What is addiction?

The basics...

An addiction is a complex illness with physical and psychological symptoms, affecting not only the patient, but their family, friends and social environment too. An estimated 2 million people in Greece have an addiction, yet it remains a taboo subject.

Impossible to control

If you ask anyone what an addiction is, they'll probably say it's being unable to stop using a substance, for example an illegal drug such as heroin, maybe alcohol, or even Cofee.
Perhaps the best example is cigarette smoking. Anyone who has ever smoked will recognize the strong sense of compulsion to light up, particularly in situations where this is not allowed, such as in an airplane.

These aspects of addiction have a physiological basis related to how the substance acts on the brain and a psychological aspect relating to the reasons for taking the substance (such as smoking to improve concentration).

Stages of addiction

Most addictions take time to develop and almost no one deliberately sets out to become addicted to a substance. What happen is a person's consumption progresses through several stages.

Following initiation - maybe to experiment to see what the substance is like - a person may go on to use the substance again, and perhaps begin to use on an occasional then regular basis. Meanwhile, the amount that's consumed may also begin to increase. For some substances, the body rapidly becomes tolerant of a dose taken and the user will increase the amount to achieve a desired effect.

Addictions and addictive behaviours

Popular conceptions of addiction do not stop at drugs and alcohol. People can become overly attached to gambling, chocolate, computer games - even using the internet. These non-drug addictive behaviours are similar in that the person has a lack of control over their behaviour.

There are popular and professional definitions of addiction. In everyday language, we think of someone who is addicted to something as having what could be called an unhealthy habit.

How do I cut down if I’m worried about my drinking?

Ask yourself why you drink: most people don’t drink because they like getting into fights, ending up in A&E, or getting arrested. Drinking is part of our culture, but it’s important to remember that you’re in control.
Probably the easiest way to cut down is to alternate a soft drink with each alcoholic drink. Try to avoid drinking in rounds and remember that going to the pub/club is not the only way you can socialise.
If you find it hard to say no when your mates are up for a big session, try to avoid situations where you’re expected to drink.
If you drink less, you’ll be healthier, physically fitter, look better and be able to think more clearly. If this isn’t enough incentive, think of the money you’ll save.

Where can I get help and support?

If you think your are addicted to any type of substance or behavior, and it is starting to cause you problems, the best thing you can do is to talk to your doctor.

Are you an addict?

When does a habit turn into an addiction? Are you worried you won't be able to function without the enjoyable feeling that a particular substance or activity gives you? Ask yourself a few questions to find out Screening questions*
These questions concern the past 12 months.
Each question is answered 'yes' (1) or 'no' (0). The questions can be used for any substance. In this example we'll use heroin.
1. Did you find you needed more heroin to get the desired effect or that the same amount has had less of an effect?
2. Did you feel sick or unwell when the effects of heroin wore off or did you take more of it or a similar drug to relieve or avoid feeling unwell?
3. Did you use heroin in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than you intended?
4. Would you say that you've had a persistent or strong desire to take heroin?
5. Did you spend a large amount of time obtaining/using or recovering from the effects of heroin?
6. Did you reduce or give up work, recreational or social activities as a result of your heroin use?
7. Did you continue to use heroin despite having physical or psychological problems with it?
If someone says 'yes' to three or more of these seven questions they're likely to be dependent on the substance assessed. It's also important to specify whether there are signs of physiological dependence (this means the person says 'yes' to question 1 or 2).