Helpful information about the types, causes, and symptoms of addictive disorders.
Types of Addictive Disorders
When we think of addiction – alcohol and other drugs immediately come to mind. Substance abuse isn’t the only form of an addictive disorder. Common destructive habits include substances and non-substances, or behavioural:
Opioids (heroin, oxycodone, morphine, or codeine)
Other prescription painkillers
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants (sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics)
Amphetamines (crystal methamphetamine or MDMA)
Food and eating
Mobile phone/social media
Causes of Addiction
There are many reasons why people engage in substance misuse and other unhealthy behaviour. For many sufferers of addiction, using drugs and alcohol becomes a learned way of coping with their issues, instead of reaching out to someone or seeking a healthy solution to manage grief.
Addictive disorders are caused by many factors, such as:
Genetic vulnerability and family history
Environmental stressors including work, family and relationships
Social and peer pressure
Individual personality characteristics and psychiatric problems
Signs and Symptoms
The signs of addiction vary from person to person, however signs and symptoms of substance addiction may include:
Inability to stop taking the substance - in many cases, such as nicotine, alcohol or drug dependence, at least one serious attempt has been made to give up, but has been unsuccessful.
Withdrawal symptoms - when body levels of a particular substance go below a certain level the patient has physical and mood-related symptoms. There are cravings, bouts of moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment.
A sudden increase in appetite.
Insomnia is a common symptom of withdrawal. In some cases the individual may have constipation or diarrhea. With some substances, withdrawal can trigger violence, trembling, seizures, hallucinations and sweats.
Addiction continues despite health problem awareness - the individual continues taking the substance regularly, even though they have developed illnesses linked to it. For example, a smoker may continue smoking even after a lung or heart condition develops.
Social and/or recreational sacrifices - some activities are given up because of an addiction. For example, an alcoholic may turn down an invitation to go camping or spend a day out on a boat if no alcohol is available, or a smoker may decide not to meet up with friends in a smoke-free venue.
Maintaining a good supply - people who are addicted to a substance will always make sure they have a good supply of it, even if they do not have much money. Sacrifices may be made in the house budget to make sure the substance is as plentiful as possible.
Taking risks - in some cases the addicted individual make take risks to ensure they can obtain the substance, such as stealing or trading sex for money/drugs. Other risk taking behaviour, while under the influence may include driving fast.
Dealing with problems - an addicted person commonly feels they need their drug to deal with their problems.
Obsession - an addicted person may spend an increasing amount of time and energy focusing on ways to get hold of their substance, and in some cases how to use it.
Secrecy and solitude - in many cases the addict may take their substance alone, and even in secret.
Denial - a significant number of people who are addicted to a substance are in denial. They are not aware, or refuse to acknowledge, that they have a problem.
Dropping hobbies and activities - as addiction progresses, the individual may stop doing things they previously enjoyed. This may even be the case with smokers who find they cannot physically cope with taking part in their favorite sport.
Having stashes - the addicted individual may have small stocks of their substance hidden away in different parts of the house or car; often in unlikely places.
Taking an initial large dose - this is common with alcoholism. The individual may gulp drinks down in order to get drunk and then feel good.
Problems with the law - this is more a characteristic of some drug and alcohol addictions (not nicotine, for example). This may be either because the substance impairs judgment and the individual takes risks they would not take if they were sober, or in order to get hold of the substance they break the law.
Financial difficulties - if the substance is expensive the addicted individual may sacrifice a lot to make sure its supply is secured.
Relationship problems - these are more common in drug/alcohol addiction.
Excess consumption - in some addictions, such as alcohol, some drugs and even nicotine, the individual consumes it to excess. The consequence can be blackouts (cannot remember chunks of time) or physical symptoms, such as a sore throat and bad persistent cough, for heavy smokers.
Some substance/alcohol abusers who are not technically addicted may also suffer from, or cause some of the descriptions mentioned above, but they do not usually have the withdrawal symptoms of an addict or the same compulsion to consume the substance.
Other signs and symptoms of addiction may include:
Extreme hyperactivity or lethargy
Changes or deterioration in hygiene and/or physical appearance
Sudden weight loss or weight gain
Tremors, sweating or impaired coordination
Slurred/incoherent speech or repetitive speech patterns
Bloodshot eyes/dilated pupils
Excessive sniffing and runny nose
Nausea and vomiting
Fear or paranoia
Sudden mood swings
Changes in persona
Increased risk taking and participation in dangerous activities
Neglecting usual responsibilities
Reduced participation/missing important engagements