What are addictions?

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Addictions are recurring chronic mental disorders, in other words, periods of uncontrolled consumption are alternated with periods of abstinence, when consumption is abandoned. They generate changes in the brain circuits that cause the person to use substances compulsively, despite the negative physical, psychological, and social consequences. Addictive substances include various drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, tranquillisers, and cannabis derivatives.

Addictions explained in first person

Professionals and patients explain how you live with the disease
And it is absolutely essential that the patient understands that it’s not about quitting the drugs and doing exactly the same as before, but it is about quitting the drugs and adopting a healthy life style.
If you understand that not drinking is forever and that it is a tool to help you live better, you have a lot to gain.

An addiction involves a pattern of maladaptive functioning where drug use leads to significant deterioration or discomfort. This can affect all areas of a person’s life. We usually refer to this condition as addiction when this pattern is maintained for a prolonged period of time (at least 12 months).

When we talk about drugs, we mean any substance that is consumed and which modifies different bodily functions, either mental (mood, brain function) or physical (respiratory or gastrointestinal dysfunction).

Normally, these substances are characterised by passing rapidly from the bloodstream to the brain, resulting in behavioural changes. These effects tend to be perceived as pleasant the first time the substances are taken. As a result, many people continue to take them, even though they may have negative consequences in the medium and long term.

When a drug is consumed repeatedly it usually has some effects on the body and behaviour:

Cigars with upward pointing arrow indicating tolerance

Tolerance to the substance. This means that higher and higher doses of the substance are needed to achieve the desired effect (for example, more and more alcohol must be drunk to achieve the effects of intoxication) and that the effects of the substance, if the doses are not increased, are markedly less intense with continued use.

Anxious person with a bead of sweat on the face and other symbols of withdrawal symptoms

Abstinence Syndrome. A set of physical and psychological reactions that occur when a person with an addiction suddenly stops using the substance or uses a smaller dose than they were used to.

In addition, when the addiction has become established, it is common for the person to exhibit some of the following characteristics:

  • They acknowledge that they consume a higher amount than they intend or for longer periods than they would like.
  • They have a persistent desire or make unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control their consumption of the substance.
  • They experience cravings.
  • They devote a significant part of their time to activities related to obtaining the substance (e.g., travelling long distances), consuming the substance, or recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • They prioritise their consumption over social, work-related or leisure activities.
  • It is increasingly difficult to comply with their primary obligations.
  • They continue to consume the substance despite having interpersonal or social problems caused or aggravated by this behaviour.
  • They consume the substance in situations where this is physically dangerous.
  • They continue to consume the substance despite being aware of having a physical and psychological problem related to this.

Although the impact of addiction is different and specific for each individual, all addictions affect brain functioning in a similar way and, therefore, the treatment has many common elements.

Addictions are treated as chronic mental illnesses, using a three-pronged approach: medical, psychological, and social.

Prevalence by type of addictions

According to the 2017 edition of the annual report Information System on Drug Addiction in Catalonia:

The prevalence of tobacco consumption (daily and occasional) in the population aged 15 years and over is 24% (29.7% in men and 18.5% in women), and 1 in 10 people is exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home.

. High-risk alcohol consumption in the population aged 15 years and over is 3.4% (5.4% men and 1.5% women), and is greater among people aged 15 to 44 (4.3%), with an unpredictable trend.

Daily cannabis use stands at 2%, having increased in recent years.

Cocaine use ranges from 2-4%, also showing an upward trend.

Substantiated information by:

Antoni Gual Solé
Clara Oliveras Salvà
Hugo López Pelayo
Magalí Andreu
Mireia Graell Gabriel
Pablo Barrio Giménez
Silvia Mondón

Published: 16 September 2019
Updated: 16 September 2019

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