What is ​addiction?

The word “addiction” is often used to refer to any behaviour that is out of control in some way. People often describe themselves as being addicted to, for example, a TV show or shopping. The word is also used to explain the experience of withdrawal when a substance or behaviour is stopped (e.g., “I must be addicted to coffee: I get a headache when I don’t have my cup in the morning”).However, experiencing enjoyment or going through withdrawal do not in themselves mean a person has an addiction.

Because the term “addiction” is commonly used in such a vague way, there have been many attempts to define it more clearly. One simple way of describing addiction is the presence of the 4 Cs:

  • Craving

  • loss of Control of amount or frequency of use 

  • Compulsion to use

  • use despite Consequences.


Why do people keep using substances?

  • The immediate effects of substance use tend to be positive. The person may feel good, have more confidence and forget about his or her problems.
  • The problems caused by substance use might not be obvious for some time.
  • The person may come to rely on substances to bring short-term relief from difficult or painful feelings.
  • Continued substance use, especially heavy use, can cause changes in the body and brain. A person who develops physical dependence and then stops using may experience distressing symptoms of withdrawal.


Signs & Symptoms of A​ddiction

There are two important signs that a person’s substance use is risky, or is already a problem: harmful consequences and loss of control.


Harmful Co​​nsequences

The harms of substance use can affect every aspect of a person’s life. They include:

  • injuries while under the influence
  • feelings of anxiety, irritability or depression
  • trouble thinking clearly
  • blackouts
  • problems with relationships
  • spending money on substances rather than on food, rent or other essentials
  • legal problems related to substance use
  • ​loss of hope, feelings of emptiness.

(Source: Centre for Addiction & Mental Health)