Types of addiction and getting support

Pablo Vandenabelle
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK
29 July 2020
Next review due July 2023

Addiction is common, with one in three people thought to be addicted to something.

Addiction can be defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something. The pattern of behaviour has negative consequences for both the individual and those around them. Addiction is usually associated with a compulsive need for a substance, such as alcohol, nicotine or drugs. But it’s possible to become addicted to almost anything, such as love, work, shopping or social media.

Here, I look at types of addiction and what support is available for you or a loved one who may be struggling with it.

What causes addiction?

Addictions begin for all sorts of reasons. Drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect the way you feel, creating enjoyment, relaxation or loss of inhibition. This causes people to have an urge to use it again, to try and recreate those feelings.

Some drugs and gambling result in mental ‘highs’. This is usually followed by a strong urge to do it again. Once this has developed into a habit, it becomes very hard to stop.

If you’re addicted to something, you lose the ability to choose freely whether to stop or continue the behaviour. You may crave or urge it, and not having it causes withdrawal symptoms. These can be unpleasant, so you may think it’s easier to continue the behaviour, and it becomes hard to break the cycle.

Types of addiction


Alcohol is widely consumed and easy to buy. Nevertheless, it’s a highly addictive substance and can cause many health problems, both physically and mentally. It can also affect relationships with those around you and your work.

If you’re dependent on alcohol, you’ll crave it and have a high tolerance for it (you have to drink a lot to feel drunk and won’t have a hangover the next day). You will also continue to drink even when you know that doing so has harmful consequences.

There are many support groups and treatment plans to overcome alcohol dependency. Alcoholics Anonymous offers advice how to start your road to recovery.

Joshua shares his story about his recovery from alcohol addiction.

Drug addiction

Both illegal and prescription drugs can become addictive.

Some people can take recreational drugs occasionally, without having an urge to do it again. But some people can become ‘hooked’ and are unable to control their urge to take the substance. Regular use of powerful drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, often lead to devastating addiction.

Prescription painkillers are often prescribed to those with chronic pain, but they should only be used for a short amount of time. This is because they can be addictive, and it can become very hard to stop taking them.

As well as resulting in health issues, mentally and physically, drug addiction can lead to:

  • the breakdown of relationships
  • losing your job
  • financial struggles
  • homelessness

If you have a drug addiction, or know someone who does, get support to find the right treatment. Contact your GP, your local NHS drug and alcohol service, or a drug support organisation such as:


If you regularly gamble, you can become addicted to the thrill of the game. As time passes, you can become obsessed with gambling and the anticipation of winning. This addiction is often referred to as a ‘hidden’ addiction because there are no physical signs and it’s easier to keep it secret.

Gambling can result in serious debt and financial problems, having an impact on both the individual and their family.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a gambling addiction, you can seek support and advice from GamCare.

Food addictions

Food addiction and some eating disorders are closely linked, sharing many characteristics. These include things such as loss of control and continuing the behaviour even when the person knows it has negative consequences.

For example, binge eating and compulsive eating of foods high in fat and sugar activate the brain’s reward system in the same way drugs and alcohol do.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of food addiction or a specific eating disorder, Beat is a charity that has a wide range of information, advice and support.

Other addictions

Addiction can come in many forms. Gaming, shopping, sex, pornography, work and hording can all become addictive. The similarity is the hold these addictions can have over people, their life and their family’s lives.

There are many support charities and organisations that offer advice and routes to recovery. Action on Addiction is a great resource for anyone with any form of addiction. Remember, your GP is there to see you about all aspects of your physical and mental health, including addiction. Making an appointment can be a good first step towards recovery.

Coronavirus and addiction

The last few months have been incredibly challenging, with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Many people with addiction have struggled to control their behaviours and thousands in recovery have relapsed during this time.

In a recent survey, 39 percent of people in recovery said they have experienced a relapse or a re-occurrence of their addictive behaviour since lockdown.

Lockdown meant many people in recovery lost control of day-to-day life. For example, not having to go to work, unable to go to the gym or attend support groups. This led to thousands falling back into previous patterns of perhaps drinking, smoking or taking drugs.

Being stuck at home fuelled addictions such as gaming, gambling, social media or eating disorders. Those in a household that was stockpiling food suddenly had urges to binge or overeat.

If the coronavirus pandemic has caused you or someone you know to relapse, or your addiction has become out of control, seek advice and support. The current climate has had a huge impact on people’s mental health overall, with addiction being no exception.

Pablo Vandenabelle
Pablo Vandenabeele
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK

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