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Difficult to define, addiction broadly means a kind of dependence on something. Common addictions include alcohol, gambling and drugs, but in rare cases people can also become addicted to hobbies like gaming and shopping. Addiction creates dysfunctional systems in families and relationships, as well as causing harm to the addicted person.

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Types of addiction

Drug addiction

Compulsive drug-taking can be an escape valve for difficult feelings and stresses, but by avoiding unpleasant feelings, a person puts their relationships, friendships, work, creativity and security on the line. People who use drugs regularly might typically take cocaine, weed, steroids, prescription painkillers, legal highs or ketamine but crack cocaine, benzos (such as Xanax), kratom, heroin, and speed are also used alone or alongside these drugs. Regardless of what drugs you use, specialist doctors and therapists can advise on how to treat the underlying problem that sustains drug addiction. 

Alcohol addiction

Drinking more than 14 units (seven pints, 14 small measures or a bottle and half of wine) on a regular basis puts a person over the threshold for alcohol misuse. If a person’s drinking habits affect their ability to work, enjoy relationships and hobbies or keep themselves and loved ones safe, they might benefit from outside help and support. Seeing a therapist about the reasons for drinking more than you want or need to can help express the feelings under the behaviours, expose bingeing cycles, and look ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings that don’t rely on alcohol. 

Gaming addiction

The UK’s first service for internet and gaming ‘disorders’ opened in 2019, a sign of how seriously the NHS takes under-25s’ vulnerability to gaming and social media. Although gaming is not physically addictive, dependence on gaming to cope with stress affects people’s ability to work, study, and maintain relationships. Therapists are increasingly skilled in supporting adults and children who are worried about the amount of time they spend gaming or on social media, and how their relationship with gaming or social media is affecting other parts of their lives.

Sex addiction

Sex addiction, perhaps more accurately called sexual dependency, describes sexual behaviour that feels dangerous and compulsive. People with experience of compulsive sexual behaviour sometimes attribute it to unhappy sexual experiences such as abuse or assault. For people worried about dangerous or compulsive sexual behaviour, therapy can be a good place to discuss desires, fears and memories without judgement. 

Shopping addiction

Although shopping is not physically addictive, when spending gets out of control the consequences can be devastating. Therapy is an excellent place to discuss the feelings before and after spending money, explore the client’s relationship with money, and ask how they can address compulsive spending. 

How many people have addiction problems? 

It is estimated that 1 in 3 people in the UK are addicted to something. The latest figures for the UK show that around 268,000 adults are in treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. 

What are the causes of addiction?

There are many reasons for addictions. With drugs, alcohol and nicotine, the substances themselves affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These feelings are often enjoyable and activate the body’s reward system triggering a powerful incentive to use them again. 

Gambling, shopping or sex result in a similar mental "high" which can develop into a habit that becomes hard to stop.

The state of addiction also means that when a person doesn’t satisfy their addiction, they suffer from withdrawal symptoms, which range in severity from an inability to concentrate, or depression, all the way through to nausea and vomiting and even death. Because of the unpleasantness of this “come down,” it's easier to carry on having or doing what you are addicted to. 

What are the treatments for addiction?

Addictions are treatable. However, the treatment varies depending on what type of addiction a person is struggling with. Alcohol and drug addiction for example often require a mixture of medications and talking therapy.

Am I an addict? What to do if you have an addiction?

If you feel you may be addicted to something, speak to one of expert psychiatrists, psychologists or psychotherapists who are expert in helping people with addictions and they will provide you the support you need.

Other helpful resources for people affected by addiction

We Are With You

Formerly Addaction UK, this charity provides confidential advice and information for alcohol and drug addiction, and mental health concerns after addiction


A network of specialists and professionals advocating for treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous

The first twelve-step programme, these confidential groups offer a place to share and be accountable, and inspired similar programmes for Narcotics Anonymous (UKNA), Sex Addictions Anonymous (SAA)and others.

Click here to see practitioners who specialise in addiction.