Substance Use

No one deliberately sets out to become addicted to a substance or an activity — most addictions develop over a period of time and become progressively worse. Addictions cross all social, racial and financial barriers and affect people from adolescence to retirement.

Substance Use

Substance use refers to the use of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs (both prescription and illegal). While it is perfectly acceptable to have a glass of wine on occasion, and of course, to take prescription medication under the advice of a medical professional, it becomes a problem when it is difficult to stop or is causing harm to yourself or others.

Substance use can lead to an addiction. When people use substances or activities to escape or change the way they feel, using can become a habit that can be hard to break.


Addiction is a complex problem that affects an individual's physical and mental health, as well as their family members, friends and their work or school life. Addiction may refer to a substance dependence (e.g. alcohol) or a psychological dependence or behavioural addiction (e.g. gambling). Each refers to a situation where a person becomes dependent upon a particular kind of stimulation (e.g. drugs, sex, gambling) to the point where obtaining a steady supply of it becomes their main focus.

People may come to rely on the effects of the substance or activity to bring short-term relief from difficult or painful feelings or to make problems seem less important.

Signs + Symptoms

  • Inability to stop taking the substance even when trying to stop.
  • Signs of withdrawal when not taking the substance.
    • Including moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, insomnia, trembling, seizures, hallucinations and sweats.
  • Excessive consumption of substance.
    • Including keeping stashes.
  • Secrecy and solitude.
    • Including hiding use or substances.
  • Denial of the problem or refusal to admit to it.
  • Difficulties with the law, finances or relationships.
  • Behavioural and personality changes that are unusual, sudden or unpredictable.
  • Irritability, hostility or anger.

Common Addictions

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Food
  • Shopping
  • Internet
  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Exercise

Fact Sheets

This series of fact sheets has been designed specifically for the Facing Facts campaign. Some simply present the facts while others provide information on supporting someone dealing with addictions or other mental health issues.

Smoking Cessation

If you are a smoker who has tried quitting, you know how difficult it can be. Smoking is very addictive and quitting requires considerable planning, determination and courage. The university’s EFAP program may be able to assist.

View Smoking Cessation Program