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Addictions

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A blog of a more personal note. I’m nearing retirement age and thought it was about time to kick an addiction. My addition was a couple of biscuits with my cup of coffee. Doesn’t sound too bad? But if I have 5 cups of coffee in a day, that’s 10 biscuits – sometimes I might have 4 biscuits with a cuppa. Easily translates into eating a packet of biscuits in a day. Generally, not Tim Tams; just good old dunking Gingernuts. Compare that to smoking a packet of cigarettes in a day or drinking a six-pack of beer each night. Not quite the same, as mine was a behavioural addiction, whereas alcohol and nicotine come under the substance addiction category. I sincerely don’t mean to make contrite remarks about addictions as they are very real deep-seated issues for the chronic sufferer. But really?? – you would all agree that a packet of biscuits a day was not good for my health. The debate raged in our household of Arnotts vs Griffins, so off I would go to the New Zealand shop and stock up on Griffins biscuits, meaning there was no room in the pantry for Arnotts. The only trouble was – the more biscuits to choose from; the more I ate with my cup of coffee. The big denial in my head was that I ate plenty of fruit and vegetables to offset the sugar. Silly!! Right? Such is an example of the tortured, impaired thinking of an addict.

Combine that with curling up on bed with a book and a bag of lollies and I was really clocking up that sugar intake. Whoa up! – I’ve done it cold turkey. On the 1st of June I said to my deep sub conscious “no more biscuits and no more lollies.”
So far so good. 2 months and counting! I have succumbed to a couple of pieces of chocolate during that time, but I’m not addicted to chocolate, so all is good.
Sugar affects our brain pathways just like addictive drugs and I have read enough books to know that my sugar intake was over the top. I highly recommend “The Sweet Poison Quit Plan” by David Gillespie. Both behavioural addictions and substance addictions are just as serious as each other, with similar damaging penalties. 8 weeks on, I do feel better; but not incredibly so and just thought I could blog on about addictions as part of my therapy.

Addiction is a physical or psychological need to repeatedly use a substance or engage in compulsive behaviour to the point where it is harmful to oneself. The rewarding effects provide a compelling uncontrollable enticement to repeat the deed, despite the consequences.
Is it our deep consciousness that is seeking fulfilment because our everyday lives don’t? I am a firm believer in human DNA just being tuned to an addiction. Almost everyone you talk to will own to some level of addiction or know someone afflicted. There is no science behind my belief, so don’t take it as gospel. But it is certainly an emotional dependence; according to scientific studies.

The American Psychiatric Association state that addiction is a complex condition of a brain disease. Some research indicates that addictive behaviours share neurobiological features. Acting as the chemical messenger between neurons, dopamine is known as the ‘happy’ hormone and controls the emotional responses in the brain. The instant gratification you get from an addiction releases dopamine in the brain and gives you a sense of fulfilment and pleasure. The more you indulge in the activity, the more dopamine released in your brain and the addictive personality becomes hooked into the loop. That intoxication of intense pleasure is different for each substance. Under the influence, people feel physical symptoms, once the chemical has entered the brain and nervous system. Generally, the individual has no control over heart palpitations, paranoia, nausea and hallucinations.

The brain is a major organ that regulates body temperature, breathing, emotions and decision making, plus impacts physical sensations like emotions, cravings and habits. Once hooked on the roller coaster of addiction highs and lows, the brain rewards the brain by encouraging further use, keeping the individual in a cycle of desperation and depression.

Negative behaviours are usually identified by a healthy human, but if someone is addicted, they will justify the behaviour as opposed to admitting it. People with a substance abuse addiction have harmful changes in the wiring of their brains, giving distorted thinking and intense cravings. There are studies made by scanning brains and the brain images show changes in the areas relating to decision making and judgement. If someone experiences withdrawal symptoms, then they are classically defined as addicted. It becomes easier to continue the cycle, than to contemplate a change of lifestyle to rein in the addiction.

Why do addictions begin? Is it experimentation or escaping? The feelings are so enjoyable that they create an influential urge to try to replicate that feeling again. Pretty soon that habit becomes too hard to stop.
Relationships and work can be severely impacted when trying to manage an addiction. Substance addiction has grave psychological and physical effects. Bad side effects can make you lose control, but still, the compulsion overrides your thought construction. Addicts will be aware of their problem – deny it or own it – either way; the chronically addicted require serious help and support to live a normal life. The leading cause of preventable illnesses resulting in premature death is the mishandling of drugs and alcohol.

In our family, we laugh off our addictions and foibles as being genetic and blame Nana and Pop, but some studies suggest this could actually be true, with a 50% genetic risk. Combined with environmental factors, this is thought to increase the risk. Addictions can be triggered by poverty, unemployment, emotional or professional stress. Both categories result in substance reliance on the same undesirable consequences.

Addictions can include:

Smoking, drinking, gambling, marathon running, hand washing, housework, hoarding, sex, shopping, food, drugs, work, mobile phone, tablets, gaming, social media, coffee, sugar, soft drinks, opioids. With the advent of the digital technology age – the list is ever-expanding.

As addiction takes hold, the following may be occurring to you:

  • To get the same effect, you indulge more.
  • If you stop, you get withdrawal symptoms, like shaking.
  • You use more than you mean to.
  • Everyday life is overridden by prioritising the addiction.
  • Even though you know it is bad for you, you keep using.
  • You just can’t stop or even cut back.

It is a topsy-turvey road to recovery. Relapse is guaranteed, even after long periods of remission. I can recommend an excellent autobiography written by MacKenzie Phillips – daughter of John Phillips (lead singer of the Mamas and Papas). Her story of drug addiction, combat, remission and relapse is sad, eye-opening, confronting and brutal. “High on Arrival” documents her page-turning story. Undoubtedly, you will end the book with sympathetic feelings.

ADDICTION CAUSES

Unable to predict who will develop compulsive abuse; it is clear addictions are multi-faceted.

Biological factors

  • Genes governing brain receptors and the body’s hormonal response to stress.
  • Alcoholic risk is attributed to variations in liver enzymes that metabolize substances.
  • Males are more likely to fall foul to addictions, though females intoxicate at lower alcohol levels.

Psychological Factors

  • Impulsive personality traits have higher risk factors.
  • Early childhood exposure to trauma and abuse affects an individual’s coping mechanism, sensitizing brain pathways.
  • Mental health such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases the risk of addiction.

Environmental Factors

  • Dysfunctional families put children at risk. Lack of parental supervision, support, love and discipline through troubled parent-child relationships define the victim for a lifetime. Divorce impacts hugely too on a child’s emotional wellbeing.
  • Easy access to substances can increase repeated use.
  • Adolescents are strongly influenced by their peers and they may adopt the behaviours acted out by their classmates or colleagues.
  • Stability is achieved by having a job and skills for employment. Also, a trusted loving adult relationship. Those with high self-esteem are less likely to offend.

Addictions are treatable conditions, with complete recovery possible. Relapse is regarded as part of the process. If you recognise that you have an addiction, it is highly endorsed by all your family and friends to get immediate professional help. Whether community support or peer-based groups or clinics, the recovery services are provided by professionals.

WHERE TO GET HELP

DirectLine – alcohol and drug confidential counselling and referral. 
Family Drug Support – information and support for people concerned about a relative or friend using drugs. Tel. 1300 660 068
Lifeline – 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Tel. 13 11 14
ReachOut – online mental health organisation for young people and their parents
Alcohol and Drug Foundation – list of help and support services in Australia. Tel. 1300 858 584
EAP Helpline – 24 hr Employee Assistance Program for all Australians. Tel. 1800 303 090

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, more than 200,000 people die worldwide from drug overdoses and related illnesses. But far more die from smoking and drinking. Statistics state that over a billion people smoke, with tobacco the main cause for numerous diseases.
Nearly 1 in 20 adults are addicted to alcohol. Estimates for Australians hooked on gambling number about 300,000 with Australians having a higher gambling rate than any other nation in the world.

Then comes the technological concern. Adults and children are spending an inordinate amount of hours on their mobile phones, tablets and computers. The W.H.O has included gaming into the international classification of diseases, identifying the mounting problem of digital addiction. Surprisingly, even Google is concerned. While there is recognition of the issue, experts are not sure of how the addiction is facilitated.
Experts are yet to agree if being hooked on your mobile phone is the same as shopping. They do agree however that there is a likelihood of accompanying mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. The same brain mechanisms engage and similar treatments are required. Typically harmful to relationships, addictions disrupt everyday activities and family are torn by their desire to help the loved one or cut them out of their life.
The sad thing is that addicts are often not aware of their disruptive behaviour. They have a brain wired to pursue the substance at the costs of all else. The downside for the addict is they experience psychological feelings of failure, shame and guilt.

Digital technologies use persuasive techniques, much the same as advertising to reel in an individual. Social network interaction gives humans the basic sense of connection. Fear of missing out and anticipation is generated to the brain, vastly amplified by urging speed to answer the interactions. If unable to interact, the individual will start experiencing symptoms common with substance addictions.

The general populous has recognised this digital reliance and in the UK, around one-third of internet users and have tried a ‘digital detox’. Some 30% felt alienation by doing so. Controlling your online presence could entail locking yourself out or have software alerts to time spent on the device.

Technically there is no such thing as the internet or phone addiction because we can function in our everyday lives without causing undue harm to oneself and the people around you. It is left to the individual or parents to decide on suitable screen time. If you push people out of your lives, have no friendships and struggle to engage socially, one would count this as a problem. The jury is out with the experts as to whether the tag of ‘addiction’ fits the behaviour and constitutes an issue.

If you feel in your heart of hearts that you have an issue, reach out to the various agencies able to assist. Nobody will ridicule you for extending your voice to say “Help”.

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