What is addiction?
First of all, a definition of what addiction is not. It's nothing to do with either lack of willpower or intelligence; people with addiction problems often have above-average rations of both. For many, their habit started as a way of coping with unbearable feelings they couldn't deal with in any other way.

Through a mixture, perhaps, of life experiences, social pressures and genetic inheritance, they have lost control over their behaviour, their drinking or their drug-taking, and suffer cravings or withdrawal symptoms if they go without.

Unfortunately, addiction tends to get worse and worse. Often, people don't recognise they have a problem for a long time, so they don't ask for the help they need. If this happens, addiction may take a terrible toll on the quality of life at home, school or work, and to relationships; at worst, it could even be fatal.

There is a feeling amongst some working in the field that using the word 'addiction' reinforces negative myths about drug and alcohol dependency. While many people in recovery (including alcoholics) accept the term 'addict', wearing it as a badge of pride to emphasise the achievement of their recovery, others might see a stigma in this and prefer to talk about being 'chemically dependent' or 'substance-dependent'.

The words chemical, substance or drug may all be used to describe alcohol, tobacco and prescribed medication, as well as illegal (street) drugs. This is because the causes and treatment of all addictions are basically very similar.

How can I tell if I've become addicted?
Perhaps strangely, it isn't necessarily the amount of alcohol you drink, or drug you use; rather, it's the effect that counts. The DCR-10 says that showing at least three of the following is a sign of alcohol dependency:

  • a strong desire or compulsion to drink
  • difficulty in controlling the amount you drink. (The promise, 'I'll only have one' becomes impossible to keep.)
  • developing withdrawal symptoms after drinking stops, with a need to start drinking again to relieve this
  • increasing 'tolerance' to alcohol; needing more and more to achieve the same effect
  • a waning interest in any other pleasures or activities
  • continuing the habit, despite the harmful effects this is having.

Addiction

S.M.D Counselling & Psychotherapy Services

in Newport, South Wales