Addiction: What is it, how to identify it, and how to get help

As part of our series of blog posts on mental health issues for Mental Health Awareness Week (16th -22nd May)  Jane and Sam of Chilbolton Services, two addiction practitioners specialising in substance misuse, have kindly contributed this helpful piece on recognising the signs of addiction, and how to get help. Jane and Sam may be contacted directly on 07391 483245 or 07449 744875 or by referral from Winchester GP. 

  • Are your behaviours affecting more than your wallet?
  • Is your ability to manage your work / family life beginning to suffer?
  • Is your mental / physical health becoming impaired?
  • Are you taking higher risks than you would ordinarily have done?

If you can identify with these few simple questions it could be that you are affected by addiction.

So just what is addiction?
Put simply addiction is a set of all consuming behaviours that produce a short lived 'high' or feel good factor at a long term detrimental cost to yourself.

These behaviours could include the misuse of substances such as drugs or alcohol, or be activities such as gambling, overworking, sex, porn and shopping to name a few, even relationships can become addictive.

You or someone you know may have an issue with something else not mentioned here, so it’s important you know that any behaviour can have the potential to become addictive.

Signs of addiction
In a nutshell it's dependency; this can be physical and/or psychological. With drugs or alcohol you will be physically dependent and suffer withdrawals without it. You may also find you have compulsive thoughts which are out of your control. Compulsive thoughts about other activities not involving substances could indicate psychological dependence. Physical and psychological craving, losing control over the activity or substance and continuing to engage in it despite negative consequences are all signs of dependency.

So why do some people become addicted?
This is a complicated question which can never be fully answered as no two people are the same and there are many differing factors to consider e.g genes, morals and personalities, plus scientific  research also now tells us that brain chemistry has a part to play in addiction.

Trying to cope with stressful situations such as work, family, relationships, illness and life in general can culminate in people using substances or engaging in activities that could become addictive. 

Again ask yourself honestly;

  • Are you more stressed than usual?
  • How are you managing that stress?
  • Are you or is someone close to you, concerned about your behaviour?



What part does ‘tolerance’ play in addiction?
After a while people will say that they don’t get the same’ buzz’ they used to when using a substance or engaging in a certain activity, this in part is due to what is now happening in the brain. It will also mean that people will do more of the addictive activity or substance, in order to try and replicate the original ‘buzz.’

If this feels familiar, you could be at an increased risk of potential overdose or of engaging in high risk behaviours that could prove very detrimental to your life.

Compulsion and craving
As tolerance increases you may find your thoughts getting more compulsive and obsessive, making you crave the substance or activity more and sometimes this can feel relentless. It is at this stage when you may feel you are losing control and are experiencing negative consequences in your life such as in relationships, finances, family, work or health.

If this is you or someone you know, there is hope and there is help available. 

Becoming free of addiction
The first stage of freedom from dependency is recognising and admitting you may have a problem. The second stage is getting some support.

Support can help you to explore how you deal with everyday stresses and identify any deeper issues you may have. You may then be able to work at finding more helpful positive coping strategies.

However be prepared, honesty is ‘key’ in challenging and changing any negative behaviours.

NICE guidelines state that if you are using substances, especially alcohol and you think you may be dependent, you must NOT go abstinent without medical supervision, as this could induce seizures which could prove fatal. Your best chance of recovery is through integrated support and it is advisable that you seek medical advice in the first instance