Addictions to pain medications, prescription drugs and even opiates are on the rise. Recent estimates are that 1 in 3 adults will try recreational drugs at some point in their lifetimes. This growth in substance abuse has been accompanied by a shift in research. Nowadays, the educated psychologist will tell you that some addictions are a symptom of deeper problems.
We wanted to explore this theory a little more. We all have to take responsibility for our actions – but what if your addiction is filling some deeper need in your life? What if it is so hard to break because it is simply a symptom of something else? Without chalking up our own problems to our parents; let’s take a closer look at addiction as a symptom.
There are two main types of dependence: psychological and physical. They are clearly defined as separate entities.
Physical addictions happen when a person abuses a certain drug or substance for so long that the chemical make-up of their body physically changes. This means that sudden withdrawal (as in the case of heroin addiction) can actually be harmful to them. When you stop taking the substance which has altered your cells suddenly you will trigger a variety of symptoms that may be overwhelming for your system. [i]
When dealing with heroin addiction, or perhaps codeine addiction or other prescription drug problems, it is often standard treatment to wean a person off gradually. This is the role of methadone in some cases, in others it requires careful moderation in a rehab facility.
Psychological addiction is a good example of how your brain has more control over your actions than you are aware of. Someone who is psychologically addicted to something has not undergone any bodily changes on a cellular level. They are not addicted in any other way except in their minds.
In this instance, addiction treatment needs to combat the psychological aspects of addiction and not focus on the physical. It is even advised that those with physical addictions may be able to benefit from understanding where their addiction came from, and how they can resolve some of the issues it brings.
This brings us to our next point: It is arguable that some – not all – addictions have their roots in psychological problems.
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Regardless of whether you have a physical or a psychological addiction; could it be possible that it is a symptom of something else? While this might seem like wild speculation, it has long been the talk of the psychological world. Addiction, in some instances, can feasibly be traced back to past trauma and events.
This study (International Journal of Medicine) into Opiate addiction provided a good starting point for research. In this document, three separate opiate addicts were found to have three distinctly correlating psychological features, or ‘markers’. They noted – all the way back in 1978 – that Low Self Esteem, distorted Future Time Perspective, and issues with the Locus of Control, were found in all three patients. It proved a springboard for some fascinating science in the years that followed.
Whether you are coming off alcohol or recovering from food addiction – the psychology is similar in every case of substance abuse. From those early studies in the 60s and 70s came the notion of addiction as a greater symptom. A volume from Psychiatry (Waigaratne, 2006, 455-60[ii]) outlines that addiction research has been vastly improved by the addition of a psychological outlook.
When we come right down to it; addiction is caused by a series of chemical reactions in the brain and body. Note the earlier link we pointed out between the Heroin addicts who all had distorted future perspectives of their lives. This is repeated in the case of alcohol dependence. It has also been speculated that major incidents in our young lives could already alter our future perspectives and therefore mark us as ‘addictive personalities’ from a young age.
The conclusion can only be that addiction is a complex disorder whose secrets lie deep within the individual’s mind. Medical News Today[iii] even go so far as to pose that addiction is a mental health problem in its own right… and we don’t think that is too far from the reality of the situation. The initial onset of substance abuse is usually a voluntary action – but our desire to continue taking our substance of choice is the part that is mired in deep-rooted psychological fog.
Back in 2010, a forward-thinking scientific study[iv] into depression and anxiety sought to identify the correlation between childhood traumatic experiences, PTSD and substance use disorders (SUDs). Oddly, plenty of research exists into PTSD in the military, but not so much into your average civilian. The study offered complete confirmation of the previous findings on military personnel: if you expose a person to childhood trauma or if a person has PTSD; there is a much higher chance that they will develop a SUD.
This depressing fact means that more needs to be done to prevent the onset of addiction in adults, from a younger age. It also means that yes; addiction can be a symptom of a deeper problem… according to science.
Mental health should already be a top priority for anyone trying to come off drugs. With things as terrible as they are with men’s mental health at the moment, we need to shift our focus to making sure everyone gets the attention they need. When you choose to sign into rehab to get help with an addiction you are already making the correct steps.
In line with this, rehab centres around the UK now offer various types of treatment, some of which are aimed at rebuilding the Psychological trauma or damage that has caused your addiction. Some rehab centres offer CBT sessions for addiction, therapists, counsellors or specialists. Some offer music, art and craft therapies as addiction treatment. Some offer holistic rehab and some offer spiritual guidance… but all have one unified goal in mind. They want to get you better, and they want you to stay better.
If you can change the psychology behind your addiction, you can change the way you see your future. If you can do that? Freedom is only a brisk walk across a frozen pond… but it’s achievable. When you are in the throes of addiction, every single thing that makes wellness achievable is a tool you can use to fight back.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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