What is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as not having control over the taking, using or doing something to the point where it could be harmful to you. It refers to a difficulty in controlling some repetitive behaviours to the extent that the consequences are harmful to you. These compulsions often arise out of the need to escape from or sooth upsetting emotions or situations. These compulsions and behaviours can cause pain and suffering not only for the person with the problem, but for those who care about them.

Types of Addiction

Addiction is commonly associated with drugs, alcohol, gambling and nicotine but it can also include:

  • Solvents
  • Sex
  • Internet
  • Work
  • Shopping
  • Exercise
  • Eating Disorders

Individuals sometimes have more than one type of addiction for example alcohol and nicotine or drugs and sex.


What causes addiction?

Addictions can develop from what may initially appear as a common social habit. For example alcohol, gambling, internet use can gradually move from use to misuse, to dependency and addiction over a period of time. This can happen either quickly or over an extended period.

Addictions can arise from the way these activities and behaviours make people feel emotionally and physically. For example with alcohol, drugs and nicotine, these substances affect how a person feels both physically and mentally. As these feelings can be enjoyable and appear to provide ‘relief’ it creates a powerful urge to use the substance again. Gambling can create a ‘high’ if there is a win and cause an urge to recreate the feeling.

While the feelings created by these activities can provide a form of escapism from personal difficulties or circumstances, these short term moments of pleasure can trigger a very powerful drive to continue the habit, over and over again in order to try to recapture the experience. Being addicted to something means that the absence of it causes withdrawal symptoms. It is easier therefore for a person to continue doing or having what they crave and often more and more is required to achieve the same effect or relief and thus the downward cycle can continue.

Some of the factors or reasons that can give rise to addictive behaviours or substance use can include:

  • Peer pressure
  • Rebelliousness
  • Perceived lack of social skills or social awkwardness
  • Pleasure seeking
  • lack of understanding of risk of harm
  • Low self esteem
  • To cope with trauma

What is the difference between a habit and an addiction?

An addiction is a habit that has become out of control, to the extent that the person is dependent on it to cope with everyday life. Typically, addictions have negative effects on the person’s emotional and physical wellbeing, while also affecting those around them.


Can addiction be treated?

Addiction is a highly treatable condition.

The first step on the road to recovery is recognition of a problem. The recovery process can be hindered when a person denies having a problem or doesn’t understand the impact of substance abuse or addiction.

Even if the problem is severe however, most people who seek treatment can benefit. Treatment for addiction can often take the form of talking therapies from personal counselling to residential care. It may also involve aftercare support by way of self help groups and regular check-ins which help manage abstinence and potential triggers and support the physical and emotional aspects of the addiction.

You can find a qualified therapist anywhere in Ireland to help with addiction and many other issues on our Find a Therapist page.


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