Addiction- Intervention

During the Ted talk, Johann Hari talks about how we should treat the addicts in our lives. He believes punishing them will only drive them further and further away. He mentions a tv series called Intervention where family and friends sit and let out everything they want to say, giving the addict the opportunity to get help.

To get a better understanding of what Hari was talking about I decided to watch two episodes, with two different approaches made by the family.

What I saw was one family let out their love for their daughter, telling her just how much they care for her. Not once did they tell her that if she didn’t stop they would abandon her. After everyone had spoken she agreed to get help straight away and got in the car to rehab. The second episode I watched was a little different. The sister of the addict expressed her love for her brother, telling him she’d always be there for him. The addicts cousin then said, if he didn’t stop using he would stop him from seeing his children. This infuriated the addict and made him storm out. The sister went after him and consoled him. After speaking alone, the addict agreed to go back into intervention room and in the end he agreed to get help. The addict told his sister, he was only getting help because of her, he said he wasn’t doing it for his cousin who he called a few nasty names.

The addicts cousin could have tipped the addict over the edge by what he said, and if it wasn’t for his sister who showed love and care the addict wouldn’t have agreed to get help.

What we saw from the sister is connection. The cousin on the other hand was ready to cut the connection between the addict which made him angry. If he feels he has no connection with this family and friends he would carry on with the connection he has with the drugs.

I want to communicate this. I want people to realise that punishing an addict will only make things worse. If they feel they have nothing else they will never stop as that’s what’s keeping them going, the drug is what they turn to so they feel some sort of connection. If someone has an addict in their life they need to show unconditional support, trying to get them help. And if the addict says no to getting help, they shouldn’t then cut them out of their lives but carry on trying to get them the help they need, reassuring them that they love and care for them.


Addiction- TED: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

In this Ted talk Johann Hari questions what really causes addiction. Hari mentions a man called Burce Alexander, a professor of psychology, who suggests that there might be a different story about addiction. He said, what if addiction isn’t about your chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your cage? What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?

Hari also acknowledges another professor called Peter Cohen who believes, maybe we shouldn’t even call it addiction. Maybe we should call it bonding. Hari talks about human beings having a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatised or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief- your addiction.We as human beings will bond and connect with something because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.

Hari goes on to say that him and his audience could all be getting drunk right now, but they’re not. He says the reason for this is because they have bonds and connections that they want to be present for. They have work that they love, people they love. They have healthy relationships. He adds that a core part of addiction, he believes, which evidence suggests, is about not being able to bear to be present in your life.

What I’ve taken from this is that, if you’re happy within your current environment, you don’t need the addiction. For example lets take drugs. Millions of people take drugs such as cocaine to get a buzz effect. They’ll go for a night out and take it to have a good time. But what if they were already having a good time? They might already feel happy enough, socialising with friends, forgetting the need for drugs. Smoking can be another example. On many occasions I have asked people why they’re smoking so frequently in a short space of time. They’re response is, “Bored”. So if they weren’t bored, would they even think to have a cigarette? A lot of people I know have told me how they have been able to go a day without smoking because they have been so busy doing something else. So is the cure, ‘something else’? But something else that can occupy their mind, which makes them content with what they’re doing. Maybe then they won’t feel the need to have a cigarette. Some people argue, “But I’m stressed.” Okay, smoking can relieve stress, but what if you weren’t stressed in the first place? Can you find ‘something else’ that takes away the stress, or stops you from being stressed in the first place. You do something to help the situation you are in. Going back to being bored. If I’m bored I play video games. I could argue that I am a little bit addicted to video games as this is something I do every day for a long period of time, and find it hard to stop. But I love football, if I was in the middle of a video game and someone asked me to have a game of football I would stop straight away. This is because it is something else that makes me really happy. But what really makes me happy about playing football is being with my friends. Football brings people together and creates a connection. If I was to be I asked to go out for drinks with close friends, I wouldn’t even have to think twice, the playstation would be off immediately and I would be up getting ready. What Iv’e learnt here is that, it’s not ‘something else’ that can take your mind of an addiction, but ‘someone else’. Your closest friends, your family and loved ones, the people you want a connection with. All these people have the ability to help you, as these are the people you know care.

