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Addiction: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and How to Seek Help

Addiction affects the lives of thousands of Canadians. But despite how widespread the problem appears to be, there is little consensus among experts about the underlying causes of addiction, or even what the true definition of addiction is. Some consider addiction a purely physical phenomenon that occurs when a body requires a particular substance to function normally, but this definition may be closer to dependence than true addiction. Addiction can be much more complex than a mere physical dependence, and it nearly always involves mental and emotional factors. According to Psychology Today, addiction is “a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity…the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities.”

Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop engaging in a harmful behaviour, perhaps even despite knowledge of the negative effects of the behaviour on one’s life. Many people are not even aware or able to admit when they have an addiction. People can develop addictions to behaviours like gambling, shopping, binge-eating, and sex, but addiction is perhaps at its most dangerous when it involves harmful substances like alcohol or cocaine. Excessive intake of these substances can lead to fatal overdose or other adverse health effects.

Besides these health effects, addiction can cause a multitude of problems in one’s personal life, affecting relationships, work performance, and general enjoyment of life. Often, a person struggling with an addiction sacrifices wellbeing in one or more of these areas in order to continue to use.

Risk Factors

Although anybody can develop an addiction, certain factors can increase a person’s risk level. Someone who has one or more of the following life circumstances may be more likely than most to develop an addiction:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Traumatic past
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Lack of social support
  • Easy access to addictive substances

Recognizing Addiction

Addiction can take many different forms depending on the person experiencing it. Some people with addictions display no symptoms at all, and may appear to function perfectly normally in their day-to-day lives. Most people, however, will display one or more red flags, including the following:

  • Neglect of activities once enjoyed
  • Heightened risk-taking
  • Breakdown of interpersonal relationships
  • Secrecy
  • Change in appearance (lack of showering, weight gain or loss, unclean clothes)
  • Persistence in using despite negative consequences

How to Help

If you’ve ever struggled with addiction, either directly or through a friend or family member, you already know how difficult it can be to seek help. Helping someone to recover from an addiction can seem like an impossible task. However, educating yourself on the nature of addiction as well as its causes and effects is a crucial first step to recovery. Please click through the resources below if you or someone you know is seeking help with drug addiction, and remember that recovery is always possible.

Alberta Addictions Help Line: 1-866-332-2322
Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/
Addictions Services across Canada: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/substance-abuse-toxicomanie/help-aide/get-help-obtenir-aide-eng.php

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