Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones
Honorary Senior Lecturer, Imperial College London

“There’s still a lack of understanding about the suffering that addiction causes. It takes enormous steps to remove oneself from the environment or the people that creates or who share their addictions. As a result, people with addictions often become isolated from their social networks and families, start not showing up for work, borrowing money and not paying it back and losing jobs. At my clinic about 20% of people have lost their jobs and 50% of people have lost long-term relationships.”

Misconceptions about addictions
People can have false perceptions about people with behavioural addictions, as well as the consequences. “People think of it as a weakness, but it’s a combination of vulnerabilities, environment or a genetic susceptibility – you’re much more likely to develop an addiction if you have a parent or grandparent who had one.”

“Even though it is an illness there’s a lot of judgement. People find it very hard to own up because of this judgement and stigma.”

Changing social attitudes
But attitudes are changing, Dr Bowden-Jones says. “Fifteen years ago people with addiction disorders found it much harder to come forward for treatment. Since then, with the availability of and the internet and more information, there has been a major change in society’s attitude to addictions.”

Until recently the international diagnosis of mental illnesses included pathological gambling as an ‘impulse control disorder’, but this has now changed to an addiction. Dr Bowden-Jones says this will make a “huge difference” in how behavioural addictions are treated.

Road to recovery
“There are a whole range of addiction treatments that work. The private and charity sector tend to use the 12-step movement and both private and NHS treatments tend to focus on abstinence-based programmes. NHS clinics use a lot of motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help patients overcome their addictions.

“Once treated people can carry on with their lives and careers as long as they are prepared to do the relapse prevention work needed to identify and stay away from the triggers that made them vulnerable in the first place.”