Understanding Addiction


WHAT IS ADDICTION?

Addiction is a complex disease. It is any repetitive behaviour that can be out of control for a person and affects the functioning of their brain and body. Addiction can also be used to explain severe withdrawal symptoms in a person after they stop a certain substance or behaviour. 

4 ways to describe addiction (CAMH):

  • Craving (a strong desire to drink alcohol)
  • Loss of control of amount or frequency of drinking 
  • Not being able to stop the desire to drink
  • Continuing to drink even though it causes problems (at home, work, or socially).

Signs and symptoms

The harms of drinking can affect every aspect of a person’s life. They include (CAMH):

  • Feelings of anxiety, irritability or depression
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Injuries while under drunk
  • Blackouts
  • Problems with relationships
  • Spending money on alcohol rather than on food, rent or other essentials
  • Legal problems related to drinking
  • Loss of hope, feelings of emptiness

Signs of Withdrawal

When the receptors in your body are use to the alcohol, if they do not receive the substance, it can cause withdrawal symptoms in your body. This includes:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things)
  • Fits
  • Seizures

BIOLOGY OF ADDICTION

An addiction can present in many ways in an individual. Some individuals can inherit a vulnerability to the addictive properties of alcohol or drugs. Meaning, if your father or mother had an addiction, it can be easier for you to develop an addiction.

An addiction is not a choice.

Once our body becomes addicted to something, we have biological changes in our brain. Alcohol stimulates the brain and rewards individuals with releases of dopamine (a ‘feel-good’ chemical in your body). With the release of dopamine a person might enjoy that reward and will try to recreate that feeling with more alcohol. Eventually, this is not something they are choosing, rather something their body feels it needs.

When people become addicted to alcohol, it can be very difficult to stop drinking. Often, even if someone stops drinking for a period of time, the rate of relapse can be high. It is important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease, meaning it needs to be supported over a lifetime.


SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF ADDICTION

Individuals living with an alcohol addiction can lose control over their actions and crave and seek out alcohol no matter what damages happen to their health or relationships.  An alcohol addiction can depend heavily on how the substance is viewed in a person’s home and community. The attitude of family members, friends, and culture toward alcohol can influence an addiction. 

Individuals with mental health issues are more likely to turn to substances such as alcohol to cope with their thoughts and feelings. They start to rely on alcohol to suppress and regulate their emotions.


TREATMENT

There is no magical treatment that can fix an individual’s alcohol use disorder. There are many factors that can help an individual manage their addiction such as:

  • Rehabilitation programs 
  • Harm reduction 
  • Counselling 
  • Education 
  • Medications

*The content on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is intended for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.