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What is addiction?

Whereas we most commonly associate addictions with alcohol, gambling, drugs and nicotine, we can actually be addicted to many things. The main features are not having control over the doing, taking or using of something to the extent that we can cause ourselves or others harm. Examples include:

• Shopping
• Internet use
• Sexual behaviours
• Work
• Exercise

Some things that cause addiction can create a physical dependence (e.g. nicotine, alcohol and some drugs such as opiates) and for this reason can require medical support with withdrawing and eventually stopping. However, all addictions create some form of ‘reward’, for example alleviation from physical discomfort, a rush of adrenaline, a sense of achievement or feeling ‘high’ and happy and this will result in a withdrawal or come down in its absence. In order to avoid this negative experience, you will look to repeat the behaviour again and again, sometimes with greater and greater intensity. This can become unsustainable and tends to control you and your life rather than you being able to control it.

Anyone can become addicted to something, because of the positive and enjoyable feeling the behaviour can create. However, it is often the case that the addiction is used as a way to cope with some other difficult emotions or thoughts, for example low self-esteem, loneliness or anxiety. For this reason, it is important that you have the time and space to explore what is happening uniquely for you.

Addictions can cause significant difficulties within your relationships, finances and health, but even if you know this, it can be really hard to stop. For this reason, it is important that you seek help.