The destructive influence of addiction can affect us all but the door to recovery from addiction is always open
Addictive disorders are common disorders that involve the overuse of addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs or addictive activities like gambling or overuse of technology.
The number of people experiencing an addiction problem in Ireland is large and it continues to rise. Alcohol consumption has risen more in Ireland than in any other country in Europe, and we are currently one of the highest consumers of alcohol per head of population in the world. There has also been a rise in the abuse of other drugs including marijuana and tranquillisers. Currently approximately 5% of the adult population is alcohol dependent and a further 7% is alcohol abusive. There has also been a notable rise in binge drinking among young men and also young women.
Signs and symptoms of addiction
Alcohol addiction signs, symptoms or behaviours may include:
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social or interpersonal problems
- Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
- Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming
- Developing a tolerance for alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating and shaking when you don’t drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms
Drug addiction signs, symptoms or behaviours include, among others:
- Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — this can be daily or even several times a day
- Having intense urges for the drug
- Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
- Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
- Spending money on the drug, even though you can’t afford it
- Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
- Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
- Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug
- Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug
- Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
Symptoms for addiction can be generalised and independent of what it is the person is actually addicted to. Signs and symptoms include:
- An inability to stop using/engaging in addictive habit
- Continued use/engagement despite health problems
- Using the substance or habit as a way to deal with problems
- An obsession with the substance/activity with increased time and energy spent on it
Dual diagnosis is a term that indicates the presence of two medical conditions. Within the area of mental health and psychiatry, the term dual diagnosis is used to describe the co-existence of a mental health disorder and addiction
The psychiatric problem simply will not go away unless it has been treated, regardless of the treatment done on the actual addiction.
There is evidence to support that if both the addiction and the underlying psychological problem are treated, the prognosis for recovery is very good.
Treatment and recovery
Admitting to addiction can be a big step for many people. Following this initial step, what to do next can also seem overwhelming for individuals and their families. A medical practitioner should perform an initial assessment, preferably one with some experience in the area of addiction, so that the severity of symptoms can be determined and an appropriate treatment plan can be collaborated with the individual and family. Your GP would be an advisable first point of call for many people.
Treatment and recovery
For some individuals it is enough to give information and feedback for them to tackle the addiction themselves. For others a full treatment programme is required. Although there is no single cause of an addictive disorder it can arise in someone with:
- A strong family history of addiction
- Someone with an early exposure
- Someone who starts drinking at an early age
- Someone with a high individual tolerance to alcohol
- Someone who grows up in a highly permissive culture for alcohol and other substances of abuse
- Some people self-medicate anxiety or a depression problem and this fuels the addiction.
Addiction and stigma
#StillJustMe is a campaign with a series of short films and blogs written by mental health experts and those with lived experience of mental health difficulties. The campaign aims to bring some of the most poorly understood and stigmatised mental health difficulties to the fore. Divided into four phases, each short film from the anti-stigma campaign focuses on a different mental health difficulty; eating disorders, depression and anxiety, addiction and schizophrenia and psychosis. Watch the addiction film in the series below.
Treatment options for people are based on the severity of the addiction. Different treatment settings (inpatient at medical or psychiatric hospital, day programme, outpatient, private/public psychological therapies, support groups) and treatment plans may be effective for different people depending on the stage and associated complications of the addiction, age, the type of addiction, underlying causes and support networks available to the individual.