Addiction can take many forms. Some addictions relate to substance misuse, while others are behavioural, referring to activities or habits that seem almost impossible to kick. Nobody is immune to developing an addiction, and while certain factors can increase the risk, we all have the potential to see our casual hobbies spiral into something far more dangerous.

In fact, in 2021, approximately 275,896 people were treated for drug and alcohol abuse in the UK – this number only seems to be rising. In much the same way, one study indicates that over 78% of adults could ‘not live without their smartphones.’ Addiction is not something to be taken lightly; it is all-consuming and has the power to stand in the way of all that was once important to us.

Types of addiction

Alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction

Learn everything you need to know about addiction to alcohol

Alcohol addiction →

Drug addiction

Drug addictions

Learn everything you need to know about addiction to drugs

Drug addiction →

Behavioural addiction


Learn everything you need to know about behavioural addictions

Behavioural →

Legal-high addictions

Learn everything you need to know about addiction to legal-highs

Legal-high addictions →

Prescription drug addictions

Learn about addiction to prescription drugs

Prescription drugs →


What is addiction?

Addiction is a mental health disorder recognised as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could harm you. It is both a physical and mental condition which requires specialist support and often medical attention to overcome.

Symptoms of addiction

  • A lack of self-control and inability to abstain from a particular substance or habit
  • Isolation and social isolation, such as dropping commitments or relationships
  • Taking risks to satiate addiction, like sharing needles or upping doses
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms if cravings aren’t met

This is a summary of what an addiction might look like, as symptoms can differ depending on the substance and how long the said substance has been used. Whereas a healthy person can figure out what is going wrong in their life and make changes, someone suffering from addiction will be unable to take control of their cravings without medical support.

Who can develop an addiction?

Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Fundamentally, if anyone abuses a substance repeatedly there is always a risk of it developing into an addiction. Often this will start as a coping mechanism. For example, you may take a drug because of how it feels, stimulates, or relaxes you. It may even help you forget your worries for a while, but then it becomes a crutch to rely on, and then after repeated use, you now need that substance to operate.

Non-substance-based addictions also occur, such as gambling addiction, gaming addiction, sex and love addiction, and even porn addiction. The risks may not be as severe for health, such as with substances, but they can still cause serious financial, social and homelife damage.

What role do genetics and environment play in addiction?


People can often find themselves prone to developing addictions due to their genetic predisposition. Essentially, abuse of a substance is more likely to impact a person who is genetically built in a particular way. Scientists have identified many genes associated with addiction and experts believe there are more undiscovered genes that likely contribute too. This may explain why someone can abuse drugs throughout their life and yet remain addiction-free.

The environment can also play a part. Child abuse, a dysfunctional family background or substance abuse among parents, relatives, and friends increase the risk. These environmental factors often manifest in either early experimentation with drugs or unhealthy habits, which contribute to underlying stresses that cause someone to abuse drugs.

However, it must be said that people can be exposed to all types of things and never touch drugs or become addicted. Granted, it’s also possible someone with none of those problems can become an addict because addiction often occurs when someone repeatedly abuses an addictive substance or activity.

How dangerous is addiction?

Aside from serious health risks such as overdosing, there are other physical problems that arise with addiction. For example, an addict may suffer malnutrition, gum disease or skin conditions due to disregarding their health in favour of their cravings. Alcohol addiction can lead to several problems, such as a breakdown in relationships and even severe damage to a person’s heart, liver, and brain – heavy alcohol use can also lead to cancer.

Opioid or prescription drug addiction can lead to problems with memory, blood pressure, mood swings, confusion and drowsiness. Some opioids and over-the-counter medications can be so potent they can lead to accidental overdoses.

Signs of addiction in a loved one

There are many signs specific to a particular addiction, and in small quantities many effects can be unnoticeable. Even if you’re close to that person, if they’re subtle with their use, it can be tough to spot. Something to look for with addiction is a dramatic change in mood, such as an outgoing and open person turning introverted and solitary – this might give a clue to anything going on. Your loved one’s physical health may also decline, so keep an eye out for any weight loss and skin conditions.

If you’re worried about someone, here are some of the signs to look out for:

  • Increased energy and talkativeness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Dilated pupils
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoid or anxious behaviour


Am I addicted?

Do you neglect aspects of your life, such as family, friends, jobs, and even eating, especially if it gets in the way of your cravings?

If you have suspicions that you have an addiction, look for some tell-tale signs. An addiction can cause havoc on your body; because of the impact on your life, such as alienation from relationships or jobs and the ruinous effect on finances and self-esteem, those impacted by addiction can, and often do, fall into bouts of depression.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you using a substance more frequently or in larger amounts than you intended?
  • Do you feel unable to stop doing or taking something even though you want to?
  • Have your relationships suffered as a result of your substance abuse?
  • Do you keep quiet about your cravings to loved ones?
  • Do you continue to use a substance despite the issues it’s caused you?
  • Have you suffered mentally because of your substance abuse?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t used substances in a while?
  • Do you find yourself bored or disinterested in things that don’t involve your cravings?

How well do you know addiction?

Want to test how well you understand addiction? See how much of the information below you are aware of:

Did you know?…

Addiction has the ability to rewire how the brain works

Typical pleasurable activities cause the brain to release small amounts of dopamine. Often drugs or “high-win” activities cause large amounts of dopamine to flood the system – eventually, the brain adjusts to this higher level and will compulsively seek ways to get those highs.

Quitting an addiction “cold turkey” on your own is dangerous

Although quitting things like cigarettes can be safe, you should do so under medical supervision if you’re trying to kick a severe addiction to drugs like opioids or alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms can be serious with dangerous side effects, and sometimes even lead to death.


Addiction isn’t just common for humans?

Animals purposefully seek out intoxicating substances such as hallucinogenic plants or fermented fruit. We have evidence of monkeys, pigs, dogs, cats, and even squirrels becoming addicted.

Addiction costs the UK billions of pounds every year

The price is upwards of £30 billion because of addiction-related factors such as crime, alcohol dependency, illegal drug use, medical care, workplace disruption, and even social costs – £20 billion alone is due to alcohol.

Frequently asked questions

What is the worst addiction?
There is no worst addiction. Some are more deadly than others; for example, heroin addiction is more dangerous than shopping or video games. However, all addictions have substantial negative impacts, be it mental, physical, financial or on relationships.
Can addiction be cured?
Addiction cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Many people who enter recovery go on to live happy lives after learning how to manage their addiction.
Can you become addicted even if you “use” occasionally?
Yes, you can become addicted to something even after doing it once or twice. However, some people are more prone to addiction than others. No one sets out to become an addict, but it’s easy for occasional use to develop into an addiction without you realising.
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