When we talk about addictions we usually think automatically about drugs (legal or illegal) or certain behaviors that we have associated with that word: psychotropic drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling … However, an addiction does not have to be reduced only to this type of addiction. substances or behaviors, but can be related to more common things and that are in our day to day as the use of technology or the practice of sports.

An addiction is a chronic and recurrent brain disease characterized by a pathological search for reward or relief , which is achieved through the substances or behaviors to which one is addicted. Addictions, due to the loss of will experienced by the person who suffers and the need to receive that “reward”, alter the quality of life of that subject both in their social relationships and in other aspects of their lives such as the workplace , in addition to their health in the case of addictions to certain substances.

Behavioral addictions, which are not related to the consumption of substances but with a certain behavior, are common but sometimes difficult to detect. Among them we can find addiction to food or sports addiction. To know how to be aware and how to react to this and other types of addictions, we have spoken with Laura Martínez, a clinical psychologist, to give us the keys that help us recognize them.

What are the external signs that can betray an addiction?

These external signs will vary depending on the type of addiction. But in general, we can observe that the person will depend a lot on the substance (for example drug) or on the behavior (look at the phone frequently) to feel good; he will need more and more to face difficult situations and, if he can not access it, he will be irritable, with low mood, with anxiety and even in extreme cases, aggressive.

When addiction has a decisive influence on the person’s daily life, we are facing a problematic situation that should be resolved.

What kind of behaviors accompany these behaviors?

Clarify first that there are mainly two types of addictions, those produced by chemical substances (tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs) and those produced by behaviors without substances (such as Internet addiction, gambling, mobile phone, lines) erotic, to sex, to shopping …).

The common feature of any addiction is the loss of control. The person with an addiction has no control over the behavior they perform (whether it is consuming a substance or buying clothes for example). It produces dependence, tolerance (in the case of substances), withdrawal syndrome and very negatively influences their daily lives.

Addictions also affect the person who suffers mentally, what are the most frequent symptoms?

The symptoms are very varied and will depend on the person and the type of addiction but there is something common that is observed in people with an addiction: they spend a lot of time focusing their thoughts on how to access the substance or addictive behavior and also thinking how to hide your environment how much you consume (alcohol or drugs) or how much you play (if you have an addiction to the game or mobile).

What is it that can cause an addiction? Could it be the fault of social pressure? About the environment? Is it just the addict’s fault?

To begin with it is essential to eliminate the word guilt when we speak of an addiction. There is talk of variables that can converge and lead to an addiction.

It is known that there are personalities more prone to addiction (people who move a lot by the immediate reinforcement and high search for sensations). People with a certain personal vulnerability towards addiction and that certain social or family environments may favor the development of certain addictions.

Therefore, we talk about the interaction of different biological factors (genetic vulnerability), psychological and social factors (educational and family environment) in the development of an addiction.

How can an addiction affect our general state of health? Can it be the trigger of other serious pathologies?

Addictions affect our state of health, in one way or another, depending on the type of addiction and the degree of affectation (especially in the case of substances).

In addition, any of the addictions can trigger an anxiety disorder, low mood and even some personality disorder.

We can see several examples:

  • Nicotine addiction: increases the risk of cancer, respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Alcohol addiction: can affect the functioning of the brain and most organs of the body (liver, heart, …).
  • Addiction to marijuana: impairs memory, the ability to learn and concentration (among others). Greater probability of suffering psychotic episodes (hallucinations and / or delusions).

If we are in the environment of a person who suffers an addiction and we detect it, what can we do? What would be the steps to follow?

The first step is to talk to the person and convey our suspicion and concern for their problem. Before making an appointment to go to a doctor or psychologist it is essential that the person becomes aware and takes responsibility for their addiction, because if the adherence to treatment is low, the results of the therapy will be too.

An exceptional case is that of adolescents with addiction problems , in which case the parents will be responsible for helping them and making the decision to take them to the doctor or psychologist regardless of whether or not they recognize their addiction.

Secondly, we have to convey that we will be by your side to support (and control) you in whatever is necessary. Third, and very important, it is to help the person to leave the “addictive” environment in which he / she is (the people and places that are associated with the consumption or addictive behavior). And finally, encourage him to look for alternative behaviors with which to replace the addictive behavior.

How is an addiction treated? Is a medical treatment always necessary? Is a behavioral treatment enough?

The type of treatment will depend on the type of addiction, the degree of affectation of the person and the degree of alteration of the person’s daily life.

Usually, individual or group therapy and other types of behavioral therapies are used as a priority to treat addictions. For some patients and depending on the type of addiction, combined medications are used with different types of therapy.

How can we support a person who is trying to overcome an addiction?

The first thing is to assume that it will not be an easy or short process and that we will have to have a lot of patience with him or her.

The person is going to need us to be by his side, we trust him, we give him emotional support and we help him control his addictive behaviors (the medical staff will give us guidelines for this).

On the other hand, it is very important that we do not assume the burdens and responsibilities of the addict for having that problem and that we do not exempt him from his daily responsibilities.

It is also important not to stigmatize the addict (say things like “you are an alcoholic” or “you are a drug addict”) and assume that there will be relapses during the process.