Addiction is an illness in which you become dependent on (or can’t do without) a certain physical substance or an activity. It has physical and psychological effects on the body, brain and emotions. People can become addicted through abusing drugs, alcohol, medications, cigarettes and other substances, like glue. Some people get addicted to ‘control-behaviours’ such as using exercise or restricting food to an unhealthy level.

Becoming reliant on these things can result from taking experimentation too far or can be a way to get away from difficult inner feelings, but the substance takes over and risks seriously harming our minds, bodies and relationships. There are better ways to deal with risk-taking and distress, and the first way is always to talk about feelings to a person we trust.

Addiction means a person has lost control over whether he or she uses a drug, drinks or repeats certain behaviours. Substance abuse always alters the brain and our behaviour, often for a long time.

There are many symptoms of being addicted and they can be in any combination or intensity:

  • feeling depressed
  • inability to sleep properly
  • unusual mood swings
  • feeling out of control and unable to focus on school work or any of the things you used to enjoy
  • becoming more secretive and spending a lot of time focusing on the drug (or behaviour) and getting more of it

You might be caught in a pattern of repeating the self-abuse as some withdrawal symptoms (shaking, diarrhoea, feeling generally awful) are so hard to deal with. Sometimes symptoms, such as long term mental loss and depression, can last our whole lives and can seriously affect our relationships, sometimes to the extent that we can’t really relate to anyone anymore.

If you think you may be dependent upon a behaviour or a substance and you are worried you are losing control of your ability to function without continually repeating the abuse, or you are worried about someone else, the first step towards recovery is to acknowledge there is a problem and seek help.

It is sometimes hard to take first steps to help yourself. Talk to someone you trust.  See our pages on risky behaviour, mental health disorders, and mental illness. There is help and once you ask for it you are on the path to regaining your life and mental health.

You might also find these pages on the website Kidshealth helpful.