Addiction is a strong, uncontrollable need to take drugs, drink alcohol or carry out a particular activity such as gambling.

It becomes the most important thing in your life and leads to problems at home, work and school.

There's no single reason why addictions develop. Regularly drinking alcohol or using other substances, or spending time gambling or on the internet (including porn sites), may be pleasurable or relaxing. Some people experience these feelings particularly intensely and have a strong desire to repeat them more often.

You're more at risk of developing an addiction if:

other members of your family have addiction problems

you experienced stress or abuse while growing up

you have mental health problems

From enjoyment to addiction

Many people regularly use addictive substances or engage in potentially addictive activities, such as gambling or sex, without having major problems.

However, in some people it can cause damaging physical and psychological effects, as their behaviour becomes more frequent and intense and turns into an addiction. This occurs as a result of chemical changes in the brain.

If you carry on using the substance or engaging in the behaviour, your brain and body become tolerant and you need more drugs or to spend more time on the behaviour to get the same effect. What started out as something you can control develops into an uncontrollable need or addiction.

If you try to stop, you'll experience physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms (or both). Withdrawal symptoms are wide-ranging and vary depending on the substance involved but generally you'll experience feelings of discomfort, distress and an intense craving for the substance.

Withdrawal from alcohol is often particularly difficult because it can be complicated by seizures (fits) and hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that don't exist outside the mind).

Treating addiction

There are many organisations that provide help in treating addictions.

Your GP is a good first point of contact. They'll be able to provide you with help and advice and recommend specialist addiction services, both nationally and locally.

Treatment for addiction focuses on the individual and their needs. Talking therapies and medication are recommended treatments. In particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy (MET) have been shown to be very effective in treating addiction problems.

MET is a counselling technique that can help you overcome any ambivalence (mixed feelings) you have about taking part in a treatment programme and stopping your drug use. It's based on the principles of motivational interviewing and aims to draw out self-motivational statements during early discussions. A plan for change can then be made based on a commitment to move forward and find a solution to the problem.

Treatment usually starts by encouraging you to think about how you want to change. It's important your counsellor is non-judgemental and a supportive listener. You need to believe that you want to, and can, overcome your addiction and that your life will be better as a result.

An addiction counsellor will discuss how you see your life in the future, what obstacles you feel you face as you work towards changing, and what you think will help you deal with those obstacles.

The addiction counsellor will also help you understand that stopping a drug or behaviour may involve major lifestyle changes and  support will be needed in the long term to prevent relapse.

It's important to involve family and friends in supporting you to overcome your addiction.