Addiction – what is it?

Addiction – what is it?

Addiction – what is it?

Addiction is not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you.

Addiction is usually associated with gambling, drugs, alcohol and nicotine, but it’s possible to be addicted to just about anything, including prescription medicines and:

  • Work. Workaholics are obsessed with their work to the extent of physical exhaustion. If your relationship, family and social life are suffering and you never take holidays, you may be a work addict.
  • Internet. As computer and mobile phone use has increased, so too have computer and internet addictions. People may spend hours surfing the Internet or gaming while neglecting other aspects of their lives.
  • Solvents. Volatile substance abuse is when you inhale substances such as glue, aerosols, petrol or lighter fuel to give you a feeling of intoxication. Solvent abuse can be fatal.
  • Shopping. Shopping becomes an addiction when you buy things you don’t need or want to achieve a buzz. This is quickly followed by feelings of guilt, shame or despair.

Drugs and alcohol

People use drugs or alcohol to escape, relax or reward themselves. However, over time, drugs and alcohol make you believe that you can’t cope without them, or that you can’t enjoy life without using. The greatest damage is to your self-esteem.


An addiction must meet at least three of the following criteria:

  • Tolerance. Do you use more of, for example, alcohol or drugs over time?
  • Withdrawal. Have you experienced physical or emotional withdrawal when you have stopped using? Have you experienced anxiety, irritability, shakes, sweats, nausea or vomiting? Emotional withdrawal is just as significant as physical withdrawal.
  • Limited control. Do you sometimes drink or use drugs more than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Does one drink lead to more drinks sometimes? Do you ever regret how much you used the day before?
  • Negative consequences. Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job or family?
  • Neglected or postponed activities. Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work or household activities because of your use?
  • Significant time or energy spent. Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning or recovering from your use? Have you spent a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimised your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
  • Desire to cut down. Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?

Are genes to blame?

An overwhelming amount of new research suggests that addiction may well be a genetic disorder. However, just because you are genetically predisposed to an addiction doesn’t necessarily mean that you will eventually become an addict. What it does mean is that your chances of becoming addicted to the associated substance or behaviour upon exposure are that much greater. All the more reason to be extra careful and rather avoid the exposure.

American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV)
World Health Organization (ICD-10).(1)

Revised by M Collins