When substance use or other behaviors start to cause problems in your relationships, or begins to negatively affect your work, finances or health, it’s probably time to think about making some changes.

This section looks at what is an addiction, warning signs and when to get help. Remember, support is available, and you are not alone.

Addiction can take many forms and shapes. Some examples can include addiction to drugs, alcohol and behavioral addictions like gambling. It involves a compulsive or uncontrollable need to engage in the addictive behaviour. Addiction can be psychological, which means that you need it to feel better mentally, or addiction can be physical, which means that your body craves a substance.

People can become dependent on certain behaviours such as gambling, shopping, sexual activity, and playing computer games. These compulsive behaviours are common and can require professional treatment to overcome. A behavioural addiction does not involve the use of an addictive substance. Behavioral addictions are often overlooked.

All types of addiction cause similar harms to a person’s social and emotional life, and the lives of those around them. One simple way of describing addiction is the presence of the 4 Cs:

  1. Having craving for a substance;
  2. Loss of control of amount or frequency of use ;
  3. Having compulsions to use; and,
  4. Using despite the consequences.

Nobody chooses to become addicted, and addiction is not about personal weakness or character flaws. When addicted, it can be difficult to give up the substance or stop the behaviour. Most people need extra support from friends, families or health care professionals. Whether it’s alcohol, nicotine, drugs, gambling, the internet, or some other form of addiction, there is hope and help available. Call your local mental health and addictions office to speak to a counselor.

Someone does not have to show clear signs of a problem to have an addiction. It’s easy to become dependent on a substance or an activity without realizing it right away. Harmful consequences and loss of control are two important signs that a person’s behaviour or substance use is risky or is already a problem. It may be a problem when you:

    1. ● Have difficulty meeting responsibilities at home, work, or school;
    1. ● Use more than you intended despite wanting to cut down or quit;
    1. ● Have recurring problems with health, safety, relationships, finances or the law;
    1. ● Need substances to cope with everyday life or experiences;
    1. ● Organize other events or needs around your activity or substance use;
    1. ● Feel sick or moody without the substance, but feel a little improved upon resuming use; and
    ● Have tried unsuccessfully to reduce or cease use.

If you are experiencing any of the above, you may have an addiction. Remember, no matter what type of addiction or problem you are facing, hope and help is available. Call your local mental health and addictions office to speak to a counselor.

When it comes to substance use, there are two kinds of dependence:

    1. 1. Psychological dependence occurs when a person feel they need the substance to function or feel comfortable; and,
    2. Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body has become used to the presence of a substance. Tolerance means the person needs to use more to get the same effect. When the person stops using the drug, symptoms of withdrawal occur.

Substance use can be hard to change. One thing that makes change so difficult is that the immediate effects of substance use tend to be positive. Initially, the reward the brain receives is often pleasurable and often referred to as a “high”. Over time, as a person’s body becomes dependent on a substance, they may continue to use that substance to avoid experiencing withdrawal. This can also be referred to as a substance use disorder.

Not everyone who uses substances will become addicted. Every person’s body and brain development are different. Your relationships, lifestyle, environment, and co-existing mental health issues can make you more or less likely to become addicted. The progression of substance use to addiction is on a continuum, ranging from no use, to use, misuse, abuse, and finally to dependency. Generally, when substance use begins to negatively affect your relationships, work, finances or health, it’s probably time to think about making some changes.

    1. 1. Alcohol is considered a drug, and it can cause just as much damage as other drugs if misused.
    1. 2. Alcohol is the most used substance followed by cannabis and tobacco.
    1. 3. Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest heavy drinking rate in the country.
    1. 4. Addiction affects all genders, all socioeconomic classes, and all communities. Addiction impacts our friends, family, and coworkers.
    1. 5. Many people are unaware of the potential risks of using substances. Substance abuse can cause serious health effects including addiction, overdose, and even death.
    1. 6. Prescription drug abuse is intentionally taking medication in a way that was not prescribed. The most common types of prescription drugs abused include:

● opioids (used to treat pain)
● benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders)
● stimulants (used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

The most important thing to do is talk to a loved one and/or a professional for support. Sometimes you feel like no one really understands you or your struggles. Many people question their use of substances. Some people can overcome their problems on their own, or with self-help materials. Most of us need support from other people, family members, friends, therapists, and medical professionals. You are not alone, and help is available. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to addiction treatment. Choosing the appropriate treatment depends on the severity and type of addiction, the support available from family, friends and others; and the person’s motivation to change. Here are some examples of help and guidance:

● Self-help materials;
● Self-help groups;
● Harm-reduction approaches;
● Professional individual or group counselling;
● Educational materials;
● Medication options;
● Withdrawal Management;
● Inpatient Treatment;
● Holistic Treatments.

Change is a process and relapse can be a part of the process, but recovery is possible. Call your local mental health and addictions office to speak to a counselor.

The most important thing to do is be there for your loved one if they need to talk. It is important to remind yourself that you cannot fix it, but you can support your loved one if they choose to get help. It can be tough to watch a loved one struggle with addiction; remind yourself that you didn’t create it, you didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it. If your loved one is not ready to make changes with their substance use, you can still seek support so that you can learn how to cope and take care of yourself. Having the support of family members and/or friends may help people feel more supported to seek help. Here are some suggestions to get started:

● Raise your concerns with the person and let them know you are available to listen;
● Provide information about the consequences or concerns associated with their substance use. If your loved one gets angry or denies there is a problem, be patient but firm;
● Be positive and encourage change instead of blaming the person or making them feel guilty;
● Find out about available treatment programs and tell your loved one about them;
● Learn about the nature of substance use and addiction to give yourself a better understanding of the problem and how to deal with it.

Change is a process and relapse can be a part of the process, but recovery is possible. Call your local mental health and addictions office to speak to a counselor or visit.