The term ‘addiction’ is derived from ‘addictus’, the Latin word for ‘assigned’ or ‘handed over’. In Roman history, an ‘addiction’ was a person ordered into slavery by a court ruling. Addiction is therefore not only a physical dependency but a mental state defined by a loss of control.

Addiction can be treated in a variety of ways. For example, rehabilitation facilities remove someone from the influences which sustain their addiction. These facilities offer will also offer psychological treatment which helps a person understand how addiction has affected their life and the people around them. There are multiple psychological treatments to help someone free themselves from the grips of addiction.

Psychoanalytic therapy for addiction

Psychoanalytic therapy is a highly effective treatment for long-term, severe addiction. This treatment doesn’t define addiction as ‘biological’ or ‘chemical’. Instead, it’s framed as something within our psyche and hence under our control. The goal of psychoanalytic therapy is self-awareness. A person will examine what exactly has led them to have a dependency.

As an emotional issue, addiction is incredibly complex. While someone can be aware of how damaging their addiction is, they’re still compelled to sustain it. They also may struggle to identify a single cause for their addiction. We often consider addiction as existing in the present. To feed an addiction is to seek out temporary gratification in the moment. However, this gratification could be masking a past trauma or state of turmoil. Psychoanalytic therapy can be hugely beneficial in this case. It seeks to examine how a person’s previous experiences may define their current sense of self.

The success of psychoanalytic therapy depends heavily on a person’s individual circumstances. The role of the therapist isn’t to prescribe concrete meanings. Instead, they will help a person identify certain patterns and issues for themselves. Psychoanalytic therapy provides internal clarity, resolving the inner conflict represented in addiction.

You can find out more about psychoanalytic therapy here.

Cognitive behavioural therapy for addiction

Whereas psychoanalytic therapy delves into a person’s self-understanding, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) centres around conscious decisions. This can be hugely beneficial for someone recovering from addiction, who may only be able to handle the recovery process ‘one day at a time.’

CBT characterises addiction as a series of negative thought patterns. Addiction is often cyclical in nature – a person will often relapse after a period of abstinence. Once they relapse, they can feel as though their problem may never be solved. This sense of failure and lack of control will then refuel their addiction.

Again, it’s helpful to think of addiction as a mindset. The goal of CBT is to lift this negative mindset and replace it with one that’ is ‘realistic’. The aim is for a person to be aware of the fact that they have an addiction, but feel personally empowered to use new skills to take control over it. The self-destructive cycle of addiction will then be broken. This helps create new thought processes that will help someone rid themselves of addiction.

If you believe you or someone you care about could benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy for addiction, you can learn more here.

The psychology of addictive behaviours

While we may informally refer to someone having an ‘addictive personality’, there is rarely one single reason someone develops an addiction. There are multiple factors that could increase the likelihood of addiction. These include social, environmental or even genetic factors. The goal of psychotherapy is to identify these factors, so the person can understand the nature of their addiction.

Alcohol, drugs and other high-risk behaviours all have a rewarding effect on the brain. This effect could be physical pleasure or a greater sense of self-worth. As a result of this effect in the brain, even if the consequences are damaging an addicted person will still be compelled to pursue these effects, this is what fuels addiction.

Addiction over time

When an addiction develops in a person, their body and brain slowly adapt to the rewarding effects. This shift leads to them escalating their behaviour in order to experience the same effects. This sense of escalation could be participating in activities with increased frequency, or taking a substance in higher doses. They can also develop withdrawal symptoms if they abstain from their addiction. These symptoms make it harder for them to abstain from the substance or behaviour. At this point their addiction is then no longer about gaining rewards. Instead, a person will sustain their addiction simply to avoid the unpleasant effects of withdrawal.

Long-term addiction can have a substantial impact on how a person’s brain functions. They may not be aware of how their addiction is affecting both their lives and their relationships with others. Therefore, ‘addicts’ often don’t realise the true extent of their problem.

Signs of addiction

Addiction is a highly individualistic problem. This means there’s no definitive point where someone ‘becomes’ an addict. The official diagnosis incorporates a range of psychological, behavioural and physical signs:

Behavioural signs of addiction

  • A person uses a substance or participates in an activity more than they originally intended.
  • The pursuit of a substance or activity becomes increasingly important in a person’s life. This is often to the detriment of work or personal relationships.
  • A person will start placing themselves in high-risk situations to sustain their addiction. They may also start to engage in illicit or deceptive behaviour. For example, a person may begin stealing from friends or relatives to buy drugs.

Psychological signs of addiction

  • Increased temper, mood swings, and agitation.
  • Problems with focus, concentration, and memory.
  • Low self-esteem or a feeling of ‘hopelessness’.
  • Exacerbated mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

Physical signs of addiction

Sustaining an addiction over a long period of time damages a person’s physical health. As the addiction begins to dominate a person’s life, they will often neglect themselves. They may begin to lose weight or have an unkempt appearance. A person with a substance abuse problem will often exhibit physical withdrawal symptoms. Common symptoms include insomnia, muscle tension, and excessive sweating.