Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, cocaine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping, gadget/internet use) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as studies, work, relationships or health. It is a grave problem that affects not only the user, but also his/her family members and the society at large. 
 
What is a Drug?
Any substance that alters the brain chemistry and affects the physiological functioning of the body is called a drug. Addiction of any sort has been found to have devastating effects on the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health of the individual. It can impair a person’s judgment and decision making to the extent that he/she may not even realise the damage being caused to oneself and others because of the substance use. Families have been broken, careers ended, lives lost prematurely and many are lost in wilderness forever. Addiction can lead to many physical and psychological disorders that further hamper one’s overall functioning.
 
Who is an Addict?
People can get addicted to different substances like – alcohol, tobacco, gutka, cigarette/bidi, marijuana/ganja, cocaine, volatile substances (thinner, petrol), etc. In addition, it can also be about engaging in an activity like shopping, internet use, sex, gambling, etc. A person is said to be addicted when:-
• He/she has strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the substance/ engage in the activity.
• Difficulty in controlling the use of the substance. 
• He/she needs more quantity of the substance to feel the same pleasure/high as earlier. (i.e., develops tolerance for the substance)
• Physiological symptoms like sweating, palpitations, trembling when he/she does not get to use the substance (i.e., withdrawal symptoms)
• Is preoccupied about the substance for most part of the day even when not using it.
• Does not find pleasure in activities other than the ones involving use of the substance; spending considerable time in obtaining, using or recovering from the effects of the substance.
• Continuing to use the substance or engage in the behaviour despite knowing the harmful consequences.
• Significant changes in personality and overall behaviour.
 
Causes of Addiction
Not everyone who uses a drug/alcohol gets addicted to it. So what is it about some individuals that they get hooked to it whereas the others seem to have control over it? This is one of the most common questions a mental health professional is asked in relation to addiction. Like most other mental health issues, addiction is also understood in terms of a combination of biological, psychological and social factors.
 
Numerous studies over the years have suggested that just as we have different personalities, the way our brains are wired and function is different. Research indicates that there are certain brain areas (called dopamine pathways) and neurochemicals that function differently in people with addiction problems. They could either be vulnerable for it from the beginning, or the use of the drug/alcohol caused those changes. Either way it disrupts the brain chemistry which in turn affects the overall functioning of the individual. In addition to this, genes also play a major role as addiction has been known to run in families.
 
Being impulsive, thrill-seeking, short-tempered, non-assertive, having maladaptive ways of dealing with stress are some of the personality characteristics that make a person vulnerable to get into addiction. Curiosity and peer pressure are the most common reasons by which people try alcohol/drugs for the first time. A good, “relaxing”, “high” experience definitely increases the chances of engaging in such behaviours again for experiencing the same pleasure. Apart from this, most people who get addicted to drugs/alcohol use the substance as a way of escaping the hardships of real life. It becomes their way of dealing with stress or any form of difficulty in personal or professional life. However, that escape lasts for a very brief period as the moment the effect of the substance dies out the person again has to face the problem which he/she feels inept in dealing effectively. Hence, the person gets into a cycle of escaping the reality through the use of alcohol/drug and wants to be in that state so that he/she does not have to face the harsh reality. Substance use is believed to be a sign of poor coping ability of the individual. 
 
Apart from the biological and psychological factors, our culture and society also play a role in advocating the use of certain drugs. For instance, in some cultures of India drinking alcohol is considered a great way of bonding together and celebrating occasions. In fact, not serving alcohol in marriage or other such social gatherings is considered disrespectful and insulting to the guests. Even God has not been spared and in the name of Lord Shiva, people smoke ganja and have bhang during holi or shivratri. Nowadays all these drugs and alcohol are so easily available (for instance wine and beer shops in malls) that it is almost as if the society is promoting the use of such substances rather than spreading awareness about its harmful impact.  
 
Psychological Treatment
1. Psychotherapy – Also called “talk therapy”, is aimed at helping the client understand the link between their thoughts, feelings and behaviours so that the maladaptive ones can be replaced with more adaptive and productive processes. Interventions in terms of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET) and Behaviour Therapy are efficient in the treatment of addiction behaviour. 
 
2. Craving control – Use of certain medicines and behavioural techniques can help a person deal with the intense feelings of craving when it seems too much to bear. It gives a sense of greater control to the person over the substance which in turn motivates him/her to stay away from using the substance. Many people report that they tend to continue abusing the substance since they are unable to handle the periods of intense craving which can come all of a sudden. 
 
3. Relapse prevention – Arguably the most important component of de-addiction programs. Leaving the substance is not that hard, but staying away from it is the most difficult part as reported by many patients with addiction. To ensure that the person stays clean and healthy without the substance, they are taught some techniques like asking for help whenever they feel the need to do the substance or staying away from potentially “dangerous situations” like going to party where alcohol is available. With therapy, the individual gains more confidence in his/her own abilities rather than depending on the substance for facing life situations. In addition to this, they also start enjoying their life without the substance. Both the patient and his/her family play an important part in this process hence they are educated about it and advised regarding appropriate ways of ensuring sobriety for the patient. 
 
4. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – It is a self-help group in which ex-alcoholics come together and share their experiences, for instance how they got into drinking, how it affected their life and now how they are maintaining their sobriety. These are mostly weekly sessions and have been found to be very effective in supporting the recovering alcoholics stay motivated to be clean without the use of alcohol. Similar to AA, there is NA (Narcotics Anonymous for drug addicts) and Al-Anon (for the family members and friends of problem drinkers).
 
5. Yoga and exercise – A healthy daily routine with yoga or regular exercise promotes feelings of general well-being and ensures healthy mind and body. It detoxifies the body faster and even helps in recovering from the damage caused due to excessive substance use. 
 
6. Social skills training – An important aspect for being away from drugs/alcohol is the ability to say NO to such offers from others. Assertive behaviour, healthy communication pattern and good problem-solving ability are skills that are taught to assist the person stay healthy without feeling the need to take the substance. 
 
One of the simplest, yet very powerful principle of staying healthy is “ONE DAY AT A TIME”! Instead of making any long-term plans for staying sober, which might seem over-whelming and extremely difficult, just plan for that very day and DECIDE to be clean without the substance. 
 
If you suspect any of the above mentioned features in your loved one, try and talk to them in a caring manner about seeking professional help to remain away from them and lead a healthy, productive and meaningful life. People who use such substances tend to deny that it is a problem and claim to be in control of their use which is mostly not the case. With proper awareness and guidance, we can save our dear ones from ruining their lives. So please take action before it’s too late!
 
“There’s not a drug on Earth that can make life meaningful”
                                                                             - Sarah Kane

 


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