People can develop an addiction or dependancy to almost anything. Initially they may find enjoyment from engaging in a particular activity (e.g. gambling, gaming, shopping) or from injesting a substance (e.g. alcohol, drugs, caffiene). However, if continued use or participation in this activity becomes a compulsive need or begins to interfere with daily life, it could have become an addiction or dependancy. People with an addiction may not be aware that their behaviour is out of control or of the effect that they are having on others.

Addiction can develop as a result of a variety of circumstances; in reaction to stress, as a way of coping with other difficulties or because of environmental factors, such as pressure from others. This can then develop into a physical dependacy which continues to further affect their lives. Professional support can make all the difference in overcoming an addiction or dependancy.

People can become addicted or dependant upon a variety of things:

  • alcohol
  • drugs
  • gambling
  • work
  • shopping
  • gaming
  • plastic surgery
  • nicotine

Emotional distress and substance use

When emotional health is suffering it is not unusual to turn to substances such as alcohol or drugs to try to alleviate stress and seek some respite from the symptoms. However, for some people the respite provided by the alcohol or drug can then become problematic in itself; this solution to coping with problems can then become the problem.  Use of alcohol or drugs can quickly spiral out of our control; for example, a daily glass of wine to help us cope can then become two or three glasses.  Our bodies quickly become used to ingesting a substance and adapt, needing more of a substance to create the same effect and we can feel unwell if we don’t use the substance because our body has adapted to need it in order to function. This results in us being unwell if we try to abstain in addition to experiencing the original emotional difficulties which may well feel intensified in the absence of alcohol or drugs. This is a frightening spiral of physical and psychological addiction in which people can feel trapped.


Traditionally, addiction services frequently focus on the physical aspects of addiction and utilise the 12-step model in order to address the use of substances.  There is usually also a psychosocial component to recovery and treatment can range from inpatient to outpatient.

In contrast, psychology input focuses on the reasons why individuals turn to substances in the first place in addition to addressing the addiction and focusing on relapse prevention.  Much work on relapse prevention is based on Marlatt and Gordon’s cognitive behavioural model and Psychologists often use a motivational interviewing approach in their work.  In addition, the use of dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) components to address emotional dysregulation and distress tolerance are helpful.   These approaches are evidence based and have a wealth of research supporting their efficacy in working with addictions.  These approaches, together with models used to address the emotional disturbance which led to the addiction, combine to form holistic treatment.