Chronic addictions to substances or to certain behaviours can have a devastating effect on the mental health and lives of both the sufferer and of those closest to them. Addiction can take many forms – addictions to substances such as nicotine, alcohol, food, solvents, illegal drugs or prescription medication; addictions to certain behaviours such as gambling, gaming, sexual activity, work, exercise, the internet or shopping.

An addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. An addiction can rapidly cause significant social, economic, health, and/or legal consequences, so it is important that abusive behaviours such as these are tackled early on before they destroy lives – the longer the addiction goes on, the more difficult it can be to help the sufferer and to get them back on the path to recovery.


Engagement in activities or the use of substances can give an intense sense of pleasure or ‘high’ and create a powerful urge to repeat the behaviour or use of the substance. This ‘high’ means that withdrawal from the substance or behaviour can be intensely unpleasant. The urge therefore to repeat the behaviour or substance use and avoid an unpleasant withdrawal becomes all the more difficult to resist. Often with an addiction as time goes on, more and more of the substance or behaviour is needed to satisfy cravings and to achieve the desired ‘high’. A cycle develops, and the habit becomes very hard to stop.

Some studies suggest addiction can be genetic. Being around other people with addictions is also thought to increase the risk. Sometimes an addiction can develop as a way of blocking out difficult issues and can be triggered by life events such as unemployment, relationship problems and bereavement, or by life circumstances such as money problems, stress and emotional or professional pressure, or it can be a reaction to an existing mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.


Some of the tell-tale signs someone may be suffering from an addiction include:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Defensive and argumentative behaviour
  • Clumsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Manipulative or dishonest behaviour
  • Lack of empathy and respect for others
  • Changes in quality of work or frequent absences from work
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Changes in appearance


Treatment for addiction will depend on the type of addiction and its severity. Sometimes if an addiction is a reaction to another mental health condition, such as depression, it will be more effective to treat the condition first and then tackle the addiction. The first step is to visit your GP who may suggest a detoxification programme which may include therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Alternatively, they may recommend you visit a mental health professional who can diagnose and treat both the addiction and any accompanying mental health condition. For severe addictions, it may be necessary to enter a residential rehabilitation facility where the problem can be treated intensely.

Visit our pages on Alcohol Misuse and Drug Misuse for further information on these particular addictions.

Further information on addiction can also be found online from a variety of organisations specialising in helping sufferers of addictions and their families.

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