What is Addiction?

Addiction is repeated use of a substance even though the person knows that it creates harm, and it is more than a habit. It makes the person to seek the substance and shape her/his life accordingly, despite all the difficulties person experience. When a person is addicted to a substance, he/she feels extreme psychological and physiological need for that substance. Increasing the amount and frequency of intake and the emergence of withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not used can cause severe difficulties in the individual’s life. Severe mental and physical problems are observed in the person who is addicted. These problems which starts at the individual level can spread to individual’s social life as the addiction progresses. Apart from addiction to drugs and alcohol, it is known that there are also behavioural forms of addiction (internet, gambling, gaming, shopping etc.)

Addictive Substances:

  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Hallucinogens (LSD etc.)
  • Inhalants
  • Opioids (Morphine, heroin etc.)
  • Sedatives and Tranquilizers (diazepine, clorazepate etc.)
  • Stimulants (Amphetamine, MDMA, ecstasy, cocaine etc.)
  • Prescription Drugs (Xanax, Ritalin vb.)
  • Other Substances

In addition to alcohol and drug addiction, the other type of addiction that can significantly affect a person’s life is behavioural addictions. Some examples to behavioural addictions:

  • Screen
  • Computer Games
  • Internet
  • Shopping
  • Sport
  • Gambling
  • Social Media
  • Other

How Does the Individual Understand that he/she is Addicted?

If the person,

  • consumes more substance/alcohol than planned (development of tolerance to the substance) and has difficulty in self-control,
  • has failed attempts of quitting substance/alcohol,
  • continues to abuse substance/alcohol despite its dangerous and negative effects in many areas of life,
  • spends much time in finding the substance/alcohol,
  • has serious difficulties when not using the substance/alcohol,
  • neglects responsibilities because of substance/alcohol abuse,
  • withdraws from social and personal activities because of substance/alcohol abuse and determines his/her lifestyle based on that,
  • experiences withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, irritability, restlessness, vomiting, weakness, tremors, and sweating when the substance/alcohol is reduced or stopped.

Effects and Harms of Alcohol and Drugs:

Each substance creates its own physical, mental, and social effects. However, regardless of the substance, the general effects of substances and addiction on individuals are as follows;

  • Although substance use starts with the desire of joy, entertainment or avoiding problems, it leads to severe self-isolation, increased anxiety, and unhappiness in the long term.
  • It creates a fake sense of happiness and safety. However, when the effects begin to fade away, anxiety and depressive mood increase more.
  • Substance abuse causes problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and insomnia. Some intense forms of substance abuse can even lead to psychosis by detaching the person from reality. Along with this, substance abuse increases the risk of suicide.
  • The possibility of an individual not being able to protect himself/herself and being harmed increases under the influence of substance; inability to say no to unwanted sexual intercourse, accidents due to the weakening of reflexes, involving in violent fights, and harming themselves, or others due to loss of self-control are some of the examples.
  • According to the law, the person may experience legal problems. It is forbidden to use and possess drugs in our country.
  • The person may have financial difficulties due to maintain or increase substance use.
  • The social environment of the person may get restricted because of the substance abuse, the person starts to prefer environments only where he/she can use the substance. The person moves away from other environments and social settings.

If you want to get more detailed information about the effects of specific substances, you can contact an expert working with alcohol and substance addiction. Below you can find the effects and harms of some specific substances.

  • Alcohol: The person’s ability to judge, use of abilities, coordination, motor skills, and correct decision-making skills gets reduces. If the alcohol level is too high, there may be a risk of losing consciousness, coma, and death.
  • Marijuana: Academic performance of the person may be adversely affected. Along with this, behavioural and social problems, decreased reaction time, impaired perception of time, damage of short-term memory, difficulties in listening, speaking, coordination, understanding, learning, and problem-solving occur. In overuse, symptoms of psychosis, paranoia and panic attacks may occur.
  • Bonsai (Synthetic cannabinoids): Symptoms of a panic attack, health problems, agitation, anxiety, vomiting, catatonia, hallucinations may occur.
  • Ecstasy: Conditions such as nausea, muscle cramps, jaw locking, blurred vision, tremors, sweating may occur. In withdrawal, symptoms such as anxiety, depression, memory difficulties, paranoia, irritability, and insomnia may occur.
  • Cocaine: Symptoms such as a panic attack, aggressive behaviour, paranoia, paralysis, heart attack, neurologic damages may occur.
  • Ketamine: Symptoms such as feeling disconnected from the body, hallucinations, confusion, forgetfulness, speech disorder, anxiety, panic, the tendency to violence, and depression may occur.

False beliefs about addiction:

  • “Addiction is a matter of choice and willpower, and it can be quitted if really wanted.”
    • Addiction is a problem that requires support and treatment. It is not a matter of will for a person to state that he/she is seeking. Willpower only comes into play when it comes to quitting substance and choosing to heal.
  • ” Addiction has a gene, so if it is in the family, the person becomes addicted too.”
    • Even if a person’s first-degree relatives are addicted, that does not mean this person will be addicted. Although genes are a factor related to susceptibility to addiction, many factors such as the social environment and personal experiences of the person play a significant role in activating genetic susceptibility.
  • “The more alcohol you consume, the more pleasure you get.”
    • As the amount of alcohol increases, the person starts to feel bad, alcohol triggers sleep and irritability.
  • “Alcohol facilitates and regulates sleep.”
    • Studies have shown that the sleep experienced after consuming alcohol is not efficient. People wake up tired after consuming alcohol because a restful and quality sleep has not been received.
  • “Alcohol use increases sexual performance. ”
    • Low alcohol intake can increase sexual arousal, but research shows that alcohol can cause erectile dysfunction and ejaculation problems. Alcohol physiologically affects sexual performance negatively.

Addiction Cycle:

Addiction often starts with substance use believing that the person can control the situation and do not think that he/she may get addicted. While the aim is to use it occasionally, the person eventually becomes addicted and often does not realize that he/she become addicted. Stopping or reducing the use of the substance for a while and not seeking the substance during that time may not mean that the person is not addicted. If the person returns to that substance after quitting for a while, it may be a sign that the person cannot quit the substance and developed an addiction.

Suggestions to Get Out of the Addiction Cycle and Take Control:

  • First, it is crucial to be aware of the situation and accept that this is a problem. One of the first steps to be taken is to get support from a mental health specialist who is expert on addiction.
  • You can prepare a list of the effects of substance abuse on your life. This list clearly shows you the harm of substance abuse and addiction, thus can help you decide about stop using it.
  • You may think what changes in your daily life would help you to reduce or quit substance abuse. Make a list of these thoughts. Consider social environments that increase your substance use; it would be a good idea to stay away from such social environments and settings.
  • Think about the emotions and situations that led you to start substance use. You can try different methods to deal with these feelings and situations. Facing these feelings, sharing them with people you trust, or seeking professional support are just few of these methods.

We recommend that you apply to our service (Koç University Guidance and Psychological Services Center – KURES) or a specialist outside of the university for more information or assistance on the subject.