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Addiction: alcohol, drugs, gambling, exercise, sex and internet

An addiction is a compulsion that is hard to keep in check. It may at first seem harmless, then spiral out of control. People can become addicted to many things.

Alcohol dependency

As alcohol is socially acceptable, it often goes unnoticed that someone has developed a dependency to it for some time, particularly when there is pressure from peers making it hard to say 'no'. Alcohol dependency is much more common in men and can result in socially unacceptable behaviour such as excessive anger and aggression. Alcohol brings down our mood, which can complicate other issues such as depression. Click here for further information.

Drug and substance dependency

It is possible to become dependent on 'over-the-counter' medication as well as illegal drugs. Like alcohol, drug dependency rates are much higher among men. Drug dependency can result in alienation from loved ones, unemployment and criminality. Once the body becomes addicted to a drug, it can be extremely hard to stop. Coming off drugs can be tough on your mind and body. You may experience cramps, fever, headaches and goosebumps as well as many other symptoms.


It can sometimes seem impossible to get away from gambling, with casinos, scratch cards, betting shops and lotteries everywhere, not to mention the internet! It has been estimated that up to 3% of the population is addicted to gambling, and most of them are men. For many, it's the thrill of the risk that provides the biggest incentive – more so than actually winning. Gambling addictions can result in financial ruin, but also depression and suicide as well as having devastating consequences on family relationships and friendships.

The internet

It can be hard to draw the line sometimes between necessary internet use and internet addiction. However, if you feel compelled to go online or your behaviour becomes furtive, or starts to impact on your life – perhaps by disrupting sleep patterns or normal social interactions – it may be time to think about whether you are addicted.


Feeling compelled to excercise or exercising excessively is particularly common among men, and the problem is increasing, perhaps due to increasing pressures on men to have the 'ideal body'. Whether exercise is used as a form of control or due to vanity, it can take over a person's life, at the expense of of family, relationships, a job and finances.

Reasons for developing an addiction

Despite the large amount of research in this area, experts don't fully understand why some people become addicted to some things. It's possible that a number of factors combine, such as:

Genes: some people may be genetically more vulnerable to becoming addicted. Personality may also be a factor.

Childhood and family: childhood experiences may make some people more susceptible to addiction. Abuse in childhood has been linked to addiction later in life.

Social and cultural factors: when things are easily accessible and socially acceptable, it is easier to become addicted to them.

Breaking an addiction

Provided the person with the addiction wishes to stop, there are plenty of resources available:

Self help – Self-help groups can be useful for providing support and keeping people on track. There are also many good books on this subject including those listed below.

  • Recovery from addiction: A practical guide to treatment, and quitting on your own by William Cloud and Robert Granfield
  • Overcoming your addictions by Windy Dryden and Walter Matweychuk
  • Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe
  • 7 tools to beat addiction by Stanton Peele
  • Beat the booze: a comprehensive guide to combating drink problems in all walks of life by Edmund & Helen Tirbutt

Professional help – in the case of drugs, medication may be prescribed by a GP to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, but in most types of addiction, it is important for the person to deal with their addictive thoughts and psychological therapy of some sort is likely to be recommended. This may be counselling or a residential treatment.

Further information

Speak to your GP about help that may be available to you.

Feel free to contact us to ask about psychological therapies available at First Psychology Online that may help support you or someone you know who has an addiction.