Why do we become addicted?

Why do we become addicted?

When the word addiction is mentioned most of us immediately think of things like heroin, alcohol, and smoking. Then we may think of sex, or exercise, and caffeine. And some of us might, half in jest, say that we are addicted to shopping, chocolate, or a TV soap. We also think of addictions as those activities that tend to ruin our lives.

But the reality is that we all have the potential to become addicted to something, and we can become addicted to literally any activity, and a variety of different things. And how much it affects us it is a spectrum. It doesn’t have to ruin our lives, but it can control our behaviour.

The definition of an addiction is “an excessive physical or psychological dependence on, or an attachment to, a substance or behaviour, which includes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCDs). The main categories are:

  • An activity, eg gambling, internet games,
  • Substances, eg hard drugs to caffeine, carbohydrates, lighter fuel,
  • Emotions eg love, fear, anger
  • A repetitive behaviour, eg hand washing, hair pulling,
  • A specific person.

Why are we vulnerable to addiction?

All life forms, including humans, have a built in mechanism which gives us the ability to be motivated. It is centred on our basics needs, which are food, water and air, the need to feel protected and secure, both physically and emotionally, and the need to procreate. When these are missing we have this innate need to find them. This is triggered by the release of a hormone called Dopamine. Once the need has been met, this is shut down by the release of another chemical called Serotonin. This makes us feel satisfied and safe.

This mechanism also drives the need to achieve and develop as a person.  It gives us the motivation to go to college to study, create things, put the effort in to searching for a new car and buying it and why we enjoy new experiences. It is the “carrot and stick” principle. When we have experienced something new, or achieved something, we experience pleasure – the carrot. Without this the human race would never have progressed to the 21stcentury, we would be stuck back in the Stone Age. Stone Age man developed a new tool which he felt satisfied with, but after a while it no longer satisfied him so he was motivated to find ways to improve that tool, and so it went on.

We are constantly searching for the “feel good” factor. This is why people who are constantly studying, doing new things, achieving things, have goals, are far happier than those people who seem to stand still. This is also why we can get bored easily, or appear to not stick at new activities. You start a new job and you are all enthusiastic. You have a buzz at the end of each day because of the different aspects of the job you are having to learn, and the new people you are meeting. But after 6 months, you start feeling bored, and demotivated and you question why you changed jobs. The job has become routine, uninteresting and mundane. You are missing the pleasure and crave experiencing this feeling again. It is a type of psychological withdrawal – the stick, and it is these unpleasant feelings which motivate us into action to search for pleasure.

In other words, the brain rewards us for achieving something new, but each time we do this activity it rewards us less and less, so each time we get less pleasure. This pushes us to keep trying new things, running that extra mile, or excelling at our job.

We are vulnerable when our needs are not being met.

When we have a fulfilling and rounded life, with all our needs met, we are not prone to becoming addicted to something. Addictions occur when something is missing in our lives. It can fill a gap, act as a distraction and give us a sense of control. We are vulnerable when we have a major crisis in our lives – such as divorce, bereavement, or redundancy.

The American Soldiers in Vietnam.

A study was done looking at the American soldiers in Vietnam. It was found that there was a high use of heroin in the soldiers whilst serving out in Vietnam. Heroin would have been used as a way to numb the atrocities the soldiers witnessed and the conditions they were trapped in. It was thought that the soldiers’ addictions would continue on returning home. But this wasn’t the case: the majority of soldiers stopped using heroin when they returned home. This was because they returned to the safety, love and support of friends and family, and returned to work.

The system can get hijacked!

What is happening when we get addicted to activities such as shopping, hoarding or chocolate? At some point in our lives, usually childhood, the subconscious has linked an inappropriate emotion to an activity. It is usually a “feel good” emotion such as love, or security. And as we have seen above, this is linked to the release of Serotonin.

A 40 yr old woman is unhappy at work. It’s very stressful, too much to do and her boss doesn’t understand. He is unsupportive and a bit of a bully. Every evening she goes home and eats a couple of bars of chocolate. She has tried stopping but it’s impossible. Actually, as time goes on she eats more and more. When she was a child, her mother used to give her chocolate every time she was upset, or fell over. Her subconscious now associates love and security with chocolate. So to get love and security after a day at work she eats chocolate. But just as the lady with the new job got bored after 6 months, a bar of chocolate stops being effective so then 2 bars are needed to have the same effect.

In a nut shell!

We are all vulnerable to becoming addicted to something, and we are most vulnerable when something goes missing in our lives. If we can fill that gap by challenging ourselves further in the same area or in something different, we can convert these withdrawal symptoms into something more positive and rewarding.