I know I came to this conclusion from playing video games, but I truly believe the people around you are what you need in life. They are the people who really can help serious addicts, ones with problems such as smoking, alcohol, drugs and gambling. Not something like video gaming, although it can actually be very unhealthy.

Addiction- Further Research

Another thing I wanted to look into was addictive behaviours-

Behaviour traits of an addict

Every addict is unique, but there are observable traits that such individuals tend to share. Being aware of the common symptoms and behavior of addiction can be helpful because it makes it possible to identify people who may have addictions. It also makes it easier for the individual themselves to determine if they have a problem, which may be something they are ignoring because of denial. There are many types of addiction, but there are certain commonalities that tend to link them all.

It is a widely held belief that addiction is more likely to occur with certain personality types. While it is not an exact science there does seem to be certain characteristics that addicts tend to share.

The addictive personality includes such traits as:

-High degree of tolerance for criminal behavior

-Prone to act impulsively

-Periods of depression

-Antisocial behaviour

-History of attention seeking

-Low self-esteem and confidence

-An admiration for rebellious behaviour

-Feels like an outsider

-Insecurity in relationships


-They find it hard to wait for rewards

Those who are addicted to substances or behavior may exhibit any of the following symptoms:

-Secretiveness and attempts to hide the extent of their addiction

-They can begin to lose interest in activities they previously liked

-Loss of interest in personal hygiene and grooming

-Increasingly focused on the substance or behavior

-Lying and other unethical behavior


-Financial problems

-Family problems

-Unexplained disappearances

-Mood swings


-Suicidal thoughts


-Work problems

Can I show my understanding of an addict through design?

Addiction- Research

What is an addiction?

The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity. It is a central nervous system disorder characterised by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. It affects the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These feelings can be enjoyable and create a powerful urge to continue using that particular substance or take part in an activity. Being addicted to something means that not having it causes withdrawal symptoms, or a “come down”. Because this can be unpleasant, it’s easier to carry on having or doing what you crave, and so the cycle continues. Often, an addiction gets out of control because you need more and more to satisfy a craving and achieve the “high”.

What causes addiction?

The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.”

Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways:

– Craving for the object of addiction

– Loss of control over its use

– Continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.

For many years, experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. Neuroimaging technologies and more recent research, however, have shown that certain pleasurable activities such as gambling, shopping, and sex, can also co-opt the brain.

Other than the typical addictions such as smoking, alcohol, drugs and gambling, other addictions include, caffeine, food, internet, sex, work, video gaming, TV, exercise, shopping, pornography, love, anorexia and bulimia etc.

Understanding different types of addiction

Substance addictions

Nicotine, alcohol and drugs etc.

Those suffering with addiction need a substance in the same way that others need food and water, and a person is more likely to become vacant, irritable and even mean when an addiction has taken hold.

Behavioural addictions

Eating disorders, sex, shopping etc.

These types of addictions are often not taken seriously and can be blamed on an ‘addictive personality’ or an individual’s bad habit. Apart from eating disorders, behavioural addictions do not generally tend to affect a person’s physical health and can therefore be difficult to spot.

Recognising addiction

In the 1930s, when researchers first began to investigate what caused addictive behavior, they believed that people who developed addictions were somehow morally flawed or lacking in willpower. Overcoming addiction, they thought, involved punishing miscreants or, alternately, encouraging them to muster the will to break a habit.

The scientific consensus has changed since then. Today we recognize addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behavior.

Pleasure principle

The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: The release of the neurotransmitter.

Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center.

Scientists once believed that the experience of pleasure alone was enough to prompt people to continue seeking an addictive substance or activity. But more recent research suggests that the situation is more complicated. Dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in learning and memory- Two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.

