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Understanding addiction – a comprehensive guide

A comprehensive guide to understanding addiction MAIN

Addiction to various substances, like drugs and alcohol is on the increase. How does addiction affect us differently? How do I support someone through their own recovery? Healthista spoke to Phil Jackman, an addiction therapist at Delamere, to tackle this timely topic

With the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, a serious consequence has been the uptick in substance use, addiction and overdoses.  

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 13.3 per cent of people started or increased their substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic to deal with related stress and emotions.

A separate report by the CDC says drug overdose deaths, mostly from synthetic opioids, started increasing considerably during the pandemic as well. From May 2019 to May 2020, 81,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States. 

over 600,000 people in England are currently dependent on alcohol

Drug use (and misuse) was prevalent even before the pandemic. The past 10 years have seen heroin-related deaths double and cocaine-related deaths increase fivefold in the United Kingdom. 

Alcohol addiction, like drug dependency, is also a major threat to public health. In fact, over 600,000 people in England are currently dependent on alcohol, with alcohol-related deaths increasing by 18.6 per cent in 2020 alone. 

As the addiction crisis gets worse in many countries, it’s important to know how addiction can differ between people, how to get help and what to do if someone you know is struggling. 

READ MORE: How to stop addictive behavior – 4 steps therapists use

addiction drugs alcohol

Differences in addiction between men and women 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to addiction. However, addiction can manifest itself differently in men and women, according to Phil Jackman, an addiction therapist at Delamere, a leading private rehabilitation clinic located in Cheshire.  

While men are more likely to become addicts, women are more likely to go from substance abuse to addiction more quickly, per Addiction Center. Men are also more likely to have more severe withdrawal symptoms, but women are more likely to relapse. 

addiction can manifest itself differently in men and women

Many of these characteristic differences come down to biological and sociological factors that cause substances to react differently in people’s bodies. 

‘In terms of alcohol, the percentage of water in a woman’s body is a lot lower, meaning that they need less alcohol to become intoxicated, and their body doesn’t metabolise alcohol as quickly, which means that the damage can be more severe compared to men,’ Jackman says. 

Regarding the social aspect of substance use, men are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol because of peer pressure from their friend group.

READ MORE: ‘I was addicted to painkillers for nine years’

addiction treatment counsellor therapist

Getting started with treatment 

When it comes to getting help for addiction, the first step is recognising you need to make a change and get treated. This can sometimes be the hardest step in the entire recovery process. 

once you make the decision to change, you can start taking action toward your recovery

Everyone’s addictions are different and can require different methods to treat them, so it is important to discuss treatment options with a doctor to find the best one for you.  

‘The help you need will depend on various factors such as whether you need a clinical detox, how entrenched your addictive behaviour has become and what is feasible in terms of your lifestyle,’ Jackman says. 

There are many options for addiction treatment, including talking therapy, detoxification and support groups. You can be treated at home, in a hospital, or, if your addiction is severe enough, in a residential rehabilitation service. 

READ MORE: Looking for a therapist? 10 questions to ask yourself first

addiction treatment rehab therapist

Factors that help and hinder treatment 

Jackman says one of the biggest obstacles during addiction treatment is people not seeking it out in the first place. This normally happens because the patient doesn’t realise they have a problem, or they convince themselves they don’t have one altogether.  

‘One of the key characteristics of addiction is that people will often continue to use and abuse substances despite the negative consequences they experience as a result,’ Jackman says. 

However, there are numerous factors that can help support progress during addiction treatment.  

Reminding yourself of the reasons why you want to change your ways and setting achievable goals while in treatment can help you make substantial progress during your recovery journey.  

having a strong support system during treatment is crucial for making progress

‘A support network of not only friends and family but also others who are themselves in recovery is proven to help people recover long-term,’ Jackman says. 

READ MORE: 6 smart goal setting tricks to make your resolutions stick

addiction treatment support

Supporting someone through addiction 

Helping and supporting someone you know who is struggling with addiction can be extremely challenging. However, Jackman stresses the importance of prioritising your own mental health and wellbeing, even if you are trying to offer support to someone else during a difficult time. 

If you know someone who is looking at treatment options for the first time, Jackman says it is critical to talk to them when they aren’t intoxicated or under the influence of any substance. This way, they are less likely to get defensive or refuse your help completely.  

it is critical to talk to them when they aren’t intoxicated or under the influence of any substance

Also, try to reassure the person by saying treatment is one of the best things they can do to help themselves in the long term. Letting them know that seeking out help is not a weakness of character, but rather a way to help themselves become healthier, can be another effective way to support their treatment journey. 

Phil Jackman is an addiction therapist at Delamere, a leading private rehabilitation clinic in Cheshire. He is now completing his master’s thesis about identity and the concept of self in addiction after earning his level-7 counselling certification.


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