What Is Addiction? Alcohol, Drugs, Prescriptions, Causes And Signs

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing disorder characterised by a strong physical or psychological dependence on a substance or behaviour, despite the harm it may cause. It is considered a neuropsychological disorder involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s behaviour. Addiction is described as a compulsive seeking and taking of a substance or engaging in an activity, even though it may result in psychological or physical harm. It is emphasised that addiction changes the brain’s reward and motivation systems, leading to cravings and compulsive behaviour. Overall, addiction can be best described as as a chronic and complex condition involving both physical and psychological elements.

Alcohol Addiction


Alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder characterised by compulsive alcohol consumption, a loss of control over intake, and the emergence of negative emotional states when alcohol is unavailable. This condition leads to a cycle of dependency on alcohol, where individuals experience a strong physical and psychological need for it. The causes of alcohol addiction can vary but often involve factors like genetics, environmental influences, and the individual’s emotional state. Examples of factors contributing to alcohol addiction include genetic predisposition, exposure to a family history of alcoholism, social pressures, and emotional stressors.

Effects Of Alcohol Addiction


The effects of alcohol addiction can be severe, ranging from physical health issues to strained relationships and legal problems. Excessive alcohol use, including alcoholism and binge drinking, can put one’s health and safety at risk. It can lead to liver diseases, injuries, violence, and even cancer. The social acceptance of drinking can sometimes lead to denial, making it challenging for individuals to seek treatment. Overall, alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition that requires attention and treatment to manage, as it can have detrimental consequences for an individual’s physical and mental well-being, as well as their social and personal life.

Drug Addiction

Drug addiction, also referred to as substance use disorder, is a complex and chronic condition characterised by compulsive drug-seeking and drug use, despite harmful consequences. It affects both the brain and behaviour, leading to a loss of control over the consumption of legal or illegal drugs, even when individuals are aware of the negative impact on their health and lives. Despite being aware of the harm, a person can keep on using drugs uncontrollably effecting their daily life negatively.

Prescription Drug Addiction

There is a rising issue of prescription drug addiction in the UK and while most people take prescription drugs as directed by doctors, some still become addicted to these medications. Types of prescription drugs prone to addiction, including benzodiazepines, opiates, sleeping pills, and stimulants. As many as 1 in 4 people in England may be taking “addictive” prescription medicines according to HelpMeStop.

Effects Of Drug Addiction

The short-term and long-term physical and mental health effects of drug addiction include a range of negative consequences, such as deteriorating physical health, mental disorders, and increased risk of overdose. Along with its impact on physical health and the rising statistics of drug-related deaths and misuse in the UK. Substantial financial costs associated with drug and alcohol abuse, amounting to £36 billion annually in the UK according to GOV UK. The serious implications of alcohol, drugs, and substance abuse in the workplace, including health, safety, and performance issues. Drug addiction can strain relationships within a family, leading to conflicts and emotional distress among family members, as well as financial hardships due to the cost of treatment and other associated expenses.

Behavioural Addiction

Behavioural addiction, also known as impulse control disorders, involves compulsive engagement in certain activities or behaviours that can be addictive and require attention and support. These behaviours can encompass a wide range, from gambling and gaming addiction to excessive shopping and disordered eating, and they can negatively impact an individual’s life and well-being. Treatment and support services are available to address behavioural addictions, which are distinct from substance addictions but share some similarities in terms of their compulsive nature. The similarities between behavioural addictions and substance addictions include their compulsive and repetitive nature, as individuals with both types of addiction often find it difficult to control their impulses and engage in the addictive behaviour or substance use despite negative consequences.

Effects Of Behavioural Addiction

The effects of behavioural addiction is that it can lead to isolation, damaged relationships with family and friends, perpetuate a cycle of gratification and guilt, and potentially result in depression and various other mental disorders. Behavioural addictions can involve activities such as gambling, work, social media, gaming, and more, and they can have a significant impact on individuals’ physical and mental health. For example, excessive social media use can lead to sleep disturbances and increased anxiety, impacting an individual’s overall daily life.

Addiction vs Dependance

The difference is that Dependence refers to the body’s adaptation to a substance, leading to withdrawal symptoms when the substance is reduced or stopped, while addiction involves compulsive substance use despite negative consequences and a strong desire to continue using it. Dependence is a condition in which a person relies on a substance or behaviour to function normally and experiences withdrawal symptoms when attempting to abstain from it. Addiction on the other hand, is a chronic and compulsive condition characterised by the inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behaviour despite adverse consequences and a strong craving for it. 

