Substance Use and Addiction

Substance Use vs Addiction

Substance use can refer to the use of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs (both prescription and illegal). 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 oneself or to others; this substance use problem can then lead to an addiction. When people use substances or activities to escape or change the way they feel, using can become a habit which can be hard to break.

Definition of Addiction

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 addiction) or a psychological dependency/behavioral addiction (e.g. gambling addiction). In true addiction, a person becomes dependent upon a particular kind of stimulation (eg drugs, sex, gambling) to the point where obtaining a steady supply of that stimulation becomes the person's 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, and to make problems seem less important.

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.

Common Types of Addiction:

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

Some Signs and Symptoms of Substance Addiction:

  • Cannot stop taking the substance even when attempts to stop have been made.
  • Withdrawal - when not receiving the substance, signs of withdrawal include moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, insomnia, trembling, seizures, hallucinations and sweats.
  • Excessive consumption of substance; keeping stashes
  • Secrecy & solitude - hiding use or substances
  • Denial - being unaware of a problem or refusing to admit to a problem
  • Difficulties with the law, with finances, with relationships
  • Behavioural and personality changes that are unusual, sudden or unpredictable
  • Irritability, hostility or anger outbursts


On Campus

Fact Sheets
This series of fact sheets has been designed specifically for the Facing Facts campaign. Some fact sheets simply present the facts while others are designed to provide information for those who are those wanting to support someone dealing with addictions and other mental health issues.

Off Campus