An estimated 2 million people in the UK are fighting an addiction. When we think of addiction we usually think of so-called ‘drug addicts’ who have an addiction to cannabis or a class A drug such as heroin. However, the list of things we can become addicted to is a very long one and includes not only tobacco and alcohol, but also sugar and over eating—the latter two can be deemed serious in some instances because there is a danger that these excesses can lead to the development of the disease Diabetes type-2.
Addiction goes beyond substance dependence and includes addiction to shopping, exercise, sex and gambling to name a few. Today gambling is the fastest growing addiction problem in the UK. There may be as many as 593,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain, says the National Health Service. The anticipation and thrill of gambling creates a natural high that can become addictive. The internet has made gambling more accessible, allowing more and more people to gamble from home, causing many gambling addicts to suffer from low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression.
Action on Addiction, whose patron is the Duchess of Cambridge, defines addiction as being ‘an all-consuming relationship with a substance or behaviour that is driven by a conscious or unconscious desire to feel something different, which results in a range of harmful consequences.’
Recognising you have a problem is the first step to recovery. If left untreated, almost any form of addiction can be destructive—to the addict’s family and friends as well as to the addict—destroying families, as well as the addict’s self-esteem and career prospects. For these reasons it’s important firstly to recognise and accept that an addiction exists and, secondly, to get counseling and treatment for the addiction.
Defeating an addiction requires a strong desire by the addict to overcome the problem. Sometimes, self-motivation can be enough, especially where, for example, pregnant women are urged to give up smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy for the protection of their unborn baby (and to ensure the good health of newborns and infants).
The NHS advises that drinking heavily (more than six units a day) throughout pregnancy can cause your baby to develop a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS have:
- poor growth
- facial abnormalities
- learning and behavioural problems
Drinking less heavily, and even drinking heavily on single occasions, may be associated with lesser forms of FAS. The risk is likely to be greater the more you drink.
Treatment & support
Treatments vary widely, depending on the addiction. For smokers struggling to give up, for example, there have been many cases where both hypnotherapy and acupuncture have been successful treatments.
For those who want to be rid of any one of the many addictions, the first action should be making an appointment to discuss the problem with your GP. A GP can refer an addicted person at any stage, not just when they’re willing to stop. GPs can also give advice about sensible drinking and use their own surgery’s resources, such as nurses or counsellors.
Dr Gillian Tober, consultant psychologist and former president of the Society for the Study of Addiction, advises that ‘Treatment is adapted to suit the individual. There are several treatments that are proven to work. These mainly combine talking therapies with medication. Cognitive behavioural treatments are typically used because they work very well with addiction problems.’
Treatment usually starts with getting the person with the problem to think about how they want to change. ‘It’s important to avoid condemning them. They need to believe they can do it and their life will be better as a result, says Dr Tober, adding, ‘Professionals will discuss how the addicted person sees their life in the future, what obstacles they feel they face in changing, and what will help them deal with those obstacles. Then they can identify the situations the addicted person will find difficult and make plans to deal with those situations. Through this process they can set the target, which is ultimately abstinence.’
Once you’ve identified the target and what the person needs to do to reach it, Dr Tober advises, ‘… you set up all the resources available. Family and friends are an important resource. You want people who won’t encourage the person to “just have one drink because it won’t matter”, but instead offer to take them to the cinema, for example.’
Some self-help groups are deemed to be extremely useful because they provide a network, often in the absence of family and friends. Groups are very useful for giving support during aftercare. Residential rehabilitation helps many people overcome the initial phases of withdrawal and start to make lifestyle changes that will allow them to continue onward to full recovery.
Outside the NHS, there are many voluntary sector and private drug and alcohol treatment organisations that can provide help with the problem of addiction. As well as residential rehab centres, community services of various types are provided by voluntary organisations. These include structured day programmes, outreach and harm reduction services, counselling services, aftercare and housing support services.