Are you suffering from an addiction?

Are you suffering from an addiction?

Every day around Australia, thousands of people are bravely battling addiction. This cruel human affliction is not just reserved for ‘hard-core’ drug or alcohol abusers. The reality is that any of us can potentially become addicted to anything.

“There are many and varied reasons why someone develops an addiction, and it’s a very complex issue,” explains Associate Professor Lina Ricciardelli, a Health Psychologist and researcher from Deakin University’s School of Psychology.

“Some common addictions are to substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and even caffeine. But the problem can also involve things such as gambling, the Internet and shopping.”

There are many medical and social definitions of addiction. However most agree that it’s a loss of control of a behaviour that interferes with everyday life; and so impacts negatively on relationships and work.

“There’s a lot of pre-occupation,” Lina explains. “The person affected just can’t ‘get away’ from thinking about it.”

While the target of people’s weakness can vary enormously, Lina says the basic characteristics of someone who becomes addicted, tend to be the same.

“Typically they’ll exhibit characteristics such as sensation seeking; extrovert behaviour; risk-taking. And some of us are more prone to it than others. “It can be biological, as we know there is a genetic link with regards to alcohol abuse. But then there are lots of alcohol-dependant parents whose children are so abhorred by it that they go in the other direction and never even try alcohol. “Those who tend to develop addictions, are people who need external stimulation to cope with life.”

Signs that someone may have an addiction

  • Not functioning at work

  • Not functioning at home

  • Financial difficulties

  • Can’t maintain a relationship because of their ‘craving’

How to help

Lina explains that people in the midst of an addiction often can’t get help themselves, as they simply don’t believe they have a problem. So often it’s a partner or family member who might first seek advice from someone such as a counsellor on a ‘Help-line’.

“Another first step might be to talk to your G.P with your partner – as this can be less threatening for both of you,” Lina says.

“Professional counselling is critical for confronting people in an empathetic and empowering way.”

But before anything in terms of treatment can even begin, the person affected needs to accept the help. “Behaviour change can take a long time,” adds Lina. “But small steps are good and very important steps. For example, it’s completely normal that people who try to quit smoking cigarettes have to try several times before they are able to stop for good. So it’s important for them to see not a series of ‘failures’, but to understand that every attempt is a successful one.

“Once the person is truly motivated, then the recovery can happen very quickly. And if someone is willing to accept help and is motivated to change, treatment is often very successful.”


“During the first counselling sessions, we need to determine whether the person even wants to change,” explains Lina. “Some people might not come back, after the first one or two sessions, because they’re just not ready yet.

“Those who do want to change have to start to un-learn their addiction and replace that behaviour with a more healthy behaviour; and unlearning always takes longer than learning.

“In some cases total abstinence is going to be necessary, as with smoking for example. It’s very rare to be able to limit yourself to one cigarette every now and then. But for other addictions (drinking alcohol or shopping), it is possible to incorporate more moderate behaviour into daily life.

“The starting point is counselling and various therapies – including cognitive behavioural therapy – depending on the specifics of each case.”

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