Addiction comes in many forms and is a serious problem worldwide. Over one in 20 adults had alcohol use disorder in the US in 2018, while 31 million people across the planet have substance use disorders.
When your loved one is dealing with their own addiction, it can be difficult for you too. You might find understanding addiction tricky, or not know how best to help them.
To get the lowdown on addiction, and find out what help is out there for your loved one, keep reading on.
What Is Addiction?
Understanding addiction can be tricky, but simply put, addiction is “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity”, as per Oxford’s definition.
Essentially, if somebody is addicted, they have a physical or psychological dependence on a drug, alcohol, or a certain behavior.
It’s a chronic brain disease. It encourages the person struggling with addiction to focus on it above everything else, also increasing the risk of harm to both themselves and their loved ones.
It’s important to realize that addiction is an illness. Blaming the person for their addiction helps nobody, and fails to get to the root of the problem.
Addiction is a cycle. The brain ‘rewards’ us when we engage in activities like eating, sleeping, and exercising. Certain substances trigger the same pathways, which can make people want to keep using them.
Gradually, the brain will become more used to the substance, so that more is needed to feel the same effects. Your loved one may also become physically dependent on the substance. This is when they need the substance to feel normal and can experience withdrawals otherwise.
When somebody becomes addicted, they get stuck in this vicious cycle. The goal is to break the cycle so that they no longer rely on the substance.
Types of Addiction
There are two main types of addiction — chemical and behavioral. You need to understand the difference between the two, as there are some key differences. However, all addictions need to be addressed, and we’ll go on to explain the treatment and support available.
This is addiction involving the use of substances, and the term preferred by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is “substance use disorder”.
Signs of chemical addiction include withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit, cravings affecting the user’s day-to-day life, and difficulties in regulating friendships and family relationships.
Common addictive substances range from more common drugs like cannabis, alcohol, and the nicotine in cigarettes to ‘hard’ drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Behavioral addiction refers to addiction involving compulsive behaviors.
The DSM-5 recognizes two behavioral addictions: gambling and internet gaming. The debate on just what makes up a behavioral addiction continues to rumble on, however. There are no official criteria for diagnosis, but there are still signs to be aware of.
Again, withdrawal symptoms might be seen when the user tries to quit, and they may engage in this behavior at a detriment to their other commitments. They may try to hide the behavior or lie, and use it as a coping mechanism to manage negative emotions.
What Support Is Available?
When it comes to chemical addiction, it can be difficult to quit without getting professional help.
The first step is detoxification, as your loved one begins to stop using the addictive substance under the guidance of a professional. From here, there’s the option to go to rehab and get treatment there, while therapy is also often recommended. Speaking with a trained counselor can help your loved one find new coping strategies and manage their feelings too.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another type of counseling. It’s particularly helpful when dealing with behavioral addiction.
CBT focuses on emotions and thoughts that cause distress. It teaches you how to reframe them, and suggests coping strategies.
Alongside therapy, support groups can also be a great help for people overcoming addiction. Twelve-step programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are amongst the most well-known, offering self-help methods and group support. However, they won’t be for everyone and only work alongside other treatments.
Then there’s medication. Although not everyone will be suited to medication, it can really help alongside talking therapy. Particularly for those dealing with addiction to substances like alcohol, nicotine, or opioids, medication can help in reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
What About Self-Care?
As much as it’s important to talk about treating your loved one who’s struggling with addiction, remember that you need to look after yourself too. You won’t be any help to them if you don’t take care of yourself first!
Addiction is often referred to as a ‘family disease’. This is because of the struggles faced not only by the person struggling with addiction but also by their loved ones.
Helping them through their illness is likely to cause you plenty of stress and it won’t be an easy ride. Remember that, ultimately, they’re the one in control — there’s only so much you can do as a loved one.
Try not to enable their behaviors. Let them experience natural consequences to their actions rather than giving them a get out of jail free card each time. Instead, read up on addiction and educate yourself. The more you know about addiction, the better placed you’ll be to help your loved one.
With such a toll being taken on you, you need to set aside time for yourself to recharge and do something you enjoy. From exercising to getting a massage or meeting a friend for coffee, it’s important that you take time for self-compassion. You want to protect your own health too, right?
Helping Your Loved One
It’s great that you want to help your loved one, and that you’ve made a start on understanding addiction. We’ve covered the basics, but there’s plenty more information out there so that you can support them with their addiction the best you can — just remember how important it is that you look after yourself too.
If you’re looking for more health and lifestyle advice, why not check out the rest of the posts on our blog?