Addiction – Fact File

1 in 3 people are addicted to something. Addiction is when you have no control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you.

The DEA describes psychological dependence as a ‘compulsion that keeps drawing you back to something.’ Positive feelings such as happiness, euphoria and sexual stimulation make the user want to experience those emotions again and therefore they continually pursue them. In regards to drugs and alcohol, when the user cannot get their usual ‘fix’, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as shaking and nausea. With the body becoming addicted to the substance as well as the individual themselves.

Statistics for Drug/Alcohol Consumption (England / Wales): 

  • In England between 2015/2016, there were 8621 hospital admissions with the primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders. This was 6% more than the previous year and 11% more than the figures taken in 2005/2006.
  • In 2015/2016 there were 15,074 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs. These figures were 6% higher than the previous year but 51% higher than those taken in 2005/2006.
  • In England and Wales, there were 2479 registered deaths in relation to drug misuse. This is a 10% increase since 2014 and a 48% increase since 2005. This means that the records are the highest that they have ever been since they began in 1993.
  • In England in 2016, 24% of pupils reported that they had ever taken drugs. This compares to 15% in 2014. It was found that the likelihood of taking drugs increased with age. With 11% of 11-year-olds and 37% of 15-year-olds reporting that they have used drugs at some point within their lives.

What are Recreational Drugs?

Recreational drugs can be, legal, illegal or controlled drugs and therefore they can be easily accessible.

Legal – meaning that they are not against the law and can be bought, sold and consumed without any legal consequences. Drugs under this category include (but are not limited to), nicotine and alcohol.

Illegal – meaning that these drugs are against the law to have or supply to others. Most recreational drugs come under this category. For example, LSD, cannabis (in some countries), heroin, cocaine and so on.

Controlled – these are drugs that are used for medicinal purposes, such as benzodiazepines, antibiotics, morphine and so on. These are perfectly legal substances to take if they have been prescribed by a doctor. However, to take these drugs without a prescription or to provide them to others, would be illegal and you will face criminal charges for such activity.

What Can You Be Addicted To?

It is important to remember that addiction does not only apply to drugs, alcohol and gambling. You can become addicted to more or less anything:

  • Sex
  • Gaming
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Shopping
  • Internet
  • Exercise
  • Stealing
  • Food
  • Porn
  • Self-harming

The above list could go on for much longer. Addiction is serious no matter what it is that you are addicted to as it can affect your day to day life, however, some addictions are much more dangerous than others.

Signs That You Are Experiencing Addiction:

  • The substance or activity is used for much longer periods than intended.
  • You have a desire to cut down and/or unsuccessful attempts to stop using the substance or doing the activity.
  • Pursuing the substance or activity takes up a considerable amount of time out of your day.
  • Using the substance or doing the activity disrupts roles in work, school or at home.
  • Despite interpersonal problems caused by using the substance or doing the activity, you still continue your behaviour.
  • Using/doing continues despite being aware of the physical/emotional damages that they are creating.
  • Tolerance occurs, so using/doing increases over time in order to satisfy your needs.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the substance or doing the activity.

What Causes Addiction?

Addiction can occur for many reasons. In the case of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, these substances have an impact on how we feel physically and mentally. This can create an enjoyable experience for the individual and can result in a powerful urge to use the substances again. Gambling can also have a similar effect, by giving the individual a mental ‘high’ after they win. This is often followed by the urge to try again, in the hope to recreate that buzz. Eventually, this can become a habit which can be hard to stop.

Addiction becomes out of control when the individual needs to take more and more of the substance or engage more in the activity in order for them to achieve the same ‘high’. People may turn to certain behaviours, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, gambling or shopping when they are feeling down or they are going through a rough time, in an attempt to make themselves feel better. These behaviours can become addictive if continued for a long period of time and can become more difficult to stop as time goes by.

There are many other factors that could make an individual more vulnerable to developing an addiction, such as biological and environmental factors (see a full listing here)

Treatment for Addiction:

There are treatments available for addiction and although we hear about rehabilitation for drug/alcohol/gambling addictions, there are also rehabilitation programmes for other forms of addiction too (such as shopping/internet/sex addiction).

In regards to drugs, alcohol and nicotine, rehabilitation programmes tend to start off by putting the individual through detox, slowly removing the substance from them so that they do not experience serious withdrawal symptoms. This only removes the substance from the body, taking away the physical dependence. However, this does not deal with the individual’s mentality, meaning that they can still crave mental highs and are still likely to turn to the substance once they return home. Therefore it is important for rehabilitation centres to provide other forms of treatments, including one to one therapy sessions, group therapies, exercise and possible medications (anti-depressants for example, or a substitute drug for those addicted to things such as heroin).

Talking therapies are designed to change the individual’s mindset so that they no longer want to use/do the thing that they are addicted to anymore. It aims to provide the individual with various coping strategies when they are faced with stress, rather than turning to drugs or alcohol or other methods.

There are many support groups available as well as helplines for addiction, however, it is always advised that if you think you are addicted to something, you contact your GP as soon as possible.


NHS – What is Addiction

Psychology Today – Science of Addiction

MayoClinic – Drug (substance) Addiction – Signs and Symptoms of Various Drug Addictions

NHS – Statistics of Drug Misuse

Mind Charity – About Recreational Drugs

DrugAbuse – Science of Mental Addiction and Tackling the Problem



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