Addiction

Addiction means not having control over doing, taking or using something harmful.

Introduction

Addiction means not having control over doing, taking or using something harmful. You can't control how you use whatever you are addicted to and you become dependent on it to get through each day.

It's not only drugs and alcohol that you can become addicted to. Activities such as sex, gambling or overeating can also be addictive over time.

There is no single reason why addictions develop. Regularly drinking alcohol, eating excessive amounts of (usually unhealthy) food, smoking cigarettes or using drugs changes the way a person feels, both mentally and physically. Some people enjoy these feelings and have a strong desire to repeat them.

From habit to addiction

Some people regularly use substances or carry out potentially addictive activities, such as gambling, without having any major problems. However, for other people, their behaviour causes damaging physical and psychological effects as their habit turns into an addiction.

An activity like gambling may give a person a "high" if they win, followed by a desire to repeat the feeling. Eventually, gambling becomes a habit that can't be easily broken because it is seen as an important and regular part of life.

With substances, the more a person uses them, the more tolerant their body becomes, until they need it more frequently and in larger amounts to achieve the same effect.

If a person with an addiction stops using the substance that they are addicted to, they will experience psychological or physical withdrawal symptoms (or both). Withdrawal symptoms are wide-ranging and vary depending on the substance involved, but generally the person will have feelings of discomfort, distress and an intense craving for the substance.

Not only does an addiction have an adverse affect on a person’s health and happiness, it can also put a strain on their relationships with others, causing problems at home, work or school.

Treatment and support

There are many organisations that provide advice, support and treatment for people with addictions.

Many people consult their doctor first, but help is also available from community addiction centres where you can drop in without an appointment.

Treatment and support is provided by a range of different people, including specialist addiction nurses, counsellors and psychiatrists.

There are also websites and helplines if you would rather access information yourself or discuss the problem anonymously.

Local support services

Local support groups provide the opportunity to meet other people who have had similar experiences.

Content supplied by NHS Choices