Addiction is a compulsion to use a certain substance or participate in particular behaviour in order to feel good, or avoid feeling bad.

Substance addiction

ReachOut Parents Youth Mental HealthSubstance addiction to things like alcohol, nicotine and drugs (both illegal and prescription) can form as a result of either a physical or psychological dependency.

Behavioural addiction

Behavioural addiction can be divided into two categories:

  • Physical dependency is when someone becomes addicted to something that alters their brain chemistry. The body develops a hunger for the substance and suffers withdrawal symptoms until it can get more of it.
  • Psychological addiction occurs when the brain becomes dependent on the feel-good feeling produced when taking a substance or indulging in certain behaviours.

How does someone become an addict?

Addiction is actually quite logical. If something gives you positive re-enforcement, or brings you pleasure it’s only natural to want to do it/take it again.

It becomes an issue when the pattern is repeated to block out negative feelings. This is especially the case, if life begins to revolve round the hit or emotional high. Everyone has the potential to become an addict.


Teenagers may begin experimenting with alcohol and or drugs (sometimes in response to peer pressure). In a small number of cases this may spiral out of control.

Seen as a way to cope

Some people overindulge in substances when they’re not feeling content. Often there are underlying difficulties that can spark off addiction.

Examples include problems at school, college or work, loss, trauma, abuse or even something as simple as self-esteem issues.

Signs of addiction

These aren’t definite indicators, only something to look out for if you’re concerned.

Tips for parents


Set firm rules and expectations around behaviour. Your son/daughter should be clear about your stance on alcohol, drugs, gambling etc. Your son/daughter may have questions about the use of alcohol or drugs. Make sure they feel comfortable talking to you about these issues.

Be an example

Parents need to be mindful of examples they set. Young people are likely to play closer attention to what their parents do, than what they say. Try to model the behaviour you would like to see in your son or daughter.


Don’t ignore underlying issues. As parents, it can be tempting to overlook or dismiss young people’s complaints about stress, worries or concerns. It’s important to have open communication and really listen without judging.

Worried about your son/daughter?

If you suspect your son/daughter is dependent on a substance or behaviour there is help available.

Consider getting advice or speaking to someone, such as your GP. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about their behaviour, you could also consider getting advice or speaking to someone online.

Help yourself

Make sure you look after yourself. Drawing on support from friends and family if you need it. You’ll only be able to help your child if you’re minding yourself.


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