What is Addiction?

What is Addiction

Addiction is the uncontrollable need to consume a substance or engage in a behaviour regardless of the consequences. It’s is a natural part of the human condition. Everyone becomes addicted to something at least once in their lives. It could be alcohol, work, gaming, or just about anything. Most people overcome their compulsions naturally, without the need for any intervention. However, when someone uses substances or behaviours to escape negative emotions or memories, the addiction can be harder to break. Addiction is generally divided into 2 types: Substance and Behavioural.

Substance Addiction

Substance Addiction

Substance addiction is the compulsion to use any mind altering drug. There are numerous types of substances which can elevate mood and detach the user from reality. Some drugs like alcohol or nicotine are legal. Other drugs like heroine or cocaine are strictly illegal. It is also common for people to misuse prescription medication. Benzodiazipines and opioids are the very habit forming.

People have different tolerances and beliefs around substance use. This can cause problems when with diagnosing problematic usage. If someone drinks several beers or glasses of wine every night, he or she might not considered it problematic. However, their family or friends might be very worried. Also, some people might consider it perfectly acceptable to smoke cannabis as they might not consider it to be a drug at all. Learn about the risks of substance addictions here.

Behavioural Addiction

Behavioural Addiction

Behavioural addiction is the compulsion to engage in a certain activity.  It could be gambling, video gaming, watching pornography, fighting, etc. Behavioural dependencies are just as problematic as substance dependencies, even if it less visible. Behavioural addictions such as gambling are hard to detect and often the victim will live 2 lives. One is what they present to their friends and families. The other is their known only to themselves, and perhaps their online account host.

Behavioural dependencies can have a lot of the same physical symptoms as substance dependencies, such as an elevated heart rate, sweating, sleeplessness, and shortness of breath. As with substances, behavioural dependencies can be dangerous. In some cases, even more. Learn about the risks of behavioural addictions here.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis Photo

Dual diagnosis is the co-occurrence of a mental illness and an addiction.  For example, if you have bipolar disorder and you are a heroin addict, you would be referred to as having a dual diagnosis.  The problem with this classification is that it can be very broad.  As addiction is the often the symptom, rather than the problem, it’s possible to diagnosis all addicts with dual diagnosis.  In a formal sense, the term dual diagnosis is usually reserved for someone with a long term mental disorder and a substance addiction.


Some people think that you should treat the substance or behavioural dependency first, then the mental illness. This is a waste of time. You should address both issues together. Think of dual diagnosis like co-occurring injuries. If you had diabetes and broke your arm, you wouldn’t wait until you arm was better to treat the diabetes. Work with dependency and mental illness like this. Also, try to tackle both from the beginning. This can be challenging because of the risk of misuse of medication prescribed for the illness. You will have to monitor this and if necessary, get a support person to keep it and dispense the right amount.