed to get the same effect. And thus the addiction. This is known as acquiring a tolerance for it. For example, the heavy drinker starts to need an extra scotch or two, the caffeine addict makes the coffee more stronger and the smoker goes through more cigarettes each day.

This process eventually levels out but by then the next stage has set in leading to withdrawal symptoms if the addict can’t get the substance that they are addicted to. Thus addiction is when a person has a physical or emotional dependency on a substance or behavior, is something pervasive, when one can not stop oneself and it ends up harming one’s health, lifestyle, livelihood, or relationships.

Symptoms

Addiction symptoms may include stomach ache, anxiety, loss of appetite, headaches, Insomnia, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, palpitations, panic attacks, shaking, sweating and tearfulness. In severe cases there will be convulsions and hallucinations.

Professional treatment

The conventional way to help deal with addictions is to have an overall approach to healing using therapies that deal with the mind, body and spirit i.e. via medication and behavioral therapy. This is also combined with modern conventional care, therapy ( indivisual and group ) and family counselling. It will also include post recovery support group sessions and memberships and any other help a recovering addict requires. What is important to realize is that no single treatment approach is suitable for all. Recovery patterns are determined on individual addictions, background and other factors with the primary emphasis being on easing withdrawl symtoms and prevention of relapse.

Therapies recommended

Besides the conventional treatment for addiction patients, natural and holistic therapies have been found to have a positive effect in helping people get over their addictions. They all work on the same principle that all holistic healing restore balance by connecting the mind and body of the addict while at the same time giving the patient hope and making him or her aware of and take responsibility for their own actions.

Acupuncture practitioners believe that it works as an effective treatment for breaking addiction habits because it deals with the problem at every level- investigating the underlying cause of addiction, alleviating the withdrawal symptoms, breaking the habit and rekindling enthusiasm for life. Diet and exercise is recommended and the therapist may also advice professional counseling. The therapist will treat points in the arms and legs corresponding to the small and large intestines, heart and lungs and also points in the ear, corresponding to the brain. Recent research has shown that acupuncture works very well against alcoholism.

Bach's Flower Remedies -- Agrimony is prescribed for those who maintain a cheerful façade and drink to conceal tension and inner pain; Larch for addiction masking a lack of confidence; Star of Bethlehem where addiction follows a shock or sudden loss; Clematis for desire to escape reality; Willow for resentment and feeling victimized by life.

Homeopathy -- A homeopath will deal with each patients individual needs. Treatment is said to reduce withdrawal symptoms. It is also said to increase the addict’s ability to succeed in breaking the habit and helping them come to terms with the underlying cause.

Naturopathy -- Whatever the addiction, a balanced diet is advised to build stamina and help the body to heal itself. Fasting may be recommended to remove the toxins from the body as well as exercise and relaxation techniques such as meditation. Naturopathy treatment can be combined with acupuncture, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy.

Massage -- The power of a hands-on massage therapy is being tested on people dealing with anorexia, bulimia, smoking, and other addictions, with some success. It results in the addict becoming mentally stronger and thus coming to terms with addiction. The basic foundation of massage is that it works on the mind-body connection.

Hypnotherapy -- Hypnotherapy experts use hypnosis as a tool to help addicts break their habits. Though it has proved partially successful in the case of smoking, drinking , eating and eve sexual addiction, the ultimate effectiveness is under research.

Herbal Medicine -- Simple Addictions can be cured by consuming some herbal remedies such as Angelica root tea for recovering alcoholics. The Chinese herbal medicines also include a few remedies for drug addiction, overeating, and smoking.

Conclusion

There are several approaches to treatment but one thing is essential to all of them-the addicts have to realize that they have a problem and be convinced that they want to change. For most forms of addiction it is best to start with self help. Addicts should seek counseling and support from self help organizations dedicated to individual addictions. Group psychotherapy may also be used to help the families of the addicts. The conventional view today is that all these holistic treatments can work if they're used in conjunction with other treatments and not in isolation.

Did You Know?

  • Estimated number of regular users of heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs worldwide is 50 million.
  • Annual value of the global illegal drugs trade is $400bn.
  • Percentage of young men and young women who binge-drink regularly 37 and 23 respectively.
  • By age eighteen, almost 12 percent of all young people are illicit drug users.
  • The estimated annual direct cost to American society resulting from substance abuse is more than 250 billion dollars.
  • Approximately 27 million Americans either use illicit drugs regularly or are "heavy drinkers." Of these almost 16 million are estimated to need immediate treatment.

References

  • Addiction - Wikipedia
  • Psychology Today
  • Addiction
  • Comprehensive resources for those looking for recovery from addiction