Addiction is a complex condition that comes in many forms but is most commonly reflected in addictive behaviours toward gambling, and drug and alcohol abuse. Addiction is a chronic condition affecting the brain and its reward system. People with addiction may want to stop engaging in their compulsive behaviour, but complex physical and physiological structures make it difficult to do so.
The different types of addiction
We all develop strong habits, however some have negative consequences. However, people with chronic addiction have a compulsive need to keep engaging in their addiction and end up developing a dependence to it to the point that it negatively affects their well-being, relationships, work, and health. There is a stereotype that addiction only relates to drug and alcohol abuse, however, it can come in many forms, including:
- Food addiction: People with a food addiction generally use food and the pleasure of eating as a way to feel good or to cope with distressing events and situations in their life.
- Shopping addiction: Compulsive shopping is a behavioural addiction that involves purchasing products that one often can’t afford or doesn’t need, in order to feel happier. The allure of wanting something everyone else has is tied in with self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
- Work addiction: Work addiction and ‘workaholism’ has become a lot more prevalent over the last decade. Being addicted to working is brought on by the feeling that we need to work excessively in order to achieve something positive in our career or to feel worthy as an individual or provider. For some, working addiction is an escape from other problems or issues in their personal life.
- Social media addiction: The proliferation of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can result in a dependency and need to constantly monitor these channels leading to excessive behavioural patterns which become detrimental to one’s well-being and relationships.
- Sex addiction: Sex addiction and addiction to pornography are characterized by excessive and compulsive engagement in sexual thoughts and acts.
- Video game addiction: Video game addiction is the compulsive or uncontrolled use of video games, including computer games, console games, arcade games, and games on a mobile phone.
- Gambling addiction: Pokies, the lotto, scratchies, card games, racing, and other forms of betting is a common form of problem gambling addiction. People who are addicted to gambling or betting can lose both self-control and money leading to debt and mental health concerns.
Other types of compulsive behaviour addiction can include self-harm (cutting oneself or forcing physical pain on the body) and risk-taking; such as train surfing (riding on top of trains) or cliff-diving. Addiction is just one facet of an overall complex and debilitating condition. It often affects both mental and physical health as well as negatively impacting on a person’s personal and professional life and relationships.
How and why addiction happens
Addiction is multifaceted and can develop from a variety of factors such as genetics, trauma, and habitual negative thoughts or actions. At its core, addiction is a reaction to the feel-good ‘high’ you get from these addictive behaviours. Nobody starts out intending to develop an addiction, and there have been studies affirming that addictive traits can be hereditary. But for most, addiction is brought on from the positive reinforcement we get from a pleasurable experience. The brain’s natural pleasure-making hormone ‘dopamine’ is released whenever we engage in or think about something that makes us feel good.
More intricately, these pleasurable activities can become addictive when we engage in them during times of stress or after a traumatic event. Our mind, therefore, links these ‘feel-good’ behaviours to these negative events, so when we encounter a stressful situation or an event that triggers us to feel bad, our mind recalls the time when we used this certain pleasurable activity to make us feel better.
When it comes to drug abuse, the act of inducing a chemical high from taking drugs causes our brain to release a powerful surge of dopamine which makes the brain want to seek out more of this pleasurable feeling. So, in actuality, addiction is the desire and need to feel better. Without treatment or the right type of intervention, addiction can lead to a number of negative situations including:
- Poor physical health
- Poor mental health
- Breakdown of relationships
- Loss of job and money
At its worst, addiction can also result in harmful injury or even accidental death.
The importance of getting help
If you believe you have an addiction, it’s important to let go feelings of guilt. As addressed, addiction is a disorder caused by chemical reactions in the brain. It’s difficult to ask for help and in many ways, the addiction itself can make it feel impossible to see a life without it. The best way to fight addiction is to find support through a close friend or family member or talk to your doctor. If you feel it difficult to talk to someone, consider reaching out to an organisation such as Lifeline who provide 24/7 crisis support and counselling services to help you to overcome addiction. They can provide you with self-help toolkits and refer you to the right resources available to help you.