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