Why does someone become addicted?

A person with a substance use problem can behave in a way that seems reckless and selfish, causing chaos in their life and the lives of those close to them. If your partner has a substance use problem, it can be very worrying and you may wonder what’s behind the issue.

Addiction isn’t usually a deliberate attempt to behave in a way that is out of control. Often, when someone develops an addiction, it’s an attempt to control how they feel about a situation that feels unmanageable, or to block out thoughts and feelings they find hard to cope with.

Imagine you have had a really bad day. Stress at work, a row with your partner, or money worries may leave you feeling anxious, angry, and sad. Or, perhaps something upsetting in your past still disturbs you when you think about it.

At these times, you might find that drinking, smoking, escaping into the internet, or playing a video game helps you to switch off and relax. For a time, it feels as if your problems have gone away.

Escaping from the real world and forgetting your problems now and then is often OK. For example, a few drinks after work at the weekend can be fun. However, even those feelings of letting go of inhibitions can leave you wanting more… Just check that, whatever it is you are doing to escape, you still feel you can ‘take it or leave it’.

If you feel powerless to deal with problems, you may find you crave more and more of whatever helps you escape instead. Unresolved problems often get worse. You feel trapped and turn more and more to your means of escape. This is when the destructive cycle of addiction can begin.

By this stage it feels like the ‘take it or leave it’ option has gone. Stopping the addictive behaviour is scary because you feel so dependent on it.

Addiction can damage your self-esteem and confidence, leaving you doubting whether you can ever break free and face your problems. The addiction may have caused problems in your relationships. You may feel ashamed to ask for help or be scared that others will refuse to help you. Maybe you feel your life is such a mess that you don’t know where to start making changes.

It might feel like the only choice is to block everything out with the additive behaviour.

Take it step by step – acknowledging that you have a substance use problem is a big first step. If you are experiencing any of these issues and are concerned it may be triggering addictive behaviour, a valuable next step would be to seek advice or support.

Online support, information, and counselling can be very helpful in many cases. However, it may be advisable to seek face-to-face counselling from a specialist agency or via your GP, particularly if:

  • You have a long term addiction problem.
  • You are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Your problem involves cutting or physically harming yourself in some way.
  • You are aware your addiction has been triggered by a traumatic life event.

If you are worried about someone close to you, you may find it helpful to check out Relationship Realities which features real stories by real people who are affected by alcohol and drug use problems.

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