Sunday 21 July 2019

10 facts about addiction


Addiction to alcohol remains a serious problem
Addiction to alcohol remains a serious problem
Addiction to alcohol remains a serious problem

Ailin Quinlan

Alcohol and drug dependency remain a serious problem in Ireland but, it seems, there's also been a dramatic rise in behavioural addiction. Our reporter talks to Sheila Hawkins, consultant psychologist at One Step Clinic, Dublin, a specialist addiction treatment service

1 What is addiction?

There are two broad categories of addiction -chemical addiction, and behavioural addiction.

Chemical addiction, such as drug abuse, be it an addiction to alcohol, cannabis, opiates or benzodiazepine, is a very common problem in Ireland, says Sheila Hawkins, Consultant Psychologist at the One Step Clinic, Dublin

"Around 39pc of Irish people binge-drink, for example, compared to a worldwide average of 16pc," she says.

Behavioural addiction which involves a chronic obsession with a particular activity such as gambling, sex or gaming is the most serious problem in Ireland today, Hawkins believes.

"We have noticed a significant increase in inquiries about treatment for sex addiction, for example."

Addiction to computer gaming, for example, was the fifth most common problem addressed at the clinic last year, she says. About 80pc of those attending in relation to a gaming problem concerned teenage boys. However, in most cases, one or two consultations with parents was sufficient to plan and implement suitable treatment, without the need to see the child.

2 The Influence of Technology

The internet affords a mean of escape. It lends itself to reclusive behaviours and personal isolation, and thus to the potential cultivation of a behavioural addiction, Hawkins believes.

Whether you're gaming, gambling or accessing adult sites, you can do it in private, she points out.

As a result, gambling online, for example, is easily hidden, she adds - in the short- term at least.

Technology also lends itself to gaming - US research shows that 92pc of children game on a regular basis, with some spending up to 50 hours a week at this activity, says Hawkins, adding:

"There's no reason to believe that this is not a worldwide phenomenon."

3 Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is still a very hidden problem. Although people will inquire about help, there is still a reluctance to seek this help, says Hawkins.

"We don't know for sure whether sex addiction is increasing per se, but the number of inquiries coming in to our clinic about sex addiction is increasing.

"It's easy to access porn and prostitution on the internet and, like all addictions, this has devastating consequences for intimate relationships.

"Women coming in for help for addiction to alcohol or pain-killers often cite un-met needs in relationship where a partner may be preoccupied by another behaviour addiction such as sex or gambling.

"An alcohol addiction is often masking a behavioural addiction on the part of the person coming to us or of their spouse or partner."

4 Gambling

Gambling is an interesting problem in the Irish context, observes Hawkins, given, she says, the relative respectability it is afforded in our society.

About 44pc of us play Lotto weekly, 12pc place bets with a bookmaker and an estimated 2pc gamble online, she points out. In monetary terms we gamble approximately €5 billion per year."

Yet, until two or three years ago, Hawkins says, there were few inquiries in the context of sex and gaming addictions. "In my clinical experience, which pre-dates One Step, inquiries around sex and gaming addiction would have been rare." This would appear to reflect observations in the UK. In 2016, the number of inquiries has grown at a rate of half a dozen per month for these addictions."

5 Alcohol Addiction in Ireland

Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than six standard drinks at one time and is more damaging that drinking the same amount over a period of a number of days.

"The World Health Organisation has indicated that Ireland has the second highest rate of binge drinkers in the world," says Hawkins, who points out that figures show that 81pc of the population consumes two and a half times the global average.

"The Health Research Board report in 2016 highlighted some disturbing figures in terms of the damage we are inflicting on ourselves through excessive use of alcohol. In 2013, the number of individuals discharged from hospital whose condition was totally attributable to alcohol rose by 82pc to 17,120 compared to 9,420 in 1995. In all, 72pc of these were male and 28pc were female."

6 Women are drinking more

"About 30pc of our inquiries about alcohol addiction in the period from 2015 to 2016 were female, many of them self- referred," Hawkins reveals.

"Approximately 70pc of this group were habitual or even daily wine drinkers. Many were women between the ages of 45 and 60 who had the means and opportunity to drink during the day.

"We are a private clinic but I believe the increase in wine-drinking by women mirrors a national trend. Women are drinking more."

Many of these women, she says, also demonstrated co-addiction which include dependence on prescription medications for depression and anxiety.

7 Causes of Addiction

Nobody really knows what causes addiction, explains Hawkins, but, she says, it is believed to be driven by psychological, social and biological factors.

"It's known that intoxication in terms of alcohol or drugs can alter the neuro-pathways or message transmitters in the brain."

This means, she explains, that the brain is learning to link the addictive substance of behaviour with pleasure, and then cravings can kick in. Gradually more and more of the substance or behaviour is required to achieve the same level of pleasure.

It is also known that individuals who become addicted often like to avoid strong or difficult emotions such as grief - and as a nation we celebrate everything through alcohol, so in Ireland particularly, social occasions can encourage over-consumption, she points out.

Furthermore, where there is parental addiction in a family, there is risk for the children in developing an addiction, though not necessarily the same kind.

8 How to Identify an Addiction

With a chemical addiction, some signs to watch out for include:

* lying to fill in unremembered gaps in story usually due to blackout;

* health issues - blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, coronary issues.

Pin-pointing a behavioural addiction is not always easy, says Hawkins.

Sometimes, she says, a behavioural addiction only surfaces when the problem has reached crisis stage, for example through financial problems due to gambling or violent outbursts as a result of a gaming preoccupation.

Other warning signs include:

* inappropriate emotional responses to everyday things - anger, violence, withdrawal;

* in teenagers and children, identification with or acting out gaming characters. Secrecy - locking doors, reacting inappropriately to parent entering bedroom.

9 How to Address an Addiction in Yourself or a Loved One

The addict first needs to acknowledge they need help, says Hawkins - you cannot force somebody into rehab."Clinics are full of people who don't want to be there!".

Men will often wait for a crisis before coming forward - this could be a road accident, a failed marriage, a conviction for drink-driving or the threat of job loss. As a concerned person in this situation, you first need to get help for yourself she says. Secondly, you may need to identify and work on modifying any enabling behaviours, such as purchasing alcohol for the person.

Thirdly, learn to understand the family dynamic involved in addiction in which one family member may attempt to impose order on chaos by taking on the responsibilities of the addict.

10 How hard is it to come forward as an addict?

Incredibly difficult, says Hawkins: "The sense of failure and shame on the part of the addict is dramatic. Also most addicts are in a state of denial about the extent of their problem.

Denial and resistance are hallmarks of addiction. Women are more ready to seek help in the early stages of addiction due to a growing awareness of the need for positive mental health and lifestyle choices.

"Programmes such as Operation Transformation point out the dangers inherent in alcohol consumption, particularly around weight gain for women, and many of the women who come forward to us do so because of concerns about the impact of their drinking on physical and mental health."

The drug driving laws which came into force in March should also contribute to awareness building, she added.

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