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Addiction, in simple terms, is not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. Commonly, people use substances (such as, alcohol, nicotine, cannabis) or engage in activities (for instance, gambling) that can be pleasurable for them in the short term. However, continued use of substances or engagement in such activities, can lead to interference with general functioning, such as work, personal life and relationships, not to mention deterioration in physical and mental health.

People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behaviour is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

The word addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as a tolerance. However, addictive behaviour is often a reaction to low mood or being stressed.   

Types of addictions


Alcohol is medically classified as a depressant, which slows down the Central Nervous System, especially the brain. The more people drink, the more intoxicated they become. The higher a person's blood alcohol level is, the more severe the effects.


This may include addiction to illegal drugs, such as heroine or cocaine. It may also include addiction to prescription medication, which can have a number of effects. For instance, painkilling opioids can produce a euphoric effect, other medication such as Benzodiazepines can have a calming and relaxing effect, whereas Stimulants can increase alertness and energy.


Gambling addictions can take many different forms, and modern technology has increased opportunities to gamble via the internet and smartphone apps. Individuals may develop an addiction to gambling due to beliefs that they can make money quickly or due to the desire to experience the thrill and excitement associated with gambling where there is risk attached. However, the reality is that most gamblers end up losing money, and sometimes getting into serious debt, along with negative effects on relationships and employment.


Internet use can become compulsive and problematic, to the extent that it starts to affect an individual’s functioning and their relationships. People can develop an addiction for instance, to researching topics on the internet, to chat pages, forums and social networking websites which involve communicating with other people, to ‘blogging’ or ‘vlogging’ which involves posting text or video online.


Also known as compulsive shopping disorder or oniomania. Individuals often shop in person or online as a way of dealing with low mood, anxiety or negative experiences in their life.

What are common signs of addictions?

Symptoms can vary between individuals. But the following are a few example;

  • Changes in work attendance or performance
  • Mood swings, particularly anger and temper outbursts
  • Withdrawal from responsibility
  • Frequent small accidents or mistakes
  • Paranoia or overreaction to criticism
  • Secretive or dishonest behaviour
  • Distraction
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Lack of concern over appearance
  • Tiredness

Getting support for addictions

If you need treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, you are entitled to NHS care in the same way as anyone else who has a health problem. With the right help and support, it is possible to achieve recovery. 

Consult with your GP.  He or she can discuss the situation with you, and advise of appropriate treatment local to you. Benenden members can access our 24/7 GP advice line straight away. 

Sometimes people do not feel comfortable talking to their GP, in which case, you can obtain further information yourself as follows.


Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you are concerned about your own drinking or someone else's drinking, call this free, confidential helpline: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am – 8pm, weekends 11am – 4pm)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. It has a "12-step" programme that involves making recovery with the help of regular support groups.

Al-Anon Family Groups offer support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers, whether they are still drinking or not. Alateen is part of Al-Anon and can be attended by 12- to 17-year-olds who are affected by another person's drinking, usually a parent.

Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of drug and alcohol.


Visit the Frank website to find local drug treatment services, at call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600. They can talk you through all your options.

Charity and private drugs treatment

As well as the NHS, there are charities and private drug and alcohol treatment organisations that can help you.

Visit the Adfam website to see a list of useful organisations:

Private drug treatment can be very expensive but sometimes people get referrals through their local NHS. 


GamCare is the leading national provider of information, advice, support and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

Often there can be underlying psychological problems which can be linked to addictions. It may be appropriate for you to access specialist support for the addictive behaviour first, before accessing talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Counselling.