Addictions can allow people a temporary escape from their problems, and can develop from many activities; alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling, shopping, sex and use of the internet.
Stigma surrounds the word 'addiction' which is an inability to stop repetitive behaviour in spite of the harmful consequences.
An estimated 2 million people in the UK are believed to suffer from an addiction of some sort. For many their craving or impulse offers a short-term escape from the realities of their life and is often used to deal with depression or anxiety. For most, the long term consequences bring extra guilt and shame which eventually create an increasingly destructive cycle, drawing in family and friends.
Addictions are often associated with activities that initially bring pleasure and release from everyday life and pressures. Chemicals produced in the brain which encourage us to partake in activities and enjoy the 'highs' and 'satisfactions' are usually stimulated by these activities. The human brain uses dopamine, (produced when we fall in love and similar to cocaine) to motivate; and endorphins (what we feel after vigorous exercise and similar to heroin) to reward behaviour.
When life is empty and these chemicals are not naturally present; when we are low or depressed, the tendency to addiction can increase. Stimulation and reward are often ingredients of addiction: drugs, eating, gambling, shopping and sex all produce highs which need to be repeated. The following lows increase the feelings of hopelessness.
A skilled therapist or counsellor can help an addict to start to understand their emotional needs and face the realities of life with more hope of addressing the underlying problems attached to their addiction.
On this page
Cause of addiction
There are many theories to try to explain addictions; genetic, cultural and social influences merge with chemical and emotional factors. Environmental influences and personal experiences can also contribute.
For many people the need to escape from their present reality and engage in some form of delusional activity gives them a quick high or false sense of freedom, which in turn traps them into a destructive pattern of behaviour which can become chaotic.
Often an addiction masks a recurring depression or anxiety which the person feels unable to face.
Treatment for addiction
Most addictions have specialist agencies or helplines dedicated to dealing with the specific issues. It is helpful to read around the subject and become informed in order to acknowledge an addiction is present. Acknowledgement can be a long and arduous process, often involving family and friends. Treatment can be highly effective with proper support.
Counselling can be an effective form of treatment, and may help sufferers to recognise their illness and try to understand it. A chance to look at acknowledging real emotional needs and examining the underlying causes can be an excellent foundation to building a new, healthier way of living. Individual counselling may also offer the chance to build self-esteem and self-respect.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are currently no laws in place that outline what training and qualifications a counsellor must have in order to treat addiction. However, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have developed a set of guidelines that provide advice about the recommended treatments for alcohol and drug abuse.
Overall recommendations for those struggling with addiction include a detox therapy programme combined with behavioural therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy. For couples struggling with addiction within their relationship, couples counselling is also recommended. Additionally, if the addiction is affecting (or has been affected by) the person's family, family counselling may also be helpful.
There are several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors that can improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in matters of addiction.
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Content written/edited by Denise Pickup BACP (Accred) in 2008. All content displayed on Counselling Directory is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
Whilst we endeavor to ensure all information is accurate, Counselling Directory make no representations or warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information included within the website. Any dependence you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.
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