An addiction is defined as an excessive physical or psychological dependence on something. Substance abuse such as drug abuse and alcohol abuse are the two most common addictions one reads or hears about. Other addictions might include gambling and smoking. There are also lots of less known addictions, such as over-exercising or over eating, which can nonetheless be life-threatening.

There is a fine distinction between liking or doing something excessively and being addicted to it. While a person might love chocolate and eat one everyday, that doesn’t mean he is addicted to it. Some substances however, such as drugs and alcohol are addictive by the very nature of their characteristics, which makes it harder to forgo the pleasure of consuming it in excess.

Addiction starts with exposure to a substance and from a certain point onwards, it shifts from being a casual encounter to a more serious state of dependency. In a lot of instances, these substances are used in social settings such as a party or social gathering, and the thrill one receives from participating in it can be quite heady. With substances like nicotine and drugs, the brain quickly adapts to the drug and rewards the user with feelings of pleasure, euphoria, confidence, tranquility, and happiness, thus making it harder to give up.

There is no single cause of addiction and research is still being done on the reasons why some people can abuse drugs or alcohol, yet never become dependent on them.

Giving up addictions can be hard, though not impossible. Generally speaking, there are two stages of withdrawal. The first stage can include physical symptoms. The second stage is often referred to as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), when the user may exhibit lesser physical symptoms, but more emotional and psychological symptoms, including mood swings, anxiety, disturbed sleep, tiredness, and lack of concentration.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 1 in 10 Canadians, 15 years of age and older, report symptoms consistent with alcohol or drug dependence. Most addictions require specialist treatment and in Canada, there are a number of agencies and hotline services that can help, along with counselling services and support services like alcoholic and narcotics anonymous. These can give the individual the support structure they require and the chance to build self-esteem and self-respect.

Alex Sangha of The Suburban Therapist is a registered social worker with a private counselling practice in North Delta.