Addictions & Substance Use

What Are Addictions & Substance Use?

You might hear the word "addiction" being used frequently in your daily life, such as someone saying they are "addicted" to a certain TV show or to talk about something they really enjoy.

An actual addiction is a mental illness that includes a craving for a certain substance like alcohol and drugs or behaviours like gambling. This leads to a person depending on something as an uncontrollable habit which interferes with their daily life.

Someone with an addiction will usually have:

  • Continuous cravings

  • Difficulty controlling how often or how much they use

  • Urges to continue using

  • Ignore the problems despite consequences

What Causes Addictions & Substance Use?

Developing an addiction can be a gradual process and depends on a variety of factors. It is not a "black" and "white" category where people are either addicted to something or not. While someone with the proper resources is able to get help with their addiction, they can also struggle and fluctuate on the spectrum of addiction over time.

Genetics: Some people may be subjected to the addictive properties of substances if it runs in families.

Brain Chemicals: Certain chemical imbalances in the brain or structures of the brain may cause some individuals to have a higher chance of seeking "rewards" associated with addictions.

Environment: Family and communities play a large role in influencing the behaviours of an individual. Some people may be more likely to develop an addiction if exposed to substances in their communities or are socially isolated.

Mental Health Issues: Many people with substance use issues have also dealt with mental health issues at some point in their life. Substance use can also worsen the effects of mental illnesses.

Coping with thoughts and feelings: Some individuals may rely on substances as a coping mechanism to avoid or regulate unwanted emotions.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms?

Many of the signs associated with addictions are related to a loss of self-control:

  • Increased feelings of anxiety, irritability, and depression

  • Trouble thinking clearly

  • Lying about behaviours and substance use

  • Relationship changes with family and friends

  • Spending money on substances rather than necessities

  • Neglecting responsibilities

  • Withdrawing from activities

  • Lack of self-care

  • Physical changes to appearance or health

What Can I Do To Help?

Addictions take place in many forms, and the types of treatment available differ from person to person. Some people may not feel comfortable seeking help right away or are afraid of the consequences of getting help. Treatment options can include:

Self-help & Support groups: Self-guided or group programs that help people learn about the effects of alcohol, drugs, and substances that support people in making informed choices. Some treatment programs may also offer support for family members.

Medications: Talking to a doctor or health professional to help manage withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

Harm reduction: Helping people learn safer ways to use substances (safe injection kits), recognize signs of overdose, providing medical care.

Counselling: Talking to a counselor to make steps toward developing a treatment plan and to reduce triggers.

It is always best to talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you might have. This page should not be used as a resource to self-diagnose. 

Addictions & Substance Use Infographics & Tip Sheets

Click one of the topics below to download and print our sheets or click here to view more of our infographics. 

5 Tips For Supporting Someone With An Addiction