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Addiction is defined as the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, for example drugs or alcohol, to such an extent that stopping it causes severe trauma. In physical addiction, the body adapts to the substance being used and gradually requires increased amounts to reproduce the effects originally produced by smaller doses. Compulsive shopping and gambling are also forms of addictive behaviours. All addictions cause a range of health and social problems, including the break-up of families and crime.

The addiction may be physical, in the sense that when the addicted person is prevented from indulging in the habit, the person shows withdrawal symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting. On the other hand the addiction may be psychological, producing craving and agitation if the consumption of the substance or behaviour is prevented. Most addictions to substances such as drugs or alcohol are a combination of both physical and psychological dependence.

Drug addiction and alcoholism
People who have difficulty dealing with anxiety and other complicated emotions may feel that drugs, or alcohol, help them to relax and to function more effectively, and hence they gradually become addicted to the substance. Children who grow up in the company of such people are more prone to developing addictions. Among the wide variety of illicit substances available are amphetamines, ecstasy, crack and cocaine, apart form alcohol. These drugs stimulate the nervous system and induce a sense of euphoria. Those who are addicted to these drugs can go without sleep for long periods, but it can also aggravate anxiety and lead to paranoia. Protracted use may lead to exhaustion and may cause serious psychological damage in the long run. Cravings for these drugs are almost impossible to control and generally lead to destructive behaviour aimed at perpetrating the addiction. Marijuana (cannabis), heroin and ketamine are also widely used drugs. Sometimes tranquillisers that are legally prescribed for a short-term treatment of anxiety are also sometimes abused. Alcohol consumed in moderation can have a therapeutic effect, but in excess it is as harmful as drugs.

Social repercussions
Addiction to drugs such as crack or cocaine, and alcoholism can have severe social consequences. The people who develop a physical dependence on them have a severe craving to procure the drug or alcohol, by hook or by crook, and they often become involved in crime to pay for this craving. Addiction also has a destructive influence on family and other relationships and may cause the person to lose employment.

Health risks involved
People who use intravenous drugs such as heroin, especially if the needle or syringe are shared, risk contracting a range of infections like:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • Septicaemia (blood poisoning)
  • Endocarditis (infection of the heart valves)
  • Cellulitis (infection of skin and subcutaneous tissues)
  • Abscesses, particularly at injection points

Health hazards associated with alcoholism

  • Liver damage
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Peptic ulcers

How to treat addiction
There is no miracle cure, but there are a plethora of programmes available to get rid of the addiction. The first and foremost step is for the addict to recognise that he/she has a problem and consciously choose to go in for a rehabilitation programme. The addict may have to be admitted to a special clinic where there is no access to the concerned substance or opportunity to pursue addictive behaviour. Supportive counselling and specialised therapies are a major part of the treatment process. It is of utmost importance to pinpoint the root cause of the addiction and then seek help from a doctor, who will be able to direct the addict to an appropriate rehabilitation centre.

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