What is addiction

Addiction affects people regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, culture, education or occupation. People with an addiction do not have control over what they are doing, taking or using.

Addiction articles

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Types of addictions

Addictions do not only involve physical things we ingest, such as drugs or alcohol, but may include almost anything, ranging from gambling to seemingly harmless things, such as chocolate. Addiction may refer to a substance dependence (e.g. drug addiction) or behavioral addiction (e.g. gambling addiction).

Psychological dependency, as may be the case with gambling, sex, internet, work, exercise, etc. should also be considered addiction, because these activities can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, despair, failure, rejection, anxiety and/or humiliation. 

Signs and symptoms

  • The person takes the substance and cannot stop - At least one serious attempt was made to give up, but without success.
  • Withdrawal symptoms - Some examples are: cravings, bouts of moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment, insomnia, constipation or diarrhea, 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.
  • Social and/or recreational sacrifices - Activities are given up because of an addiction to a substance. An addicted individual may turn down an invitation to go camping if the substance will not be available.
  • Excess consumption - Consuming a large amount of the substance.
  • Taking risks - The addicted person may take risks to make sure he/she can access his/her substance, such as stealing or trading sex for money or the drug of choice or while under the influence of a substance the individual may partake in risky activities, such as driving fast.
  • Dealing with problems - A person with an addiction often feels they need their drug to deal with problems.
  • Obsession - An addicted individual may spend more time and energy focusing on ways of getting their substance and how to use it.
  • Secrecy and solitude - Taking the substance alone or secretively.
  • Denial - Not being aware a problem exists or refusing to admit it.
  • Dropping hobbies and activities - The person may stop doing things he/she used to enjoy doing.
  • Having stashes - Addicted individuals may have their substance hidden in different parts of the house or car.
  • Having problems with the law - Can either be because the substance impairs judgment and the person takes risks they would not take if they were sober, or breaking the law as a way of getting the substance.
  • Financial difficulties - The addicted person may sacrifice a lot to make sure their supply is secured.
  • Relationship problems - Romantic relationships, relationships with siblings, parents, and friends.

Risk factors

  • Genetics (family history) - Anyone who has a close relative with an addiction problem has a higher risk of developing one themselves.
  • Gender - Males are at a greater risk than females.
  • Family behavior - People who do not have strong relationships with their parents and siblings have a higher risk of becoming addicted to a substance, compared to people with deep family attachments.
  • Stress
  • Having a mental illness/condition.
  • Loneliness - Away from home for the first time, having trouble meeting people.
  • The nature of the substance - Some substances, such as crack, heroin or cocaine can bring about addiction more quickly than others.
  • Age when substance was first consumed - Individuals who consume a drug earlier in life have a higher risk of becoming addicted than those who started later. 

Complications

  • Health - Addiction to a substance can have health consequences. Negative health impacts vary depending on the substance.
  • Coma, unconsciousness or death - Some drugs taken in high doses or in combination with other substances may be extremely dangerous.
  • Some diseases - People who inject drugs and share needles risk contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C. Some substances can lead towards risky sexual behavior (unprotected sex), increasing the probability of developing sexually transmitted Infections.
  • Relationship problems
  • Accidental injuries/death - This risk is higher in individuals with addictions.
  • Suicide - Certain addictions can significantly increase the risk of suicide.
  • Child neglect/abuse - Certain addictions in parents increase the likelihood that their children will experience neglect and/or abuse.
  • Unemployment, poverty and homelessness - A significant number of people with addiction find themselves without work or a place to live.
  • Problems with the law

Helping a drug or alcohol abuser

Addiction talk

If you believe that a family member, loved one or close friend is using drugs, show that person you care by attempting to talk to him or her about a potential problem.

If you suspect your child is using drugs, do not hesitate to intervene immediately and help him or her get into treatment. 

