How addiction happens?

How addiction happens is a long and complex process which takes many occasions of using to lead to an individual to become addicted.

People may start to use an activity like shopping or a substance like alcohol in a safe, ordinary manner. They continue with this behaviour, engaging in it alongside other activities and learn that when they do this it changes how they feel.

Alcohol - How addiction happens

Alcohol is a useful example to illustrate how addiction happens. In the beginning the alcohol users learns that using alcohol can be fun, social and give then positive feelings. They discover that using a modest amount of alcohol serves to reduce these negative feelings, replacing them with a sense of confidence and calmness. This sense of calmness also makes it easier to sleep as the anxiety or stress has also been reduced.

Slow deterioration to dependence

Overtime the person uses the activity to help change their feelings by focusing more and more on this activity or substance, whilst not using the alternative ways of changing how they feel such as talking, exercising and doing things which they feel personally fulfilling'

Decaying support networks and isolation

This over use of alcohol is key to how addiction happens as it begins the process of isolating someone from their support networks. They start to feel isolated from their support network and instead begin to fixate on their activity and spend more time planning how to do their chosen activity or chosen substance. The more they think about this activity the more it pushes away the negative, unresolved issues in their head. The more they think about this the more isolated they become. After a while the addict has abandoned many of their day to day coping mechanisms and instead has a solitary default setting of engaging in their addictive activity instead of using problem solving skills or support networks to resolve issues. By not resolving issues they begin to lose self confidence about being able to resolve any more issues and lose motivation to address their wider life.

Dissolving self esteem

Over time the addict loses the skills and confidence to manage their practical life but also to manage their own mental health without using more and more amounts of this substance.

Increased amounts of alcohol may impair mental function to the extent that their awareness and feelings are completely muted.

The addict feels even more unfulfilled, anxious, lonely or disconnected to their world.

Once the effects of the alcohol wear off the feelings soon return.

The effect of sustained mental health management with alcohol will result in the world of the addict who uses alcohol contracting, their social experience contracting and their support network contracting.

Physical dependency

This social isolation results in fewer opportunities to manage their negative feelings and so they grow and with it the need to use alcohol more regularly and in greater quantities.

Rarely, if ever during this cycle of addiction happening, will an addict report that they enjoy using alcohol to manage their mental health and often report that they resent this and instead feel trapped by this process.

Eventually, after sustained use the body may become dependent on alcohol. For more information on alcohol and it's affects Tak to Frank.

Treatment options

Treatment for dependency may come through an alcohol detox, where the body is weaned off alcohol. Without the skills to manage their mental health many alcohol users will soon revert to using alcohol again and so dependency is revisited.

How addiction happens is also an indicator of how to access recovery for an addict. The small and slow way in which someone adopts and addiction needs to be unlearned and these steps are often also small. The person in recovery will learn how to manage all aspects of themselves and how they relate to the world they exist in to complete their recovery.


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