Whatever the addiction may be, the person cannot control how they use it, or become dependant on it to get through daily life. Some people use substances on a regular basis without any problems. Other people experience damaging psychological and physical effects, as a habit turns into an addiction. Being unable to control how you use a substance can also put a lot of strain on relationships with others, and cause problems at work, school or home.
There's no single reason why addictions develop. Addictions to substances such as alcohol, drugs and nicotine change the way we feel both mentally and physically which some people enjoy and feel a strong desire to repeat. Activities such as gambling may causes a 'high' on winning, followed by a desire to repeat the success. This can happen over again and eventually become a habit that can't be broken because it's become a regular part of life.
Being addicted to a substance usually means you have become dependent on it to some degree. Not having the substance you enjoy (withdrawal) becomes less pleasant than having it. The more you use it, the more tolerant the body becomes, until you need to use larger and more frequent amounts of the substance to get the same effect.
Children who grow up in homes where there is alcohol or drug abuse may be more likely to develop addictions. Unemployment, poverty and lack of education can trigger addictions to develop, as can stress and professional or emotional pressure. Indulging in the addiction can be a short-term way of dealing with and forgetting about difficult issues.
There are many different organisations in the UK that provide treatment, support and advice for people with addictions. A lot of people choose to consult their GP first, but help is also available from community addiction centres where you can drop in without an appointment. Treatment and support is provided from a range of different people, including specialist addiction nurses, counsellors and psychiatrists. There are also websites and help lines if you'd rather access information or discuss the problem anonymously, and local support groups where you can meet other people with similar experiences.
The information shown here is Crown copyright and has been reproduced with the permission of NHS Direct. Last updated June 2007.