Today, we look at addiction and what causes addictive behaviour, as well as how to recognise it.

Let’s look first at the word addict. The word “addict” comes from the Latin word “addictus” which means “bound or devoted” or “one who has been surrendered to a master.” In ancient Rome, a person who owed a debt to another could be declared an addictus and become a slave to that person until the debt was paid off. Over time, the meaning of the word evolved to refer more generally to a person who is enslaved to a particular habit or substance, such as drugs or alcohol. Today, the word “addict” is used to describe someone who has a compulsive dependence on a particular behaviour or substance that they find difficult to control or stop.

Addiction can be as simple as having a relationship with something, like drugs or alcohol, being or feeling in control of it, being the master and at some point, the relationship goes bad and suddenly we are no longer the master but the servant or slave.

The relationship with the substance may come about for a number of reasons including for enjoyment or reward, people may want to cut loose at the weekend or after a hard day they may open a bottle of wine, have you heard the term ‘wine-o-clock’? Over time the relationship changes and we move from master to servant in the relationship to the substance and wine-o-clock happens more often.

It may be because of things that have happened to us in our younger years e.g., Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), or trauma in later life and the stress that results may make us take up a substance (illegal or legal) and the substance makes a difference to how we feel about what’s happened to us. It may blot out those feelings for a while. But again, over time the solution becomes part of the ongoing problem and makes a bad situation worse.
I think it was Gabor Maté that said, “not every traumatised person ends up an addicted, but I’ve never met an addicted person that hasn’t suffered trauma” (maybe a slight paraphrase there;-) and by the way, I agree with Gabor Maté.

We may come from a family where alcohol or drug use is the norm an even encouraged and so our environment may desensitise us to using from an early age and we carry this into adulthood. It may even be a sign that we are grown up and for some holding their drink may be a positive trait, until it starts to affect health, relationships, work etc when the ‘master’ becomes the ‘servant’ and not in a good way.

Addiction can be because of all of the above and in some cases not because of any of them. So, while addiction can manifest in many different ways, there are some common signs and symptoms that can help you identify when addictive behaviour is present.

Some common signs of addictive behaviour include:

  • Loss of control over substance use or addictive behaviour.
  • Continuing to use substances or engage in addictive behaviour despite negative consequences.
  • Tolerance, which means needing more of a substance to achieve the same effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the substance or addictive behaviour is stopped.
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining and using substances or engaging in addictive behaviour.
  • Neglecting important responsibilities or activities in favour of substance use or addictive behaviour.If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s important to seek help. Recovery is possible, and there are many resources available to support you on your journey.