What is Addiction?

addiction substance use Jul 07, 2023

Addiction is marked by a loss of control over the substance or behaviour, leading to harmful consequences for the individual's physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. It is important to differentiate between reasonable use, risky use, and restricting use to comprehend the spectrum of addiction.

Reasonable use refers to the responsible and moderate consumption of substances or engagement in behaviours that do not result in negative outcomes or significant interference with one's daily functioning. For example, having a glass of wine with dinner or enjoying occasional social media use can be considered reasonable use.

Risky use occurs when an individual starts to experience negative consequences but continues to engage in the behavior or substance use. This may include increased alcohol consumption that may impair judgment, leading to risky behaviours or gambling more than they would like.

Restricting use refers to substance use or unhelpful behaviours that cause significant harm or negative impacts. For instance, someone who recognises that their excessive gaming is interfering with work or relationships or regular gambling that starts to affect personal finances could be considered restricting. 


A helpful guideline most healthcare professionals use to identify addiction is the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition (DSM-V-TR).

Addiction is described as meeting at least two of a set of criteria over a 12-month period:

  • Consuming/doing more of the substance/behaviour and for longer than was originally intended.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop, or have tried unsuccessfully to cut down or stop.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about, seeking out, using, or coming down from a substance.
  • Experiencing cravings or a strong desire to use or act out.
  • Using or acting out is getting in the way of being able to fully engage in work, relationships or
    daily duties.
  • Continuing to use or act out despite it negatively impacting on or causing problems for you socially and interpersonally.
  • Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced due to using.
  • Using or acting out is impacting on your physical safety or well-being.
  • Continuing to use even when there are physical or psychological problems that were likely caused or exacerbated by using the substance or doing the behaviour.
  • Noticing a tolerance to the substance or, noticing you feel you need more of the substance or, doing a higher risk-taking behaviour to get the same buzz or, having the same amount doesn't impact you as much as before.
  • And finally, experiencing withdrawals from the substance you have used


Be sure to watch the "What is Addiction" On-Demand Topic available on our website to learn more about addiction and how you can start making changes in your life.