Compiled by Annalise Kempen
We all know someone who has been struggling with an addiction - ranging from prescription medication to illegal drugs, alcohol to gambling or even shopping. When that addict is a sibling, a direct family member or a parent, it is often much more difficult to explain the addiction to the children - even though it is vital to be honest throughout the process if we want to maintain some form of respect and trust and ensure that the relationship will continue in future.
Difference between abuse and addiction
When it comes to substances, we often use the terms abuse and addiction interchangeably - without considering that there is a slight difference. Someone might abuse a substance, such as alcohol, without being addicted to it - for example when a person binge drinks over weekends, but goes without drinking a drop of alcohol in the following weeks. Or, if someone is smoking dagga regularly during the week, it does not mean that she or he has an addiction, although it means that she or he is abusing the drug, which can lead to an addiction. Addiction therefore means that a person has no control over whether he or she uses a drug or alcohol or sniffs glue. A person who is addicted to cocaine or alcohol has grown so used to that substance that he or she has to have it. Addiction can be physical, psychological or both (kidshealth.org, nd).
The Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre (CTDCC) (nd) explains that addiction is a chronic illness which must be understood and managed on a lifelong basis. It is not about weak morals, poor self-discipline, bad behaviour or a character defect, but rather an inability to consistently control the use of mood- or mind-altering substances. Whereas non-addicts can have a glass of wine at a dinner party, an addict is likely to use more than planned, and in a self-harming way, whenever they use the substance(s) they are addicted to. Addiction is a progressive illness where the amount and the consequences of what they use increase over time. Using that which they are addicted to, such as alcohol or drugs, will become their priority over other responsibilities and people in their lives.
When someone is physically addicted, it means that person’s body has become dependent on a particular substance (it may even be cigarettes as some people are addicted to smoking). It further means that the person has built a tolerance for that substance, necessitating them to use a larger dose than before to get the same effect. When someone with a physical addiction stops using that substance, they are likely to experience physical withdrawal symptoms which can include diarrhoea, shaking and a general awful feeling (kidshealth.org).