Causes Of Addiction

Key elements that can cause addiction, include genetics, mental health issues, trauma, and environmental influences to addictions. The impact of family history, early exposure to drug abuse, and challenging life circumstances also increase the likelihood of developing an addiction. Substances like drugs, alcohol, and nicotine can profoundly affect individuals both physically and mentally, contributing to addiction. Socioeconomic factors, such as housing problems and domestic violence, are also potential causes for leading to addiction according to a 2016 study authored by SE Collins. Family history, life events, abuse, neglect, and social factors also play a role in alcohol addiction. Addiction is a complex issue influenced by a combination of factors, including genetics, environment, mental health, and social circumstances.

Signs You Have An Addiction

Addiction can manifest through a range of behavioural, psychological, and physical signs, affecting various aspects of an individual’s life. Recognising these signs is crucial for identifying and addressing addiction-related issues.

Behavioural Signs

Behavioural signs include secretive or dishonest behaviour, poor performance at work or school, and social withdrawal. Changes in character, habits, appearance, hygiene, dietary and sleeping patterns, and financial status are also listed as potential indicators of addiction.

Physical Signs

Physical signs such as bloodshot or glazed eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, weight changes, lethargy, and irregular sleep patterns as common signs of drug abuse. Mood swings, increased temper, tiredness, paranoia, poor judgment, and memory problems as psychological signs of addiction.


Questions To Ask Yourself

Asking yourself some introspective questions can be a helpful way to assess whether you might have an addiction or not.

Here are 10 questions to consider:

  1. Have I ever made unsuccessful attempts to reduce or quit my substance or behaviour of choice?
  2. Do I frequently think about using the substance or engaging in the behaviour when I’m not doing it?
  3. Has my substance use or behaviour led to neglect of my work, school, or family responsibilities?
  4. Am I dedicating increasing amounts of time to obtain, use, or recover from the substance or behaviour?
  5. Have I noticed that I need more of the substance or behaviour to achieve the desired effect over time?
  6. When I stop using the substance or engaging in the behaviour, do I experience physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms?
  7. Has my substance use or behaviour caused conflicts or strained relationships with family, friends, or colleagues?
  8. Have I persisted in using the substance or engaging in the behaviour, even when it leads to negative consequences like health problems or legal issues?
  9. Do I turn to the substance or behaviour as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional challenges?
  10. Have I abandoned hobbies, interests, or social activities that I once enjoyed because of my substance use or behaviour?

Is Addiction A Mental Health Issue?

Yes, according to the National Institute Of Mental Health, substance use disorder (SUD) is indeed considered a treatable mental disorder. SUD affects a person’s brain and behaviour, resulting in an inability to control the use of substances like drugs, alcohol, or medications. It is noted that individuals with SUD may also have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

Is Addiction A Choice?

No, addiction is not considered a choice but rather a chronic mental disease. While some people may initially choose to engage in substance use, addiction is characterized by changes in the brain that lead to a loss of control over the behavior. Various sources emphasize that addiction involves alterations in brain chemistry, and it is often likened to other chronic diseases. Despite differing perspectives and public beliefs, the prevailing view is that addiction is not merely a matter of choice but rather a complex condition that requires understanding and treatment as a mental disease.

Is Addiction A Disability In The UK?

No, addiction itself is not classified as a disability under the Equality Act in the UK. However, there is an important distinction made regarding impairment caused by addiction. If an addiction, such as alcoholism or substance abuse, leads to an impairment, such as liver disease or other health issues, that impairment may be considered a disability and therefore protected under the Equality Act. While addiction alone is not recognized as a disability, its connection to impairments is acknowledged.

Can Addiction Be Cured?

Addiction is considered a chronic disease, and there is no definitive cure for it. Addiction is described as a complex condition that varies from person to person, making it challenging to pinpoint a single quick cure. Instead, it is widely acknowledged that addiction necessitates ongoing treatment, support, and management. While treatment approaches can help individuals recover and manage their addiction, it is not viewed as a condition that can be fully eliminated or cured in the traditional sense. Therefore, the focus is on providing effective treatment, prevention, and support to help individuals lead healthier lives while managing their addiction

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