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An estimated two million people in the UK have an addiction to some form of substance or activity. Addiction is a complex illness with physical and psychological symptoms, affecting not only the patient, but their family, friends and social environment too.

Understanding Addiction

The conceptions and misconceptions about various addictions that affect people in the UK.

  • Addiction: what is it? - Addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you.
  • What causes addictions? - There are lots of reasons why addictions begin. In the case of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, these substances affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These feelings can be enjoyable and create a powerful urge to use the substances again.
  • How addictions can affect you - The strain of managing an addiction can seriously damage your work life and relationships. In the case of substance abuse (for example, drugs and alcohol), an addiction can have serious psychological and physical effects.
  • Getting help for addictions - Addiction is a treatable condition. Whatever the addiction, there are lots of ways you can seek help.

Types Of Addiction

People can be addicted to many different substances, from alcohol and illegal drugs to prescription medicines, as well as to some types of behaviour.

  • Alcohol - Alcohol has been an important part of our society and culture for many centuries. Across the UK, people of all ages may have an intimate relationship with alcohol, with both positive as well as negative effects in the short and longer term.
  • Amphetamines - Speed is the street name for drugs based on amphetamine, and is a stimulant drug. It's usually an off-white or pink powder that's either dabbed on to gums, snorted or swallowed in paper.
  • Cannabis -  also known as marijuana, weed or grass, Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK, although its use in recent years has fallen.
  • Cocaine - renowned for being one of the most dangerous drugs.
  • Ecstasy - Ecstasy is a "psychedelic" stimulant drug usually sold as tablets, but it's sometimes dabbed on to gums or snorted in its powder form. It's also known as MDMA or "crystal".
  • Gambling - people gamble for a whole range of reasons. While gambling moderately is not a problem, gambling can become an addiction and can be harmful to our mental health.
  • Heroin - renowned for being one of the most dangerous drugs.
  • LSD - one of the most powerful hallucinogens known.
  • Legal highs - find out about the health risks of legal highs and when to seek medical help.
  • Mephedrone and naphyrone - stimulants with effects similar to amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine.
  • Methadone - a mimic of heroin used to combat addiction.
  • Nicotine - one of the most powerfully addictive drugs.
  • Painkillers - sometimes known as a silent addiction.
  • Prozac - over 35 million people worldwide have been prescribed this antidepressant.
  • Sex addiction - six per cent or more of the population experience sex addiction.

There is a wide range of advice, treatment and support services for addiction in the UK, which anyone with a substance-related problem should have access to. Ask your GP for details. Most local community drug units also run drop-in centres, which don’t require referral from a doctor. You should be able to find information about these on the internet or ask at your doctors’ surgery.

Contact Numbers For Help With Addictions

This section provides a list of support agencies and charities that can help people who have an addiction. The list is by no means exhaustive.


Alcohol Concern - National agency on alcohol misuse.

Alcoholics Anonymous - Information, advice and support to help people recover from alcoholism.

AL-ANON Family Groups UK and Eire - Helps and supports families and friends of alcoholics.

Alcohol Focus Scotland - Provides information and advice on alcohol issues.

British Liver Trust - Support for adults with liver disease.

Drinkline – The National Alcohol Helpline

  • Helpline: 0300 123 1110

Institute of Alcohol Studies - Aims to increase knowledge of alcohol misuse.

National Association for Children of Alcoholics - Addresses the problems faced by children growing up in families where one or both parents are alcoholics or have a similar addictive problem.


Cocaine Anonymous - Helps with the personal recovery of individual drug addicts.

Council for Information on Tranquillisers, Antidepressants, and Painkillers - Information and support for people addicted to prescription tranquillisers.

Families Anonymous - A self-help group based on the 12-step programme for families of drug abusers.

HIT - A drug training, information and publications service for individuals, community groups, health and social care agencies.

Hope UK - Resources and training events for parents, teachers and youth leaders.

Mentor UK - Supports those working with young people to implement drug prevention initiatives.

Narcotics Anonymous - Information, publications and support, using the 12-step approach to drug addiction.

Parents Against Drug Abuse (PADA) - Support for the parents and families of drug users.

Release - Training on drugs and the law, plus advice for legal emergencies.

Re-solv - Information, online training and publications to help prevent solvent and volatile substance abuse.

Scottish Drugs Forum - Drugs policy and information agency coordinating effective response to drug use in Scotland.

Talk to Frank - Email and telephone support for young people, parents and carers concerned about drugs.

Alcohol and Drugs

Addaction - Information and advice to help individuals and communities manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.

ADFAM National - Support for families affected by drugs and alcohol. Also runs direct support services at London prisons for families of prisoners with drug problems.

The Site - Links and articles for young adults about drugs and alcohol. Also provides online email advice service.

Turning Point - Services for people affected by drug and alcohol misuse.


ASH - Information on the effects of smoking on health, its costs and current legislation.

ASH Scotland

Cancer Laryngectomee Trust - Provides a telephone service for people with cancer of the larynx.

Giving up smoking - NHS website providing advice on how to quit smoking.

Cancer Research UK - Information on lung cancer.

National No Smoking Day UK - Support for people who want to stop smoking.

QUIT - Information and an online email service to help smokers quit. Includes advice for young people, pregnant women and health professionals.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation - Provides information, support and an advocacy service for people affected by lung cancer.

Other Addictions

Gamblers Anonymous UK - Support group offering help and advice for compulsive gamblers.

GamCare - Provides information and counselling services to gamblers and their families.

Overeaters Anonymous - Support for people with eating disorders using a 12-step approach.

Beat - Helplines for people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and their families and friends.

General Help

Hypnotherapy Directory - Find a local Hypnotherapist

Disclaimer:  All content within Women's Work (Derbyshire) Ltd Health & Wellbeing pages are provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional.  Women's Work (Derbyshire) Ltd is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the Women's Work (Derbyshire) Ltd Health & Wellbeing pages. Women's Work (Derbyshire) Ltd is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.

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