Dr Andrea Haas

Nick Conn / 21st September 2018/ Posted in: Expert Talk

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    Detoxification (detox) is the medical intervention required for someone who is physically dependent to drugs or alcohol. If required, medical detoxification would be the first step taken in residential rehab. Detox is used to prevent uncomfortable and dangerous (even fatal) withdrawals symptoms resulting in suddenly becoming abstinent from alcohol/certain drugs.

    The goal of a medical detox is to aid in the physical healing required following long term addiction and rid the body of all together of substance whilst providing a cushion for unpleasant symptoms of withdrawals. Detox is not considered the whole treatment for drug/alcohol addiction and it is always recommended that a comprehensive rehabilitation program is used along side to help maintain long term abstinence.

    Medication is often required for alcohol detox. If you are dependent on alcohol and experiencing withdrawal symptoms it is vitally important to seek medical advice prior to stopping. There is a long list of medications used when treating alcohol addiction and the exact medication given to an individual will depend on their needs/medical history. Some of these include;

    • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
    • Lorazepam (Ativan)
    • Diazapam (vailium)

    Librium and Valium are the most commonly used detox medication in the UK. All medication used to help with alcohol detox have been proven to help reduce the effects of withdrawal symptoms.

    There are also a number of drugs recombined by the NHS to help treat alcohol misuse. Some of these include:

    • Naltrexone
    • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
    • Nalmefene
    • Acamprosate (campral)

    Medication is always required for heroin detox. For someone suffering from heroin addiction, the thought of detoxification (detox) can be exceptionally daunting. Withdrawal symptoms from opiates, such as heroin, can be severe and include pain, vomiting, nausea and shaking.

    There are different ways that heroin detox can be carried out, most usually either ‘maintenance therapy’ or ‘full medical detox’.

    Attempting to switch from heroin to a heroin substitute, usually on a controlled prescription, is known as Maintenance therapy. Subsites used are most often methadone or buprenorphine.

    A full medical detox from heroin will always be carried out in a residential rehab setting and will allow the individual to switch form heroin to a substitute and slowly withdraw completing treatment free of all substances. Someone using a heroin substitute can choose to have a full medical detox at any time, however detoxing substances such a methadone can often add to the length of detox required. Drugs most commonly used to fully detox from heroin are, Subutex, Suboxone and Methadone. Much like alcohol, the exact drugs used will be dependent on the individuals needs/medical history.

    Once detoxed from heroin the risk of overdose is much higher following relapse due to tolerance following withdrawal.

    The length of treatment in a residential rehab depends on a number of elements. Some substances require longer periods of detox than others.

    Private paying patients will also often choose a length of stay that suites their therapeutic and financial needs. As a rule, a full treatment program in a rehab is considered to be 28 days (often referred to as a month), however, treatment is offered in several different ways and lengths starting at 7 days.

    Treating alcohol addiction will always require a minimum of 7-10 days, this would be considered the detoxification (detox) faze. The length required for treating drug addiction can vary drastically depending on the substance being used. Detox for Heroin addiction is generally around 14 days minimum, with more time required if substances such a methadone are being used. Treating prescription drug addiction can often take the longest. The time required for treating gambling addiction, eating disorders and sex addiction will be based on the individuals needs.

    Rehab programs can be as long as an individual requires but primary treatment is normally caped at 12 weeks, with the offering for further secondary and tertiary treatment thereafter.

    *based on average rehab stays, everyone will vary dependant on needs and medical requirement/history.

    There is no need for your employer to know that you are seeking help for trauma and addiction unless you choose to involve them with the process. All employers should have a policy that explains what you do if you cannot come to work due to illness – illness to include treating alcohol addiction/treating drug addiction.

    If your work absence extends over 7 days your employer is likely to require an official statement of fitness to work which would be obtained from your GP. This would need to supply evidence of your illness as well as any adjustments required for returning to work, fazed return or reduced hours, but does not need to specify in detail the reason why you have been absent.

    If you are absent from work for 7 days of less, for example entering rehab for a detoxification (detox) on a Saturday for 7-10 days taking a full week away from work, you can self-certify your illness by letting your employer work you will not be attending work for that period of time. Exactly how an individual would do this would be dependent on a specific companies’ policies on taking sick leave.

    Any time longer than 7 days it is likely an employer will require a note from the individuals GP certifying their sickness and a fit note on return. Most companies have a clearly outlined policy on sickness and receiving sick pay so the exact requirement can vary. A rehab will always be willing to advise on time off work.