Learning process

According to the current theory about addiction, dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning. This system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and sex) with pleasure and reward.

The reward circuit in the brain includes areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviors stimulate the same circuit—and then overload it.

Repeated exposure to an addictive substance or behavior causes nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain involved in planning and executing tasks) to communicate in a way that couples liking something with wanting it, in turn driving us to go after it. That is, this process motivates us to take action to seek out the source of pleasure.

Development of tolerance

Over time, the brain adapts in a way that actually makes the sought-after substance or activity less pleasurable.

In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. Addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught.

In a person who becomes addicted, brain receptors become overwhelmed. The brain responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors— An adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud.

As a result of these adaptations, dopamine has less impact on the brain’s reward center.

People who develop an addiction typically find that, in time, the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. They have to take more of it to obtain the same dopamine “high” because their brains have adapted—an effect known as tolerance.

Compulsion takes over

At this point, compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with an addictive drug or behavior subsides—and yet the memory of the desired effect and the need to recreate it (the wanting) persists. It’s as though the normal machinery of motivation is no longer functioning.

The learning process mentioned earlier also comes into play. The hippocampus and the amygdala store information about environmental cues associated with the desired substance, so that it can be located again. These memories help create a conditioned response—intense craving—whenever the person encounters those environmental cues.

Cravings contribute not only to addiction but to relapse after a hard-won sobriety. A person addicted to heroin may be in danger of relapse when he sees a hypodermic needle, for example, while another person might start to drink again after seeing a bottle of whiskey. Conditioned learning helps explain why people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence.


That powerful desire that yearns to be satisfied by going back to your addiction. If you give in and indulge, it’s commonly referred to as relapse. But becoming aware of your cravings and learning how to manage them is a way to avoid relapse and stay on track with your recovery.

First, it’s important to understand that cravings are normal. Too many people recovering from addiction think that cravings are a sign that they’re relapsing. You only relapse when you revert to using the substance to cope with life stress and demands. You can and should expect to feel that strong desire to revert back to the old life from time to time. The goal isn’t to eliminate cravings, but to recognize when a craving cycle begins and then intervene before it pulls you into a downward spiral.

Craving cycle

Craving types and intensity differ by the person, but there’s a familiar pattern that’s common to most people. Here’s how the typical craving cycle progresses:

Trigger response: A person, event or sensory experience (smells, music or familiar surroundings, for example) trigger a thought or emotion that puts you in touch with the old addictive behavior. It could be as simple as walking by a bar and smelling alcohol or driving through a section of town where you used to meet up with drug-using friends. The trigger puts the craving cycle in motion.

Obsessive thinking: Once you’re in touch with the old addictive behavior, your mind tends to lock onto those familiar ways. It then becomes difficult to let go of these thoughts. You toss them around in your head, weighing the pros and cons. But the more you think about it, the stronger the urge to act it out becomes.

Full-blown craving: Craving is both emotional and physical. The emotional part is a compulsive need to get your “fix.” You can hardly think of anything else. The physical part of craving activates the stress response where you might experience increased heart rate, shortness of breath and perspiration. Once you get to the full-blown craving stage, the pull toward the addictive behaviour is very strong and it’s difficult to resist the urge to act on your craving.

Can I communicate this process through design?

The Big Idea- Addiction

This project gave us the opportunity to use research as a creative, non-superficial aid towards the production of an innovative piece of work. We are required to do some very broad and deep research, which we will then evaluate and edit to create a piece of communication. With this we have been asked to test the effectiveness of different graphic languages in relation to what we wish to communicate.

From a list of words/phrases we have been asked to produce a piece of work that communicates aspects of the concept to an audience of our choice. Out of a the list of words/phrases given to us, I chose ADDICTION.


I think addiction is very interesting. The fact that we as individuals can be addicted to so many things is remarkable. What I want to know is, how does addiction work?