What is Addiction? What is Abuse?

What is Abuse, What is Addiction?

Abuse occurs when a person engages in an activity or ingests a substance at levels beyond or for purposes beyond what the majority of other people do. In other words, abuse is misuse, overuse or abnormally high or more or unusual usage. Abuse usually preceeds addiction.

Addiction occurs when a person engages in an activity (e.g. gambling, sex, shopping, criminal activity etc.) or ingests a substance (e.g. caffeine, alcohol, bhang, khat, cocaine etc.) that was initially for pleasure but has now become compulsive and interferes with ordinary life, health, work or relationships. Such persons may not be aware that their behaviour is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

The word addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body gets used to the presence of a drug/substance so that drug/substance no longer has the same effect when consumed in average quantities; this is known scientifically as tolerance. Because of tolerance, the user requires higher quantities to feel the effect of the drug/substance and there is a negative body reaction when the drug/substance is not taken. Tolerance leads to abuse and eventually to addiction. When addicts miss taking their drug/substance of abuse they develop a negative body reaction called withdrawal syndrome. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs or to cues associated with the drugs, for example, an alcoholic walking into a bar, for instance, will feel an extra urge to have a drink because of the (visual) cues.

Most addictive behaviour is however not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People compulsively use drugs, or gamble or shop, nearly always in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behaviour. The focus of the addiction isn't what matters; it's the need to take action under certain kinds of stress.

No matter which kind of addiction you encounter, it is important to recognize that it is not caused by a search for pleasure and that addiction is not about poor morality or weak strength of character. It is a disease of the body and mind requiring effective treatment and that's why it is important to understand it, to be able to recognise it in yourself or someone close to you and to refer them for expert treatment at a rehabilitation centre like FOHATC or any other available near you.

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