What is addiction?

Addiction doesn’t just relate to substance abuse; it can also involve compulsive behaviour. Knowing what addiction actually is, the different types of addiction, and how to recognise its signs and physical symptoms, can give you a greater understanding of how addiction works. But most importantly, you should also know where you can get help if you think you might have a problem.

This can help if:

  • You want to know what addiction means
  • You want to know the signs of addiction
  • You or someone you know might have an addiction

What is addiction?

Addiction is basically a compulsion to use a certain substance or participate in certain behaviour in order to feel good (or sometimes to avoid feeling bad). Addiction falls into two main categories:

Physical addiction is when a person’s body has actually become dependent on a particular substance. It also often means that a person’s body has developed a tolerance for the substance, meaning that they have to take more and more to feel the effects. A person with a physical addiction will feel strong symptoms of withdrawal if they try to give it up.

Psychological addiction is when a person’s craving for a substance or behaviour come from an emotional or psychological desire, rather than a physical dependence. The mind is such a powerful thing that it can produce physical symptoms like those of withdrawal including cravings, irritability and insomnia.

Types of addiction

There are a number of different types of addiction including:

  • Drug dependence
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Compulsive behaviours (including gambling, exercise, shopping, sex and overeating)

Signs of addiction

There are a number of signs that can indicate addiction to a substance or behaviour.

The way you feel:

  • You do it as a way to forget problems or relax
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Problems with school or work because of it
  • Stealing or selling stuff to keep doing it
  • Failed attempts to quit
  • Anxiety, anger or depression
Physical signs:

  • Changes in your sleeping habits
  • Feeling shaky or sick when trying to give it up
  • Needing to do it more to get the same effect
  • Changes in your eating habits
  • Weight loss or weight gain

Getting help for addiction

There a number of services that can help with particular types of addiction. If you don’t think that you’re experiencing addiction but you’re suffering from some of the above symptoms, you might be struggling with something else. Read more about different depression here.

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to your GP to find out more about addiction.
  • Get personalised support options for addiction with the ReachOut NextStep tool.
  • Slowly reduce your exposure to the thing you could be addicted to.
  • Don’t replace one addiction with another.
Last reviewed: 04 March, 2016
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