“Why have I become addicted to/ dependent on drugs (or alcohol)?” Considering physical dependence.

In the last post, I discussed the psychological aspect of drug and alcohol addiction. In this post I discuss the physical component of drug and alcohol addiction.

With continued use, the body becomes physically dependent upon particular drugs/ alcohol in order to function at what feels like a ‘normal’ level. This occurs because the body becomes used to the drug/alcohol being provided. This leads the body to expect the drug (or alcohol) will continue to be provided. The body then modifies its internal physical processes to account for it. When the body does not receive the drug (or alcohol), it is required to readjust its internal processes, to function without it. It is during this readjustment that someone with an addiction experiences a physical withdrawal. The only thing that can prevent the body going through a physical withdrawal is further use of the particular drug.

The timing of onset of physical withdrawal symptoms varies between drugs. The intensity of the physical withdrawal symptoms one will experience depends on the extent to which the body has become dependent on the drug (or alcohol); in short, the intensity of the withdrawal depends on the type of drug used and the amount/ frequency it was being used. You can expect the physical symptoms experienced during a withdrawal to be the opposite to what is experienced whilst using the drug.

N.B. physical withdrawals from some drugs (including alcohol and benzodiazepines) should only occur under medical supervision, as serious medical complications can arise during the process (e.g. seizures).



“Why have I become addicted to/ dependent on drugs (or alcohol)?” Considering psychological dependence.

There are two components of drug/ alcohol dependency; 1) the physical, and 2) the psychological. In this post I will consider the psychological aspect. In the next blog post, I will discuss the physical aspect of drug and alcohol dependency.

In counselling, these questions are often pondered by clients who have an addiction (or ‘problematic’ drug/ alcohol use). Oftentimes, in being able to answer them, they feel empowered. They use the answers to reduce their chance of lapsing/ relapsing into drug or alcohol use. Knowing what underlies one’s drug or alcohol use assists in the identification of triggers/ situations in which one will be at high-risk of using drugs or alcohol again. Counselling can help clients to determine what underlies their drug/ alcohol use (i.e. develop insight). Moving forward, counselling can then assist clients to resolve issues associated with their drug/ alcohol use, and develop alternative coping strategies for life stressors (which they previously used drugs/ alcohol to cope with). Through these three components counselling can reduce the likelihood of the individual relapsing into substance use.

An individual may come to encounter drugs under various circumstances. One of the most commonly reported by those who develop an addiction is that drugs/ alcohol were made available to them within a social setting. Within this setting, the decision to use the drugs can be influenced by a number of factors, including, wanting to ‘fit in’/ use them to socially bond, wanting to ‘have fun’ (whilst believing that drugs/ alcohol will assist with this), wanting to ‘party longer without getting tired’, or curiosity. Other times, an individual’s first experience of using drugs or alcohol occurs outside of a social setting. This can include prescription medication.

Regardless of what circumstances drugs or alcohol were first used in, individuals come to learn (sometimes outside of their awareness) of the psychological effects. This includes what drugs/ alcohol can provide on an emotional level. Sometimes the draw to use is attributed to the potential for drugs/ alcohol to generate or enhance pleasant feelings/ emotions. Other times the decision to use drugs/ alcohol is influenced by the desire to escape unpleasant feelings/ emotions. Either way, the brain adjusts to having its chemical balance altered, by trying to counteract the effects. As a result of these chemical adjustments made by the brain, the individual is prone to experiencing a psychological withdrawal when the drug is not available. During a psychological withdrawal, the individual can expect to experience the opposite feelings/ emotions to when affected by the substance; this then leads them to use again, to avoid experiencing these emotions.

This should not be considered a complete account of factors underlying drug and alcohol addiction; a complete overview is beyond the scope of this blog post.

Anxiety – The media reports it is on the rise!

Over the past couple of weeks, you may have seen a number of reports about anxiety in the media;


Anxiety can be debilitating. It can dramatically impact upon quality of life. Findings suggest anxiety is on the rise, with sources suggesting one in four people are affected by it, and most not even recognising it.
What is Anxiety?

It is healthy to experience some amount of anxiety. Anxiety can motivate us to achieve, as well as assess and escape potential danger. It can help us to multitask and evaluate situations quickly. However, anxiety can reach problematic levels, and adversely affect one’s enjoyment of life. There are various disorders that fall under the umbrella of ‘anxiety disorders’. These can be triggered by a traumatic event (for example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD). However, there are anxiety disorders for which you may not be able to identify a cause. These include Generalised Anxiety Disorder (wherein there is no particular trigger for the onset of your anxiety), Phobias (whereby you avoid a particular ‘trigger’ that leads you to experience anxiety), Social Anxiety (whereby social situations cause you to experience anxiety), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; OCD (whereby you engage in ritualised behaviour in specific situations, to avoid the feeling of anxiety).

Symptoms of Anxiety

There are many symptoms associated with the experience of anxiety. It is often associated with feeling nervous, worried and/or fearful. It can lead to sweaty palms, physical body tension, racing heart, hastened breathing, racing thoughts can shaking. Anxiety can impact on our sleep, tiredness, ability to concentrate and carry out everyday tasks, ability to function socially, in relationships, and at work. Furthermore, it can lead to panic attacks.

Beyond Blue, have released a short film about anxiety (featuring Ben Mendelsohn)



What can be done about Anxiety?

Various things can be done to manage/ alleviate anxiety. Psychologists can assist clients with these in counselling, and provide techniques they can use in their daily life. If you experience anxiety at uncomfortable levels, you may benefit from seeing a psychologist to alleviate this. Your GP may also be able to prescribe you anti-anxiety medication. Should you choose to take anti-anxiety medication, it is recommended that you talk to your GP about the potential risks/ side-effects.

Depression, diet & exercise

In a recent article that reviews a variety of research publications, it is reported that evidence suggests poor diet and inadequate physical exercise contribute to the development and course of depression. Further to the recommendation that people should improve both their eating habits and partake in regular exercise in an attempt to both reduce their chances of developing depression and treat depression, they should also stop smoking.

With regard to how much exercise is recommended to effectively impact on depression, the authors suggest it should be in line with national guidelines (at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity, on most if not all days).

With regard to diet, it is suggested that eating healthier (with reference made to fruit & vegetable consumption, and reducing the amount of processed foods), has a positive impact on various aspects of mental/ emotional health (not just depression).

The findings in the article have been drawn from research studies conducted with various age groups. Of interest is the reference to a finding that suggests if children partake in regular physical exercise, they may be less likely to develop depression in adulthood (even when the amount of physical exercise in adulthood is controlled for).

For more information, see the article below.
Article details: Jacka, F.N. & Berk, M. (2012). Depression, diet and exercise. Medical Journal of Australia, 1 (4), 21-23.