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How to Overcome an Addiction

Have you ever felt the urge to do something that you know you shouldn’t do? For addicts, this is an uncontrollable sensation that can have a devastating impact on their daily lives. If you think that you or someone you know may be suffering from an addiction, it’s important to know that you are not alone and help is out there. In the United States, approximately 21 million people suffer from at least one addiction. Continue reading to learn more about addiction, the most common types and how to break the addiction!

What Is an Addiction?

An addiction is a chronic, recurring brain disease that is characterized by the incessant search for a substance or action that generates a reward or relief. This search can become almost uncontrollable, and addicts suffer physical, mental, and even social consequences from this illness. 

It’s important to mention that the use of any substance (such as alcohol or tobacco) or participation in any activity (such as gambling) does not imply that someone is an addict. Habits can turn into addictions when there is a physiological or psychological dependency and stopping is problematic.

What Are the Most Common Addictions and What Are Their Associated Risks?

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For many, addiction is associated with the abuse of illicit or controversial substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. However, there are also addictions that also come in the form of activities that may seem harmless to many people. For this reason, it is important to learn how to identify the most common types of addictions and treat them promptly. Here are some of the most common addictions today:

Alcohol

Despite being a legal and socially accepted activity, the consumption of alcohol can cause addiction in many. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are nearly 15 million people who suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States.
Alcohol addiction is associated with many short-term and long-term health risks, such as:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Several types of cancer
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Mental health problems
  • Injuries caused by impairment (falls, car crashes and burns)
  • Violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Miscarriages or stillbirths (among pregnant women)

Tobacco

Tobacco is the second most common substance that can lead to addiction. It’s accessibility and high nicotine content are two critical factors that can transform habitual users into addicts. Unfortunately, regular use of this substance can create huge health problems such as:

  • Heart and blood vessel impairment
  • Several types of cancer
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Problems during pregnancy
  • Decreased senses of taste and smell
  • Infertility (mainly in men)
  • Increased risk of macular degeneration (loss of eyesight)
  • Oral diseases
  • Reduced healing capabilities
  • Wrinkling of the skin

Marijuana (Cannabis)

While marijuana may be legal in some U.S. states and has been regarded for its medicinal properties, regular consumption is typically abused and can lead to addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the main complications of cannabis addiction are:

  • Short-term and long-term problems affecting brain function (such as memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotions, and reaction time)
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Respiratory problems (if smoked)
  • Increased risk of developing mental illness disorders (such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and anxiety)

Sex and Porn

Sex is a normal and healthy behaviour for most adults. However, there are people who develop an uncontrollable compulsion to perform sexual activities, known as compulsive sexual behavior. Similarly with porn, there are individuals that suffer from an uncontrollable compulsion to view porn. Both of these conditions can have the following associated risks:

  • Shame, guilt, and low self-esteem
  • Increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases
  • Mental health disorders (such as depression, distress, anxiety, and even suicide)
  • Family conflicts
  • Problems at work
  • Financial problems from excessive spending on pornography and/or sexual services

Cocaine

Cocaine is an illegal drug obtained from the coca plant. It is an extremely addictive stimulant that can be consumed by inhalation, ingestion, or intravenous injection. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the United States (NIDA), the long-term effects of cocaine use vary depending on how it is consumed, such as: 

  • By inhalation:
    • Loss of smell
    • Nosebleeds
    • Trouble swallowing 
    • Hoarseness
    • Nasal perforation
  • When ingested:
    • Intestinal ischemia (severe gangrene)
  • By injection:
    • Skin damage at the skin at the injection site
    • Allergic reactions on the skin caused by the cocaine or the additives added to it

Furthermore, chronic use can promote loss of appetite, which can lead to significant weight loss and malnutrition. Its immediate and long-term effects on the brain are also extensive, affecting not only the users' cognitive abilities, but also their social environment. Cocaine use can increase any underlying psychiatric problem in the user and can cause temporary or even permanent psychosis. For this reason, feelings such as jealousy and paranoia are common in people with cocaine addictions, which tends to break down their social and emotional relationships.

Heroine

Heroin is another highly addictive illegal drug. It is an opioid drug made from morphine, a substance naturally sourced from the poppy plant. Heroin consumption can have several harmful effects on the body, such as:

  • Changes in the physical structure of the brain
  • Imbalances in the neuronal and hormonal systems
  • Deterioration of the brain’s white matter (which affects the ability to make decisions and control behavior)
  • Symptoms of withdrawal (such as restlessness, muscle or bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting and chills)

Gambling

Gambling is generally accepted by many and is legal in most places, however for some, it can quickly become an addiction. The addiction to gambling is known as compulsive gambling and those who suffer from it are at risk of the following:

  • Problems in their interpersonal relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Job loss
  • General health problems
  • Suicidal thoughts or even suicide

Coffee

Addicted to coffee? Despite being one of the most popular beverages around the world, coffee consumption can lead to addiction through its main chemical component, caffeine. For most individuals, drinking one to two cups of coffee a day is perfectly normal and won't do much harm to the body. However, drinking more than 700mg of caffeine a day (around 7 cups) can lead to addiction. Caffeine addiction has several negative consequences, including:

  • Chronic heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Gout
  • Reflux
  • Incontinence
  • Skin damage
  • Higher risk of fractures
  • Hypertension
  • Infertility

Is It Possible to Successfully Overcome an Addiction?

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Addictions are serious and dangerous illnesses that often have significant consequences but do not lose heart, there is hope! There are several treatment options available to help counteract the negative effects of addictions and in turn, help people suffering from addictions to overcome them and once more regain their regular lifestyles.

It’s important to mention that, as indicated by the NIDA, addictions are chronic diseases just like asthma or diabetes. This means that while treatment can reduce symptoms, improve the patient's quality of life and temporarily break the addiction, it’s not considered a cure for the disease. With this in mind, it is very important to seek professional help in order to understand how to break an addiction and increase the chances of overcoming this illness.

What Are the Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment?

Addiction starts in the brain and therefore, all effective treatments must incorporate behavioral therapy. For addictions to chemical substances, such as nicotine or heroin, treatment may also integrate medications that help the patient minimize the physical discomfort associated with withdrawal. With addictions to other drugs, such as marijuana and stimulants, there are no medications that have been proven effective, so treatment entails behavioral therapy.

Beware of Relapse

Because addictions can never be cured, a person in treatment is always at risk of relapsing (acting out on their addiction). Relapses are common and suffering a relapse does not mean that the treatment has failed. It’s important to remember that when overcoming an addiction, we must persevere and not allow these relapses to destroy any of the work that’s been done.

Prevention Is the Best Treatment

The best way to help prevent addiction is to learn how to recognize the symptoms and understand how treatment works. If you have children at home, we recommend educating them about the risks and creating an environment of open communication so that you can identify any signs of addiction as soon as possible. We hope that this article has helped to serve you in understanding addictions and addiction treatment.

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