“When I was depressed or feeling anxious, I used a natural coping mechanism. In other words, I had a drink or two. Alcohol was great because it settled the anxiety and made me feel better for a while. It's only in hindsight I can see that wasn't a solution, it was just adding to the problem.”
People rely on substances for many reasons: for fun, to be social with friends, to deal with stressful situations, or to escape from other things going on in their lives.
Misuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs puts you at risk of physical and psychological harm, both short-term and long-term. Addictions aren’t limited to alcohol and drugs; they include gambling, smoking, shopping, gaming, and sex, among other things.
With all addictive disorders, you can develop strong cravings, find it hard to cut down, or experience withdrawal when you do. Substance and other addictions can put you at risk of developing mental health conditions, or make existing mental health conditions much worse.
To find out if you have an addictive disorder, you will need to have an assessment with a health professional, like a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.
We have some information on seeking professional support that can help you get started. Or you can take a look at the resources below.
When does an addictive behaviour become a problem?
You may spend a lot of time involved in your addictive behaviour, thinking about doing it, or recovering from its effects. With substances, over time you may need to consume more than you used to, to get the same satisfaction. You may have problems at work, or constant fights with your partner because of your addiction. You might find yourself lying about your addiction, or making excuses for it. Another sign is taking dangerous risks.
An addiction also becomes a problem when you feel distressed about it, it puts you in danger physically or emotionally, or it affects your ability to care for yourself. You may want to think about seeking advice if you identify with any of these problems, or if you experience negative effects when you stop.
A closer look
Alcohol use is really common in Australia
Strategies for improvement and recovery
Substance use disorders and mental health problems often go hand in hand
Around 800,000 Australians experience an addictive or substance use disorder
Brain functioning of gambling addiction looks similar to substance addiction
Taking action for change
The first thing to do is to take note of how much you are using, and when. Creating a recovery plan with help from a family member, friend or support service can be useful. This plan may include online self-help programs, and advice and support from other organisations or local community services. Treating any underlying mental health conditions is crucial, and may include counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy, or medication.
If you are using from time to time, you could try some self-help strategies like relaxation techniques. It’s critical to spend time with friends and family who do not promote or enable your addiction. Taking care of your physical health is also important.
If you have a serious addiction, and you've tried to stop your addictive behaviour but can't, it's important to seek professional support.
Helping someone with an addictive disorder
Partners, families, and friends can play an active role in recovery by learning about the addiction, encouraging better habits, and being supportive. This can make all the difference in overcoming the problem. Accepting that there may be a relapse on the road to recovery from addictive disorders is also important.
When someone is taking steps to reduce or stop an addiction, you can show your support. It helps to encourage and motivate the person, and avoid enabling addictive behaviour with money or opportunities for the activity.
If you are involved in supporting someone experiencing an addiction, it is important to look after yourself as well. You can find more information on our support for carers page.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool.