Whenever you come across the word “Addiction”, your mind almost always conjures images of people in dark rooms sniffing white powder, injecting themselves with unknown substances and being a general menace to the society. The media has been no less a source for this imagery as movies such as Requiem for a Dream, Last Days and Midnight Cowboy depict the goriness of drug addiction.
However, drug and alcohol abuse is just one class of addiction. Other types of addictions include gambling, shopping, video games, internet and social media, and – although the definition is widely contested – sex addiction. These two are classed under Behavioral Addictions.
Psychology Today defines addiction as “a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behaviour for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behaviour despite detrimental consequences. Addiction may involve the use of substances such as alcohol, inhalants, opioids, cocaine, nicotine, and others, or behaviours such as gambling.” Scientific evidence has shown that these substances or behaviours that cause addiction activate the release of the “Happy Hormone”, dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure, bliss and euphoria.
While the person can only experience symptoms of addiction with the addiction, the signs can be noticed by other people. They include:
Make Sacrifices: A person with an addiction may pass up social events or activities they previously enjoyed if they do not involve their addiction. For example, someone with marijuana dependence may turn down an invitation for a games night with friends if it is a smoke-free event.
Continued use despite negative consequences: While a rational person may see the clear writing on the wall, an addicted person will continue use despite knowing full well the consequences of their actions. The addict with ignore or justify problems caused by their behaviour. At this point the addicted brain is not operating on logic; every action taken is to reach the next high.
Withdrawal Symptoms: For many addicts, withdrawal is natural and in many cases, severe. Withdrawal occurs when the substance is abruptly taken away. It could go on for days or even weeks. According to the American Addiction Centers, withdrawal from heroin and prescription pain killers causes flu-like symptoms lasting up to 5 days; addicts of psychoactive drugs such as Benzodiazepines will experience anxiety and seizures lasting up to weeks and in some cases months; cocaine withdrawal symptoms include depression and restlessness lasting 7-10 days; and going off alcohol can cause the tremors which can last up to a month. Withdrawing from behavioural addiction such as shopping and gambling will mostly cause irritability.
Secrecy: This is more of a sign for others around the addict than for the addict. Due to the shame and perceived judgment attached to addiction, addicts will go great lengths to keep their behaviour a secret. Being secretive about your space, activities, properties or even relationships is a signal that you or someone you know may be an addict.
Engaging in risky behaviour: A addict may take unnecessary risks or to obtain substance or engage in addictive behaviour such as stealing for illicit drugs, trade sex, sell personal property, or even trade drugs. While under the influence of substances, an addict may engage in actions that will put their lives and that of others at risk, such as driving recklessly and even violence.
Increased Tolerance: As time goes and more of the substance is abused, an addict may discover more of the substance is needed to attain that state of euphoria. This is because the body becomes accustomed to the substance and more is necessary to get high. For example, people with nicotine dependence may move from smoking a cigarette a day to about five a day.
Keeping Stashes: A person with an addiction may have small stashes of the substance tucked away in unusual places. This could be under the kitchen sink, on the wardrobe, in the car etc. This is to ensure a steady supply of the substance.
Change in appearance: More often than not, there is a corresponding change in the appearance of an addict. They may appear dishevelled, haggard and exhausted as addictive behaviour has replaced normal daily acts of grooming. However, there are high functioning addicts who no change in appearance whatsoever is observed.
Continued abuse of substance despite ill health: The addict may continue to abuse drugs even when they have developed diseases caused by the use of the substance. For example, alcoholics will continue to drink despite developing problems with their liver.
Obsession: The addict becomes obsessed with the object of their addiction by thinking about it all the time, spending time, energy and resources in getting it and also think of ways to use it.
Denial: The addict makes excuses when people are concerned by denying the gravity of the situation and making light of it. Other signs and symptoms of drug addiction may include: financially unpredictability; new and unusual friends, odd phone conversations; repeated unexplained and unusual outings that come with a sense of urgency; drug paraphernalia such as bongs, pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
Recognizing an addiction in yourself or in someone you know is not as easy as it seems. Since no one wants to believe that any activity they enjoy doing can cross the invisible line and become addiction, there is the risk of denial. Identifying the signs and symptoms and admitting that you are addicted to an activity, no matter how mild it may seem, is the first step to getting treatment.