*Content warning: Post contains discussion of addiction and substance abuse*
Addiction is a simple term for a complicated set of behaviors. It can be defined as a lack of control over an action, to the point where it can be harmful to you. As well as effecting the person with the addictive behaviors, it can have a wider impact on their life, effecting their family and economic situation. But why is addiction such a powerful behavior? The answer may lie in one of our brain chemicals- dopamine. While this neurotransmitter is not the sole cause of addiction, it does play a role in as a motivator in addiction behavior. Dopamine is related in response to pleasurable experiences and positive sensations, working in the reward part of your brain and being linked to memory and motivation. This can cause a link to form between what triggered the sensation and the environmental cues to the pleasure experienced. This link can cause people to feel a drive to seek out the same pleasure, creating the hard to control urges linked to addictive behavior. While this pathway does not always involve harmful substances or activities, its involved in any pleasurable activity, it can reinforce the behaviors implicated in addiction by motivating the seeking out of pleasure. Additionally as addiction goes on a larger amount of the behavior is needed to get the same level of positive reward as the brain develops tolerance.
Within Canada around 6 million people will experience addiction at some point in their lives, which is around 21% of the population. For something that will affect 1 in 5 Canadians, addiction is not talked about enough, and a stigma still exists around discussing these behaviors. When people think of an “addict” in their mind they often think of a harmful stereotype, and these strong negative perceptions can stop people wanting to discuss these behaviors and reach out for help and treatment.
While we usually think of drugs (especially opioids) when it comes to addiction, addictive behaviors can be related to a wide range of things, from gambling, to exercise, and social media. An analysis of a 2018 Canadian Internet Use Survey found that in a 12 month period around 20% of people surveyed had had lost sleep, gotten less physical activity, or had trouble concentrating due to their social media use. Additionally, while exercise is generally seen as good for your health (both physical and mental), it can also be an addictive behavior. It is thought that about 3% of the general population have an exercise addiction, with the prevalence increasing to 25% in regular runners and 52% in triathletes. The excessive exercise that can result from an exercise addiction can led to severe anxiety, issues around food, and physical injury. Any addiction can have severe harmful consequences, as there is a lack of impulse control and need to seek out the behavior despite the negatives.
An element of addiction that is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (list of diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions used by medical professionals) is substance use disorders. This condition is defined as an uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequence, so an addiction specifically related to a substance (such as alcohol, drugs, or tobacco).
So what support is on offer if you or someone close you is suffering with addiction? Firstly I would like to signpost folks to a previous blog post on safer use and harm reduction related to substance use, which includes some great information and helpful links (written by Tristen). Additionally the Canadian government provides a list of resources you can get help from, the link can be found here. Mental health support is available to all Uvic students through the wellness center and this includes the free SupportConnect mental health support service, which is available 24/7 by phone or online. Remember you are never alone.
Let’s keep talking about mental health together <3
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.