    How much does rehab cost is a very frequently asked question. The cost of treatment can range from £1,000 per week upwards depending on the place, with luxury rehab being the most expensive.

    There are free options available on the NHS but the waitlist of those looking for free treatment is longer than that for privately paying patients. Some private health insurance policies will cover treatment in some rehabs around the country.

    Choosing the right rehab centre will often be based on priced but it is important to follow guidance on the most suitable treatment centre for an individual’s needs which our expert team of advisers are on hand to offer.

    There are certainly pro’s for both treatment near by and traveling for treatment with one of the most asked question being should I get rehab near me? There are rehabs all over the UK and around the world that all offer expert programs, let’s look at how to choose a rehab.

    Local treatment

    Being close to home gives certainly has benefits. Visitors are normally permitted in rehab following the first 7 days stay, therefore if an individual is in treatment for a length of time longer than that being local will make it easier for loved ones to visit.

    Most rehab centres will also provide a full aftercare plan for someone following treatment, this will include ongoing aftercare in the specific treatment centre. Living close by can make it easy to take full advantage of ongoing aftercare. There can also often be the option for ongoing care with an individual therapist, again being close by will allow that treatment to be carried out face to face.

    Some individuals wish to be local but are willing to look broader, for instance the greater city of residence (London, Manchester, Liverpool, etc)

    Treatment Away

    Getting treatment away from home can be very appealing to some. Being out of the local area makes it a lot harder to just walk out of treatment as resources locally are unknown. Some also take comfort in knowing that they are not near home and focus more on treatment.

    As the price for treatment can vary so much from one residential treatment centre to another, private paying patients often would rather travel to keep the cost down. Those using private health insurance may also have to travel to find a treatment centre covered in their policy.

    When opting for treatment away from home this can be anywhere in the UK and also abroad. Aftercare can still be carried out and very successful using tools such as The Online Rehab.

    There is no right or wrong when choosing where to go to residential rehab, but our expert advisors are always on hand to help provide information on all possible options.

    Whilst millions of people in the UK have taken recreational drugs (amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, crack, crystal meth, GHB, heron, ketamine, methadone, and prescription drugs) and drank alcohol not all become ‘addicted’. Most recent reports show that 279,793 individuals were in contact with drug and alcohol misuse services in the last year with over half of that being from opiate addiction and a quarter for alcohol.

    There are several risk factors invoiced in addiction and those using drugs and alcohol socially, simply take the risk. These risks are as follows;

    Tolerance – basically, if a substance is used repeatedly an individual’s tolerance to it will build. This will result in more of the same substance being required to get the same effect. In the long run this can easily lead to addiction and physical dependencies.

    Environmental risks – these can include influences such a peer pressure and stress as well as physical or mental abuse of an individual (particularly as a child). Overall, those who live with frequent pressures and stress are more likely to reach for a substance to cope and are therefore at higher risk of becoming addicted.

    Drug type – it is very well known that certain drugs are simply more addictive than others. Using substances such as heroin increases the risk of becoming addicted for need to ‘chase’ a high as well as physical dependency.

    Drug administration – how a drug is administered can affect its addictive qualities. A drug injected rather than smoked or snorted will release a quicker and more intense high thus making it psychologically (and in many cases physically) more addictive.

    Biological factors – it is now widely reported that being an addict is not only psychological but also biological. This includes your genetic makeup, mental health, sex and age. It is also reported to be 8 times more likely for the child of an addict to become an addict themselves.

    Its believed that addiction is approximately half genetics and therefore some are 50% more likely to become addicted than others.

    How do you help a loved one trapped in addiction?

    The first step is to help and encourage the individual to become willing to accept help. They do not need to be shouting this off the rooftops, but they do need to be willing to go into treatment. There are ways to help someone become willing to get treatment for alcohol or treatment for drugs.

    Set boundaries – set boundaries and stick to them. Once you have laid them out follow through with whatever consequences you have set however hard it is.

    Stop finances – if you are financially supporting someone stopping these finances can be the quickest way for the addict needing to ask for help. With no money to acquire a substance an addict’s options become very limited.

    Intervention – getting together with other family members/friends/colleagues and staging an intervention is often very successful in the fist stage of acceptance and gaining an admission to residential rehab.

    You can’t make them quit, this can lead to dangerous withdrawal. Boundaries are very important in helping someone become willing to get help. Unfortunately you cannot do someone’s recovery for them and without self-motivation it is very hard to make it work.

    The next step is to call our highly trained advisers 0203 955 7700.

    There is a huge range of rehab options available and where to start can be completely over whelming so let us help.