What is addiction?

Addiction is when your mind and body have become so used to having a substance put into them – every day or most days – that you no longer feel okay unless you use that substance. If you have addiction, and you stop using the substance that has caused the addiction, you will feel uncomfortable. How bad this is depends on the substance and how much of it you use, and how often, and for how long you’ve used it. This discomfort is called ‘withdrawal’.

Withdrawal symptoms always include craving. Craving is when you can’t stop thinking about the substance, and how badly you want it, and it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.

Addiction (no matter what substance it is) almost always causes withdrawal symptoms of agitation, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, outbursts of anger and sleeplessness.

Addiction to opiate drugs causes withdrawal symptoms that are so uncomfortable they are almost impossible to bear.  Opiates are a family of painkillers derived from the opium poppy, and include heroin, codeine, morphine and Methadone. Symptoms usually include intense aching in the muscles and joints all over the body; hot and cold sweats; nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps; and a crawling sensation all over the skin.

Addiction to alcohol and to the benzodiazepine family of drugs causes withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal.  Benzodiazepines are tranquillisers – drugs that calm you down and relax you – and include diazepam (Valium, MSJs).  Withdrawal from benzodiazepines and from alcohol, when the user is addicted to high amounts of the drug, can cause extreme, uncontrollable shaking of the whole body, fits and seizures, and heart attack.

Some substances cause actual physical addiction, where the physical body is itself addicted and the addicted person is physically ill when in withdrawal. Not all substances are physically addictive. But all substances (and some behaviours, too, like gambling, or watching porn) can cause addiction. This kind of addiction is often called psychological addiction. Some people make the mistake of thinking that psychological addiction means it’s ‘all in the mind’ and that it must therefore be easy to overcome. This is a mistake because it is psychological addiction, which can happen with every substance, that is the reason why people can’t stop using, even when they want to. It is psychological addiction that causes craving, and it is craving that causes people to keep on using, even when they want to stop. The withdrawal symptoms of physical addiction are usually over and done with in between one and two weeks. The craving of psychological addiction can go on for months. Craving also very often returns, out of the blue, months or years after the person has given up the substance that caused the addiction.