Addiction can be defined as ‘not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you’.NHS Choices. (2017). ‘Addiction: what is it?’ [online] Available at: [accessed 28 Sept. 2017].

Addictive substances


We most commonly think of addiction as being hooked to a chemical substance. These can include:

Legal substances

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine

Illegal substances

  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Heroin

Prescription substances

  • Painkillers (ibuprofen, codeine)
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax)
  • Stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin)

Addictive behaviours

Addiction, however, goes beyond legal and illegal substances. It can also involve compulsively engaging in a behaviour, such as:

  • Gambling
  • Compulsive hand-washing
  • Using technology and social media
  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Eating behavioursHebebrand, J., Albayrak, Ö., Adan, R., Antel, J., Dieguez, C., de Jong, J., Leng, G., Menzies, J., Mercer, J.G., Murphy, M. and van der Plasse, G., 2014. “Eating addiction”, rather than “food addiction”, better captures addictive-like eating behavior. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews47, pp.295-306.
  • ExerciseBerczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B., Urbán, R. and Demetrovics, Z., 2012. Exercise addiction: symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance use & misuse47(4), pp.403-417.

…to the point where this disrupts your daily life.

How do you know if you're addicted?

  • You feel compelled to take the substance, or indulge in the behaviour
  • The consequences are damaging to your mental and physical health

Addiction patterns

Most forms of addiction are characterised by the following pattern.

The addicted person gets a diminishing effect from the original amount of the substance or behaviour. A higher amount is needed to achieve the effect they want.

The addicted person tries to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms by engaging in the behaviour or continuing to use the substance (or a similar substance).

The addicted person suffers from a physical, emotional, or mental craving for the substance or behaviour.

The addicted person spends a lot of time engaging in the addictive behaviour, or in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use it, or recover from its effects.

The addicted person suffers from a persistent desire to cut down on the behaviour or substance use, but their efforts are unsuccessful, which leads to internal conflict.

The addicted person prioritises the substance or behaviour over important social, occupational, or recreational activities, which can eventually cause external problems with relationships, finances, work, and so on.

The addicted person continues with the behaviour or substance use, despite it causing a persistent physical or psychological problem (e.g. anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, lethargy) that is likely to have been caused, or exacerbated, by the behaviour or substance.

Possible causes of addiction

There are a range of possible causes of addiction. Some of these are biochemical, some of them are psycho-spiritual, and some are lifestyle-behavioural in origin.

Biochemical causes

Psycho-spiritual causes

Lifestyle-behavioural causes