What is addiction?

Addiction is one of the most misunderstood chronic health conditions. It occurs when someone is unable to stop using a substance or engaging in an activity that causes physical or psychological harm, or impacts on everyday life. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, it affects people of all ages and walks of life.

One in five people in Australia will experience problems with gambling, or the use of drugs and/or alcohol during their lifetime.

There are two common types of addiction, physical and psychological. Both generally involve a compulsion to engage in behaviour or use of substances in an attempt to feel pleasure or to numb pain.


There are some broad signs that may indicate active addiction. These include:

  • Needing to use more of a substance than previously to experience similar effects
  • Withdrawing from friends/family/activities
  • Problems are starting to arise at work or school, eg. you’re late often, not performing as you previously were
  • You have been unsuccessful in your attempts to stop your behaviour/use
  • You’re spending a lot of time thinking about using substances or engaging in behaviours

Think you might have a problem? Take our Am I An Addict quiz.
Concerned for a loved one? Take our Are They An Addict quiz.

Nobody chooses to have an addiction. There are many factors that may lead to an addiction developing. Biological characteristics such as genetics or environmental conditions including life experiences may increase the likelihood of an addiction presenting itself.

How to recognise addiction in family members or friends?

Sometimes it can be difficult to recognise addiction in friends or family. However, possible indications that your friends or family member are using drugs include:

  • Problems at school or work, such as missing lessons or not turning up to the office, or a drop in productivity or grades
  • Physical health issues, such as lacking motivations, weight loss or weight gain, or red eyes
  • Neglected appearance and lack of interest in self-care
  • Changes in behavior, such as becoming hostile to family members and friends
  • Money issues and sudden requests for help without reasonable explanation

Signs and symptoms of drug use may vary depending on the drug being taken, and some addicts will be used to concealing their addictions over fears of being ‘found out’.

Recognising the signs of drug use:

If you are taking drugs, or you fear someone you are in the presence of is on drugs, these are some signs to look out for:

  • A sense of euphoria or feeling high
  • A heightened sense of smell and taste
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased coordination.
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Bad odors on clothes
  • Yellow fingers tips
  • Exaggerated cravings for certain foods at strange times

Possible long-term effects of drug use:

The long-term effects of drug abuse will vary from substance to substance, and from person to person, but below are some of the most common long-term effects you might see in drug addicts:

  • Decreased mental sharpness and difficulty concentrating
  • Poor performance at school or at work
  • Reduced number of friends
  • No interest in recreational activities
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Panic attacks
  • Delirium
  • Psychotic and violent behavior
  • Feeling exhilarated or overconfident
  • Increased alertness
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Increased aggression

The difference between addiction and drug misuse:

It’s important to recognise that not everyone that misuses a substance has a drug addiction. Addiction is the long-term inability to moderate or stop intake, whereas misuse is the one-off use of drugs that provide body and mind-altering effects.

People who misuse drugs on a one-off may be put off by taking the drug again as the harmful side effects of substance abuse become apparent. For example, vomiting or increased blood pressure would deter someone from taking drugs or alcohol.


If you think that you or someone you care about may have a problem with addiction it is recommended that they speak with a health professional. Asking for help is one of the hardest steps for anyone facing addiction, but it is the most important one to start your recovery journey.

At Arrow Health, we offer a range of services including inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs, counselling, detox and withdrawal services, and support for families.

If you would like to chat with us more about addiction please give us a call. We are available 24/7 and here to help.