Watch for these warning signals that may indicate substance abuse:

  • Sudden changes in behaviour
  • Irritability
  • Hostility and outbursts of anger
  • Depression
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Covert or secretive behaviour
  • Lying or withholding the truth
  • Unpredictability
  • Continued requests to borrow money or receive favours
  • Missing items of value in the household

Also look out for these physical signs:

  • Red, glazed or dilated eyes
  • Speech deviations: talking too fast or too slow, slurred or incoherent speech
  • Slow or abnormal reflexes
  • Decrease in responsibility
  • Tardiness or absence from school or job
  • Lack of interest or motivation in school or job
  • Poor school marks or performance problems at work
  • Social withdrawal from family, friends and peers
  • Dropping out of favourite extracurricular or after-work activities
  • Grinding teeth and other nervous behaviours

You may notice sudden or dramatic changes in:

  • Personality and attitude
  • Friends
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Style of clothes, hair or music
  • Sleep routines
  • Eating habits

Also look for the following tangible evidence:

  • Possession of drug paraphernalia: needles, pipes, smoking materials, etc.
  • Possession of large amounts of cash
  • Needle marks on arms or other parts of body
  • Smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath or clothing
  • Observed associations with known drug abusers or dealers

Experts caution, however, that many of these signs may only suggest, and not prove, that the person is using drugs. Be careful about what you assume, and try not to jump to conclusions. Look for a recurrence of these signs over a prolonged period of time to substantiate your suspicions.

When it is time to approach your friend or loved one, consider these tips:

  • Think about what you want to say and how you want to say it ahead of time.

  • Pick the right time and place: preferably a quiet, private setting when the person is not under the influence.

  • Consider a professionally assisted intervention. In this action, a therapist helps you and other concerned family members, friends or co-workers put together a united front to gently confront the substance abuser and help him or her enter rehabilitation. Intervention by a group can thwart the alcoholic's or addict's tendency to rationalize his or her behaviour or blame you.

  • Adopt the voice of a caring friend, not a judgmental or preachy lecturer. Speak calmly and clearly.

  • Express your beliefs and observations that you suspect the person is using drugs.

  • Demonstrate your concern. Stress that you care about the person's safety and well-being.

  • Offer to help the person enter rehabilitation. If it is your child, insist on getting help together as a family. If it is a relative or friend, offer to accompany the person to counselling and treatment sessions, and pledge your support through the recovery process.

  • Do not expect your talk to go smoothly. The person may deny that he or she is using drugs, resent your suspicions and react angrily.

  • Remember that it is not your job to change the person. The drug abuser must want to change and be willing to seek treatment. Keep in mind, however, that it is your responsibility to get help if your child is abusing drugs.

Resources

Treatment options

Treatment options for addiction depend on several factors, including what type of substance the individual is addicted to and how it affects them. Treatment can include a combination of inpatient and outpatient programs, counselling, self-help groups, pairing with individual sponsors, and medication. A health care professional can recommend the best treatment options for each individual person suffering from addiction.

  • Treatment programs - These usually focus on getting sober and preventing relapse. Individual, group and/or family sessions may be part of the program. Depending on the level of addiction, patient behaviors, and type of substance these programs may be in outpatient or residential settings.
  • Counselling - May be individual and/or family sessions with a specialist. Family involvement can increase the success of treatment. Dealing with relapses, coping with cravings and avoiding the substance are often focuses of therapy.
  • Self-help groups - These groups help the individual meet other people with the same problem and are also a source of education and information. Examples include Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Help with withdrawal symptoms - The main goal is usually to get the addictive substance out of the person’s body. The addict may be given gradually reduced dosages (tapering) or in some cases a substitute substance is given. Treatment can be either outpatient or inpatient.

Getting help

When to Seek Help?

Make an appointment to see a health care provider if:

  • You can't stop using a substance
  • Your substance use has led to risky behavior, such as sharing needles or unprotected sex
  • You think you may be having withdrawal symptoms after stopping substance use

Employee and Family Assistance Program

The U of S's Employee and Family Assistance Program offers someone to talk to and resources to consult whenever and wherever you need.

Free and confidential support services include:

  • Confidential emotional support
  • Work-life solutions
  • Legal guidance
  • Finanical resources
  • Physical health coaching

(306) 966-4300 
1-844-448-7275 (toll-free)


Some information on this page was taken from the Employee Family Assistance Program's online resources. Sign into EFAP resources to access additional comprehensive content and unique tools that can assist you in every aspect of your life, in a secure, easy-to-use environment.
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©2018 ComPsych® Corporation. All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only. It is always important to consult with the appropriate professional on financial, medical, legal, behavioural or other issues. As you read this information, it is your responsibility to make sure that the facts and ideas apply to your situation.