Invisible Illness: Addiction

Addiction is a tough one, because sometimes it isn't invisible, but a lot of the time it is. Addicts put on a mask and try to hide their addiction from friends and family. I've seen this firsthand and the destruction it can leave in its wake.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

The word addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as a tolerance. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs (or to cues associated with the drugs). An alcoholic walking into a bar, for instance, will feel an extra pull to have a drink because of these cues.

However, most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People compulsively use drugs, gamble, or shop nearly always in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior. The focus of the addiction isn't what matters; it's the need to take action under certain kinds of stress. Treating this kind of addiction requires an understanding of how it works psychologically.

When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one's morality or strength of character. Experts debate whether addiction is a "disease" or a true mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction. Such debates are not likely to be resolved soon. But the lack of resolution does not preclude effective treatment.

Signs and Symptons (depending on the addiction): 

Physical Signs of Addiction:
-Over-active or under-active (depending on the drug)
-Repetitive speech patterns
-Dilated pupils, red eyes
-Excessive sniffing and runny nose (not attributable to a cold)
-Looking pale or undernourished
-Clothes do not fit the same
-Weight loss
-Change in eating habits
-Unusual odors or body odor due to lack of personal hygiene

Behavioral Signs of Addiction:
-Missing work/school
-Work/school problems
-Missing important engagements
-Isolating/secretive about activities
-Disrupted sleep patterns
-Legal problems
-Relationship/marital problems
-Financial problems (e.g. always needing money)
-Conversations dominated by using or drug/alcohol related topics

Emotional Signs of Addiction:
-Inability to deal with stress
-Loss of interest in activities/people that used to be part of their lives
-Confused easily
-Rationalizing – Offering alibis, excuses, justifications, or other explanations for their using behavior
-Minimization – Admitting superficially to the problem but not admitting to the seriousness or full scope of the behavior or consequences
-Blaming – Placing the blame for the behavior on someone else or some event
-Diversion – Changing the subject to avoid discussing the topic

Three Cs of Addiction:
-Loss of control over the amount and frequency of use
-Craving and compulsive using
-Continued use in the face of adverse consequences

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