Addictions can allow people a temporary escape from their problems, and can develop from many activities; alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling, shopping, sex and use of the internet.
Stigma surrounds the word ‘addiction’ which is an inability to stop repetitive behaviour in spite of the harmful consequences.
An estimated 2 million people in the UK are believed to suffer from an addiction of some sort. For many their craving or impulse offers a short-term escape from the realities of their life and is often used to deal with depression or anxiety. For most, the long term consequences bring extra guilt and shame which eventually create an increasingly destructive cycle, drawing in family and friends.
Addictions are often associated with activities that initially bring pleasure and release from everyday life and pressures. Chemicals produced in the brain which encourage us to partake in activities and enjoy the ‘highs’ and ‘satisfactions’ are usually stimulated by these activities. The human brain uses dopamine, (produced when we fall in love and similar to cocaine) to motivate; and endorphins (what we feel after vigorous exercise and similar to heroin) to reward behaviour.
When life is empty and these chemicals are not naturally present; when we are low or depressed, the tendency to addiction can increase. Stimulation and reward are often ingredients of addiction: drugs, eating, gambling, shopping and sex all produce highs which need to be repeated. The following lows increase the feelings of hopelessness.
A skilled therapist or counsellor can help an addict to start to understand their emotional needs and face the realities of life with more hope of addressing the underlying problems attached to their addiction.