If you are living with an addiction, it means that you overuse or feel like you depend on a particular substance, such as alcohol or drugs, or activity, like gambling or technology.
Having an addiction can affect the ways you feel, think and act; disrupt your relationships; and impact your physical and mental health.
Addiction is very common and can happen at different points in our lives, including when we are young. If you think you might have a problem with addiction, there are lots of treatment options and recovery supports available.
Signs and symptoms of addiction
Drinking a lot of alcohol over time or binge drinking, which means drinking too much on single occasions, can damage your physical and mental health. If you begin to feel that you need alcohol to get through certain situations or your daily life, it can make it difficult to control how much or how often you drink.
Symptoms and behaviours which may be a sign of alcohol addiction include:
- Feeling strong urges to drink alcohol
- Spending a lot of time getting alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from alcohol use
- Being unable to limit how much alcohol you drink
- Developing a tolerance for alcohol so that you need to drink more to feel its effect
- Finding it difficult or failing to complete tasks and responsibilities at home, school or work due to alcohol use
- Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as driving or swimming
- Stopping or reducing your usual hobbies and activities
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, such as nausea, sweating and shaking
- Drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Continuing to drink alcohol even when you know it is affecting your health, social life or relationships
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or trying unsuccessfully to do so.
Drugs are chemical substances which change how your body works, physically and/or psychologically, when you take them. Some drugs are legal, such as prescription medicines, while others, like cannabis or ecstasy, are illegal. Taking drugs can impact your moods, thoughts and emotions, with different drugs having different effects.
Some signs of an addiction to drugs include:
- Having intense urges for the drug
- Feeling you need the drug regularly, whether daily or several times a day
- Focusing a lot of time and energy on getting and using the drug
- Making sure that you have a supply of the drug
- Spending money on the drug, even if you can’t afford it
- Doing things you wouldn’t normally do just to get the drug, like lying or stealing
- Needing more of the drug to get the same effect
- Failing to meet responsibilities at home, school or work
- Cutting down on your social life and hobbies because of drug use
- Taking part in risky activities, such as driving, when you’ve taken the drug
- Trying and failing to stop using the drug
- Having withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking the drug.
We can have addictions to things other than alcohol and drugs, whether these are substances like nicotine or solvents, or behaviours and activities such as online gaming, shopping, and using social media.
No matter what the addiction is, there are some general symptoms which may be a sign that support is needed. These include:
- Feeling unable to stop using the substance or engaging in the activity
- Continuing the addictive habit despite its health and social impacts
- Spending more and more time and energy on the addictive habit
- Trying to deal with problems through the addictive habit
- Taking risks.
The term “dual diagnosis” means that you are experiencing two medical conditions at the same time. When we talk about mental health, dual diagnosis means that you are going through both an addiction and a mental health disorder.
When you have a dual diagnosis, it is important that you are supported through both the addiction and the mental health condition: even if you are recovering from an addiction, your mental health condition will not go away without treatment. There is a lot of evidence that people make good recoveries when both aspects are treated.
Causes of addiction
Causes of addiction
There is no single cause for an addiction. Addictions can affect people in different ways, and some substances or activities can see addictive habits developed more quickly than others.
There are different factors which can feed into the development of an addiction. Addiction is more likely to affect a person who:
- Has a strong family history of addiction
- Was exposed to an addictive substance or activity at an early age
- Starts drinking at an early age
- Has a high tolerance to alcohol
- Grows up in a culture which is very easygoing around alcohol and other substances
Takes substances to deal with anxiety or depression without speaking to a doctor first.
Treatment and recovery
Treatment and recovery
It can be hard to recognise or admit that you feel that you are addicted to a substance or activity, but doing so is a big and important first step. If you are concerned that you may have an addiction, start by talking to a friend or family member.
If you have used a substance or engaged in a behavior and are worried that you may need immediate help, please call 999 in Ireland or 112 anywhere in Europe to reach emergency services.
Speaking to your doctor is a good idea. Your doctor will be able to advise you on your symptoms and identify treatment and support options for you and your family.
There is a wide range of supports available if you are going through an addiction. Some people find they can deal with their addiction by sharing information about and giving feedback on their recovery through support groups, for example. Other people may need further support, like psychological therapy, an outpatient community service, or day patient or inpatient treatment programme in a medical or mental health hospital.
The best treatment option will depend on the person, the type and underlying causes of their addiction, and the strength of their symptoms.