Addiction, in simply terms, is a problem with controlling/stopping a behaviour in spite of the mental, physical and social harm caused because of it.

Often addiction is used in the context of repeated use of substances like alcohol, smoking and other drugs. "Behavioural addictions" also exist, where there is no drug use, but a problem with repeated indulgence in behaviour such Gambling and Gaming addiction.

Common signs and symptoms of addiction :

  • Excess time being spent on use of substances, trying to buy/procure them, more importance being given to substance use rather than other activities
  • Neglect of other activities like social engagement, occupation and recreation.
  • Social withdrawal, irritability, anger outbursts, lack of concentration, lack of motivation, Depressive symptoms
  • Strong craving for the substance
  • Increase in quantity and frequency of use, lack of control over use (Example : You decide to go out with friends and have only one drink, but end up drinking much more than you intended to. Deciding not to drink on a particular day, but not succeeding)
  • Physical symptoms of withdrawal : Shaking of hands, headaches, weakness, sleep disturbance, mood disturbances are some symptoms which suggest withdrawal. (Your body has become used to the substance and when it is not available, there is a disturbance in the nervous system causing physical and psychological symptoms)
  • Physical symptoms due to ill effects of the substance : weight loss, disturbed appetite, frequently falling sick, weakness, anemia, liver damage, kidney damage, gastric complaints

4 simple questions to ask yourself/loved one that suggest a problem with substance use:

A simple screening questionairre called CAGE is used by clinicians to recognise substance abuse. You can apply the same to recognise whether a substance is starting to take control of your life.

  1. Did you ever think that you need to cut down on your use?
  2. Do you get angry or annoyed when someone tries to tell you to reduce substance use?
  3. Have you ever felt guilty about it?
  4. Do you sometimes feel the need to take the substance first thing in the morning just to help you get out of bed or to start the day?

A YES to 2 of these can suggest that it may be time to seek professional advice.

Is the patient to be blamed for their addiction?

Even though starting consumption of substances involves a personal choice, as time progresses, there are changes in the brain, especially in the circuits that are responsible for controlling impulses and compulsive behaviour. Slowly, the substance use becomes a compulsion that the patient has little to no control over.
This is the reason addiction is considered a disease of the brain, and blaming the patient for their problems is only going to induce guilt and even increase their substance taking behaviour. A non judgemental and supportive approach is best when trying to help a person overcome their addiction.

Recognising that you need help and seeking it takes a tremendous amount of mental preparation and motivation.
Deciding to seek help and treatment itself is a positive step in the direction of recovery.
Treatment involves medication to restore the body to it's previous state and psychological interventions to improve motivation for abstinence, handle craving, prevent or minimise relapse and improve treatment compliance.

Consult a Psychiatrist for a detailed evaluation and treatment.