Dealing with addiction & substance (including alcohol) use disorder

Are you struggling to control your intake of drugs and/ or alcohol?

Addiction refers to repeatedly using a substance (such as alcohol or other drugs) or engaging in an activity (such as gambling or even social media) for pleasure, even though doing so causes harm or interferes with your day-to-day life.

Substance abuse can affect the lives of those caught up in it in ways they might not expect. It can affect your physical and mental health, relationships, jobs and education. Recognising there is a problem with drugs is an important first step in seeking help and treatment.

Types of addiction

Addiction, in its simplest terms, is a strong desire to use a certain substance or to behave in a certain way in order to feel good or to stop feeling bad. Addiction falls into two main categories: physical and psychological.

Physical addiction

This is when your body becomes dependent on a particular substance (e.g., caffeine and energy drinks, cigarettes, alcohol, cannabis, opioids, stimulants – to name just a few). It also often means that you’ve developed a tolerance for the substance, so you have to take more of it to get the effects that you want. If you have a physical addiction, you’ll experience strong symptoms of withdrawal when you try to give it up, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.

Psychological addiction

This is when your craving or urge for a substance or a behaviour comes from an emotional or mental desire, rather than from a physical dependence. It can include things like cravings (which is an intense desire for something), irritability, restlessness, constantly thinking about the substance or a particular behaviour and insomnia. Examples of psychological addictions include gambling, exercise, social media, sex and overeating.

Signs of Addiction

Craving to use the substance or engage in the activity

  • Wanting to cut down or stop but not being able to
  • Taking a substance in larger amounts or for longer than you intended to
  • Neglecting other parts of your life because of the substance or activity
  • Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in your life, for example your relationships with friends and loved ones
  • Using substances even when it puts you in danger


  • Loss of control over drug/alcohol use
  • Investing large amounts of time obtaining substances
  • Cravings
  • Continued use in spite of relationship conflicts
  • Risk-taking, such as using while driving
  • Continued use in the face of developing health problems
  • Increasing tolerance levels
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Withdrawal episodes
  • Failed attempts to stop using
  • Failing to meet obligations (work, home, school)

 And, if you’d like a simple test, see if you can stop using a substance for a year.

There are very effective psychological and medical treatments for Substance Use Disorder as well as co-morbid conditions. These treatments centre around either abstinence or controlled use, depending on the nature of the disorder and the characteristics of the person.

Untreated addiction, including substance use disorder can be harmful to your mental and physical health, your relationships, and your life as a whole. It can even be fatal, so get help as early as possible. Your GP or a doctor can refer you to an addiction’s specialist, a psychologist, a drug and alcohol counsellor or even an addiction program to ensure that you receive the correct and best course of treatment.

Remember that everyone responds differently to treatments and strategies, so figuring out what works for you might take some time. It’s important to keep at it until you find the right fit.

Some thoughts from Luke Foster: Anger outbursts; excessive alcohol use; drug addiction; violence etc are often the surface manifestation (tip of the iceberg stuff) of deeper, underlying issues. I implore you to start asking yourselves “What’s driving this behaviour”, “What is this person/ are you experiencing internally that is showing up as anger, substance misuse, violence?”.

In the mental health space, the solution can often be seen as the problem. Drug use is a perfect example. “He or she has a problem with drugs” – well, in fact, that mightn’t be entirely true, that’s his or her solution (albeit likely the wrong one) or his or her ‘treatment’ of, e.g., a difficult relationship breakdown, unemployment, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) – deep internal fear, mistrust. As Fraud said back in 1895…a bloody long time ago, when he was describing trauma – “This man is suffering from memories”. The drug use, in this example is his solution, remove the drugs, this man will still be suffering from memories! Confusing the solution for the problem can lead to misdiagnosis, and a misdiagnosed client is a mistreated client. You would not want a hip replacement when you’ve torn your hamstring. If you are misusing substances, it’s really important to try and understand why.



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