Can anyone develop an addiction?

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You might have many questions about the nature of addiction and how this life-altering mental health issue can seem to hit people and their families out of nowhere. Addiction knows no boundaries – people of every gender, race, colour, religion and social class can be afflicted. So why is it that some people develop an addiction, whilst others might experiment with alcohol or drugs and appear to be relatively unaffected? Which people will need to attend drug rehab for addiction, and what can they expect from treatment? 

This article explores everything you need to know about who is most likely to become addicted and why.

What kind of substances are addictive?

Addiction comes in two forms: physical and emotional. It is possible to become emotionally dependent on anything if you believe that you need it to function or to feel a certain way. Some substances, however, are also physically addictive. This refers to the changes in our neurochemistry (brain chemicals) caused by certain kinds of substances. Alcohol and illicit drugs are examples of substances that create chemical imbalances in the brain when it responds to those materials. These changes cause the brain to desensitise to this effect over time and become physically dependent on them. This leaves the user needing more and more of the same substances to achieve the same ‘high’, or just to feel their ‘normal’ state. When this takes place, we say that the person has developed a physical dependency on a substance. 

The kinds of substances that produce this effect are those that activate the ‘dopamine pathway’ – the reward system of the brain. This makes you feel euphoric when you first start to take a dopamine-activating substance. The good feeling wears off after a while of you taking it, and dependency takes over. Some examples of substances that activate the dopamine pathway are nicotine, alcohol and some classes of drugs such as opiates (heroin, codeine) and amphetamines (“speed”, methamphetamine). 

Addiction is a coping-mechanism

Some people use drugs and alcohol to avoid painful feelings; this is known as a coping mechanism. It can seem attractive to switch off negative feelings, and some people find drugs and alcohol a very effective method for altering their state of mind. However, this comes at a huge cost to their lives and those of their families, Jason Shiers from WW Coaching say “the problems they were trying to avoid are still there when the effects of the drugs or alcohol have worn off”. This can become a downward spiral, making it increasingly difficult to face life as the addiction takes hold. Drug and alcohol rehab teaches people how to cope with painful feelings and face up to their lives so that they can break this cycle and no longer depend on substances to manage their pain or anxiety. 

What is the difference between a habit and an addiction?

The main difference between an addiction and a habit is the level of control it exerts over your life. A habit is something that you may like to do or enjoy, but you have the ability to stop if necessary. With an addiction, you may find that when you want to slow down or stop, you find it very difficult or feel physically unwell because you experience withdrawal symptoms.

How to recognise the signs of addiction

The main sign of addiction is feeling compelled to do something for emotional or physical satisfaction, regardless of the consequences. Addiction cravings are relentless and may cause any or all of the following:

  • Feeling that you can’t stop doing something even though you might recognise that it is causing you harm
  • Feeling physically unwell if you don’t use the substance, or feeling like you need to use more and more of it to feel ‘ok.’
  • Feeling that the substance is harming your life
  • Losing interest in activities unrelated to the substance
  • Noticing that you have started lying to hide your drug or alcohol use

How are addictions treated?

Addictions require specialist support, and it is not recommended to try to treat addiction on your own. Some substances are dangerous to stop using without medical support. Seek professional help immediately if you have signs of meth addiction and other substances. At rehab, you can receive round-the-clock care from a medical team who can treat the physical dependency whilst providing psychological guidance to teach you how to overcome your underlying issues and overcome your dependency on drugs or alcohol. 

Anyone can develop an addiction, although someone who uses substances as a coping mechanism is more likely to need support managing their dependency. Rehab is the safest and most effective way to manage addiction with specialist support and ensures that anyone can turn their life around when they decide they are ready. 

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