What is Addiction?

One of the most misunderstood subjects in the health field today is in the area of identification and diagnosis of addiction.  It is too often undetected, detected too late which results in poor recovery, or focus is placed on the secondary symptoms, i.e. the physical and mental problems caused by the addiction to alcohol or chemicals and ignore the illness itself. One of the most useful tests runs as follows:

 “If the use of alcohol or drugs is causing any disruption in an individual’s physical, mental, emotional, social or economic life------ and if they continue to use----- in spite of the knowledge that these consequences are causing, then this constitutes addiction”.

The social drinker might have one brush with the law.  He might have one reprimand from the employer.  He might have family problems over one drinking episode.  But one event would be enough to say to himself, “If I’m going to have that kind of trouble, I’m going to have to limit my drinking”, and that person will.

Dependency, on the contrary will ensure that drinking continues even though it causes problems in any or all of important relationships. Alcohol dependant people are saying by their actions, “My dependence on this chemical is so great that I have to continue using it, even though it interferes with relationships to family, friends and job”.  This is attaching a pathological importance to an inert substance, and it is abnormal.  Drug dependency is not about being bad people. They are struggling to recover from one of the most crippling illnesses to affect the 21st century, and it will increase.  It is a no fault illness.  However, once the problem has been identified, it is then the responsibility of that person to take care of themselves, as with any illness.  It was summed up by someone recently when he realised his problem, “I had stopped drinking for periods of time, because I knew I shouldn’t drink.  Then at last it dawned on me that--- I had to stop because I could not quit. Let’s be very clear on this. Only people diagnosed as addicts have to stop. Many other people either give up drinking or using for personal/financial/social/health reasons and they have the choice to do that. Chemically dependent people do not have the luxury of that choice and therefore have to look at alternatives and engage help in order to do so.


Addiction is defined

By both an increasing tolerance of alcohol or drugs and withdrawal from alcohol or drugs when trying to abstain.   Other criteria include:

  • Persistent efforts to cut down.
  • Time spent thinking about or trying to obtain alcohol or drugs.
  • Important social occupational or recreational activities stopped because of substance abuse.
  • Continued use in spite of knowledge that the substance is causing mental, physical and social harm.

Alcohol prescribed drugs and elicits substances work on the mood and mind of a person to attain an effect of wellbeing or comfort, euphoria or ecstasy, and escape from pain or problems.   At the same time they cause a lowering of self-esteem, an increase in feelings of guilt and shame, breakdown of relationships and an altering of personality indicating the presence of chemical dependence. Alcoholism is probably the oldest of dependencies although the following indications apply to all drugs of addiction.   Addiction is a condition leading to altered behaviour, reduced levels of control and impaired performance.   Consequently life situations and relationships tend to deteriorate both at home and at work.

Idicators of Drug and/or Alcohol Dependency

  • High absenteeism
  • Accidents at work, on the road or at home
  • Frequent claims for sickness benefits and sick leave
  • Deteriorating work performance both in quality and quantity
  • Mood swings and hostility that lead to deteriorating interpersonal relationships at home and at work
  • Denial that there is any problem
  • A tendency to blame other for perceived problems
  • Promises that personal performance will improve
  • A record of petty offences, traffic violations
  • Patterns of drinking and using (eg using alone, timed drinking, binge drinking, self medication)
  • Memory lapses, or failing memory
  • Blackouts




The mind of an addict is ruled by obsession. Obsessive, repetitive, self destructive thinking and in spite of the fact that you, and they, know the outcome, they will do it, over and over again. They don’t need a reason for wanting to drink or drug or feel-good, they just do. They drink when they feel good, they drug when they feel bad, it’s all the same. The biggest flawed belief of an addict is that one day, as if by magic, something will happen which will make things all OK. Not true! And in the meanwhile their ability to communicate to your friends and family deteriorate whilst they look on completely baffled by your repetitive, self deluded behaviour as they boldly announce……

…….Leave me alone……I’ll be OK………


The brain of an addict always asks for more of the very thing that is killing him/her. This is due to the fact that their brain’s ‘reward centre’ is over-stimulated by a natural substance called dopamine. This reward centre or pleasure centre forms part of the old “lizard brain”, and it is so primal that it only feels good when it satiated with food, sex or pleasure. It was our original survival brain and when your brain is flooded with pleasure, it over-rides all logic and the addiction completely takes control. The conundrum in all of this is that the very organ you depend upon for reason is itself hijacked and cannot make rational decisions in relation to mood altering substances. It is a classic catch 22 situation and this is why both addicted people and their families cannot understand why addicts keep on doing what they keep on doing. Don’t fool yourself.

You will never be in control, until you learn to stop taking the thing that is killing you.


The spirit of an addict has a totally different conception of the universe than other people. Other people can adjust their ideas to reality. Addicts will do anything to adjust reality to THEIR ideas and needs. Because addicted people have used for a long time, they have not matured emotionally. This is why they cannot see outside of themselves, it is why they cannot stop being narcissistic and cannot see a bigger picture of life and its meaning. Addicts find it extremely hard to give up control, because of fear, paranoia and a flawed belief that they can fix things, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The worst thing about this scenario is that everyone around an addict sees how they turn everything around to suit themselves, but of course, they cannot see this….. so……if you fit this picture above…

………Call for help………you need it………