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Addiction

An addiction is when you can't stop using or doing something, even when it’s hurting you. Addiction isn't just about drugs, alcohol and gambling, you can have an addiction to most things.

If you’re addicted to something, it can feel like it’s taking over your life, but all addictions can be treated.

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Find out about addiction

This guide explains addiction, its more common causes and some of the different types. We then highlight some of the treatments available to help.

  • What is addiction?

    Addiction is when you want to keep doing something so much that you can’t stop, or can’t control how often you do it. Lots of us know about addiction to alcohol or drugs, but you can be addicted to almost anything including: gambling, alcohol, work, eating, gaming, social media, shopping or sex. 

    When an addiction takes hold you'll gradually leave behind other priorities. And if not treated the addiction will have a negative effect on your work, health and social life.

    Not everyone that drinks too much, shops too much, or spends too much time online, has an addiction. But if you can't stop your behaviour, even when you know it's causing you harm, its likely you have an addiction.

  • Recognising addiction

    It can be hard to know when a habit becomes an addiction, but just doing something a lot doesn’t make it an addiction. Lots of addicts lead successful lives and are good at hiding their behaviour from the people around them. And some people with addictions don’t know, or don't accept, that they have a problem.

    Different kinds of addictions have different signs and symptoms – if you’re addicted to something, you might:

    • Find it hard or impossible to cut down or stop using it
    • Need it to feel normal or get on with your day
    • Think about it a lot, and put it ahead of things like family or work
    • Regret things you did or said while using or pursuing it
    • Lose interest in work or things you enjoy
    • Be secretive, dishonest or defensive about it
  • Causes of addiction

    Addictions rarely have a single cause, they’re a result of a combination of things, our physical and mental health, family history, and life experience all play their part.

    There’s good evidence that addiction is commonly related to a trauma, stress or emotional pain, or wanting to solve a problem in our lives.

    Lots of addictions develop gradually from things we do to make a bad situation more bearable, like having a drink, buying a lottery ticket or spending a bit more than you should. Doing this gives you a sense of control, happiness or distraction.

    An addiction develops when you need to use more-and-more of something to get the same good feelings. And whilst the thing you're addicted to makes you feel better for a short time, it doesn't deal with the underlying cause.

  • Alcohol addiction

    Drinking often doesn’t mean you're addicted to alcohol. Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is when you need alcohol to get through a normal day.

    The signs of alcohol addiction include:

    • Drinking, or wanting to drink, at inappropriate times
    • Needing more alcohol more often to get the same feeling
    • Getting hurt or being reckless while drinking
    • Having physical withdrawal from alcohol, and experiencing symptoms like tremors, nausea, sweating or hallucinations
  • Drug addiction

    Drug addiction is where you are physically and mentally reliant on drugs.

    You can be addicted to illegal drugs, prescription or over-the-counter medicine, solvents, and ‘legal highs’ or new psychoactive substances.

    The signs of drug addiction vary, but can include:

    • Feeling a strong need to use drugs, and making getting and using drugs a priority
    • Needing to use more drugs or use them more often to get the same effects
    • Having physical withdrawal symptoms from drugs, like nausea, muscle pain and high fever or chills
  • Gambling addiction

    A gambling addiction is when you can’t stop gambling, even if you’re losing money, and your gambling is seriously interfering with your life. 

    Nearly half of us have gambled in some way during the past four weeks, but gambling small amounts from time-to-time is not an addiction.

    The signs of gambling addiction include:

    • Lying about how much you gamble
    • Using gambling to help you feel good 
    • Gambling alone
    • Spending more time and money on gambling than you can afford
    • Needing to gamble more to feel the same excitement
  • Treatment for addiction

    Addiction is a serious condition, but all addictions are treatable.

    There’s no one path to beating an addiction. Most of us need to try a few different treatment approaches before we find one that works.

    Counselling or therapy. You can see a therapist or counsellor, as well as or instead of going to group sessions, for one-on-one ‘talk therapy’. This can address not only the addictive behaviour, but the cause as well.

    Group treatment. Group therapy or treatment sessions help with recovery from addiction and maintaining healthy habits, and can be combined with private therapy.

    Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of therapy that helps identify and change negative thoughts. It helps you manage your addiction by changing the way you think and behave. It’s generally part of one-on-one counselling, and can be delivered digitally.

    Residential treatment. More serious cases of addiction may need a stay in a residential or rehabilitation facility, where you’ll receive expert care and be away from triggers.

    Detox centres. In serious cases of drug or alcohol addiction, a stay in a detox centre may be required.

Next steps

All addictions can be treated and the best way to get results is to find a plan that works for you. Use our Addiction Action Plan to set out the things you'll do to take control of your addiction.

More support

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