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Substance abuse and addiction

Addiction has many causes and it is difficult to overcome. It creates tremendous suffering for the addict as well as people close to them. Shame and silence are the addiction’s best friends - therefore talking about it can be the first step to a healthier life.

What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse means using substances such as alcohol and drugs in a way that harms health and relationships. When substance abuse is allowed to continue over a long period there is a risk of becoming addicted.

What is addiction disorder?

Addiction to alcohol and drugs is a public health issue. Having an addiction disorder means that it is very difficult to stop or cut down on substance abuse. The body has become accustomed to being under the influence, and it may need larger and larger doses to achieve the desired effect. Not taking the substance leads to withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may occur when alcohol, drugs and some sedatives are abused, but may also occur in the case of coffee and nicotine. It is also possible to develop an addiction to other things such as gambling. There is a feeling that the addiction is out of control and that the addict’s entire life revolves around it.

Addiction disorder is due to a chronic change in the brain’s reward system. The reward system is designed to motivate us to do things that are important to our survival, by releasing dopamine when we do things such as eating good food, exercising or having sex. When we drink alcohol or use drugs, we trick the brain into releasing dopamine artificially. Instead of a sense of natural well-being, this may produce a feeling of intoxication which many people want to experience over and over again. Different people have differing levels of genetic risk of developing an addiction from the time we are born.

How does addiction affect the addict’s life?

An addiction can take over your entire life. Suddenly, nothing is more important than satisfying the craving for more. It is common to think a lot about alcohol or drugs, for example, and to start hiding the addiction. This may interfere with the addict’s work, family, and health – things that previously seemed enjoyable and important. An addiction may damage the addict’s physical and mental health, as well as those of people around them.

Is it worth it to seek help?

An addiction may feel like a failure and involve feelings of guilt and shame. It’s important to remember that it is a disorder for which treatment is available. Remaining silent and pretending that the problem doesn’t exist does not benefit anyone other than the addiction itself. For someone with an addiction disorder, it can be hard to admit to yourself that you have a problem. Relatives may be an effective and important source of support at this time. Start talking to someone you trust.

Addiction entails a chronic change in the brain and is therefore difficult to cure. However it is possible to learn to to live with the disorder through treatment. By becoming a “sober alcoholic” or “gambling-free gambler”, the person takes responsibility for making a better life for themselves and those around them.

What sort of treatment is available?

In cases of addiction problems, you can contact a health centre or occupational health services. After careful examination of your troubles and whether there is another type of mental illness, treatment may then consist of talk therapy or medication. There are also addiction clinics where relatives can also ask for support. One method that has showed good results is the Twelve Step programme. Research into more treatment options continues.