Addiction is when you compulsively seek or use a substance, despite any negative consequences. The National Health Service (NHS) defines addiction as not having control over doing, taking, or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. While the initial decision to take drugs is usually voluntary, physical changes to the brain caused by repeated substance use can make it hard to quit without effective support.
The impact of addiction is pervasive and wide-ranging, affecting public health, work productivity, family life, and crime. Each year the use and misuse of alcohol, nicotine, and drugs cost the nation over £10 billion. An estimated 589,000 people are dependent on alcohol in the United Kingdom, and in 2020, there were 4,561 registered drug overdose deaths.
If you’re affected by alcohol and drug addiction, you may feel lost or hopeless – but there is help available. Evidence-based treatment methods can support anyone to overcome addiction and live a productive and fulfilling life. Thankfully, private residential rehab providers such as us can help you with not only detox and rehab, but also extended care and aftercare.
What is Addiction?
There are several different ways to conceptualise addiction. Some people see addiction as a choice, while others think it is less voluntary. The disease model of addiction, popularised by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the 1990s, argues that we should treat addiction like any other chronic disease that can be managed with effective treatment and support.
According to the disease model, all addictive substances interact with reward systems in our brain. The reward system is a natural part of how the brain works: when we engage in a life-preserving activity like eating or having sex, our brains release certain hormones (such as dopamine and endorphins). This affects the neuronal connectivity along the reward pathways and encourages us to repeat the activity.
When you take an addictive substance, it floods the brain with hormones – often in much higher quantities than are naturally produced. This causes strong urges to use the substance again that can be very difficult to resist. However, effective treatment can help individuals to manage these urges and go some way toward reversing brain changes.
Who is Affected by it?
Addiction affects more than just the individual. It disrupts life at work, damages relationships at home, and impacts a child’s future. It leads to loss of productivity, break-ups of families, and crime within communities.
In light of this, addiction support needs to be wide-ranging. A substance user requires support and treatment – but so do loved ones, children, colleagues, and the community. If you’re wondering about how best to support those around you, we’re offering some straightforward advice below.
Supporting a Loved One
If you’re supporting a loved one with addiction, having open conversations can be an important first step. It’s important to have compassion, be non-judgmental, and listen to what they have to say. You can talk about treatment options and support them by speaking to a mental health professional. That said, there is no reason to tolerate harmful behaviour or make excuses for your loved one. As well as damaging yourself, it can enable their addiction. Setting clear boundaries is essential for both your and their long-term mental health.
If you know a child living in a home that’s affected by addiction, the most important thing is to be loving and caring. The child may not be receiving adequate attention from their parents, so anything you can give may help.
Many children in these circumstances will have been told not to talk about what’s happening in their home, and asking questions may put them on edge or make them distance themselves from you. It’s not your job to try and probe them. Instead, try and spend quality time with them – play with them, let them talk about their interests, and encourage and praise their talents.
If the child talks about their problems at home, make sure they know that it’s not their fault. It’s often a child’s natural tendency to blame themselves for what they see, which can damage their mental health in the long run.
Supporting Work Colleagues
If a work colleague is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, try not to be judgmental or confrontational. This may increase their feelings of shame and encourage them to hide their addiction, rather than seek treatment.
Instead, try to listen to what they have to say and encourage open conversation while ensuring you are not enabling their addiction by excusing bad behaviour.
Supporting the Wider Community
One way to support the wider community is to donate to or volunteer with local initiatives aimed at supporting people at risk of or struggling from addiction. You can also focus on maintaining and promoting a supportive dialogue around addiction to avoid reinforcing stigmas. Avoid using terms like “addict” and “alcoholic”- instead, you can say “person with a substance/alcohol use disorder”.
Raising Awareness of Addiction
There are lots of different ways to talk and raise awareness about addiction. Many cities and neighbourhoods hold events to share accurate information about substance use disorders and encourage open and safe conversations between community members. Events may also discuss practical issues, like how to safely dispose of drugs or talk to your doctor about new prescriptions.
Awareness events may include:
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, making the call for help can be daunting. However, seeking professional support opens the doorway for effective treatment, life-long recovery, and a reclaimed future.