At UKAT London Clinic, we recognise that addiction can affect even the most successful and seemingly well-adjusted individuals. It does not discriminate by social status, economic background or personal achievements, but its impacts can be equally damaging across all demographics.

Our approach to addiction treatment is built on the latest scientific research, compassionate care and a deep understanding that addiction is a uniquely personal experience. However, understanding what drives addiction, its various forms and how it co-exists with other mental health disorders enables us to deliver comprehensive and effective addiction treatment.

Man suffering from addiction

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex, multifaceted condition characterised by the compulsive use of substances or engagement in behaviours despite adverse consequences. While addiction was previously looked at as a moral failing or a lack of willpower, it is now recognised medically as a chronic brain disorder that involves complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment and a person’s individual life experiences.

Common forms of addiction

Addiction can manifest in various forms, primarily categorised into substance use disorders and behavioural (or process) addictions. Both categories involve compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences and can have profound psychological and physical impacts.

Substance use disorders

Alcohol addiction
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, involves uncontrolled drinking that leads to health problems and negative social, occupational or legal consequences. It is one of the most difficult addictions to identify, as drinking is such a deeply ingrained aspect of society.

Alcohol use disorder is common both in the UK and worldwide, with over 120,000 people receiving treatment for alcohol addiction in 2022/23 in England alone. However, the true number of people addicted to alcohol in England is estimated to be around 600,000.

Nicotine addiction
Nicotine addiction is another of the most common types of addiction globally. It is notoriously difficult to overcome due to the high availability and social acceptance of tobacco in many forms.
In recent years, the UK has seen a decline in nicotine addiction due to the declining number of cigarette smokers. Still, the emerging popularity of vaping, particularly among young people, is threatening to replace those numbers.
Opioid/opiate addiction
The terms “opioid” and “opiate” are often used interchangeably, but they are subtly different. Opioids are a broad class of synthetic drugs that include the illegal drugs heroin and fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Opiates refer specifically to natural opioid compounds derived directly from the opium poppy plant, such as morphine and codeine. Addiction can develop from both medical and non-medical use and is the biggest cause of drug-related deaths in the UK, with 46% of fatalities in 2022 involving an opiate or opioid.
Prescription drug addiction
This encompasses several classes of medication, including opioids, sedatives, hypnotics like benzodiazepines and stimulants such as those used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Prescription drug addiction is often misunderstood, with some people wrongly believing that they are less dangerous than illicit drugs. In reality, they can be equally if not more dangerous, with the US opioid crisis serving as a stark reminder of prescription drugs’ potential for addiction and harm.

Cannabis addiction
While often debated for its addictive qualities, cannabis use disorder is increasingly recognised, often characterised by strong physical and psychological dependencies.

The number of cannabis users in the UK has remained consistently high over the past decades, with many users underestimating the potential for addiction and related issues.

Stimulants addiction
This includes illegal substances like cocaine and methamphetamine and prescription stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate, which are used to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Stimulant abuse and addiction can have serious health impacts, particularly on the heart and cardiovascular system as well as psychological issues such as paranoia, anxiety and aggressive behaviours.

Hallucinogens addiction
Hallucinogens, including substances like LSD, psilocybin and DMT, are known for altering perceptions, thoughts and feelings.

While not traditionally associated with physical dependency, the psychological impact of these drugs can lead to users becoming dependent on the altered states of consciousness these drugs provide.

Legal high addiction
Legal highs, also known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), are substances designed to replicate the effects of illegal drugs while avoiding classification as illegal. These include synthetic cannabinoids (often marketed as “spice”), synthetic cathinones (sometimes known as “bath salts”) and other chemically altered compounds that mimic drugs like cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine.

Legal highs can be highly addictive and unpredictable due to the lack of clinical testing and regulation and can be potentially more potent than the drugs they aim to replace.

Behavioural addictions

Behavioural addictions, also known as process addictions, involve compulsive behaviours that are just as impactful as substance use disorders. These addictions engage the brain’s reward system and can lead to significant issues. Common behavioural addictions include:

Gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is characterised by the compulsive need to continue gambling despite detrimental personal and financial consequences. It often begins with recreational or occasional gambling but can quickly capture individuals in a vicious cycle of chasing losses.
In the UK, the Gambling Commission revised its estimate of problem gamblers from 0.3% of the adult population to 2.5%. If this eight-fold increase is correct, as many as 1.3 million adults in Britain could need professional help.

Internet addiction

This modern addiction eclipses the real world with the digital, leading to a disconnect from tangible relationships and real-life responsibilities. Internet addiction can manifest through social media use, endless scrolling and a dependency on online relationships.

In the UK, as across the world, internet addiction rates have been rising dramatically in recent years, particularly with the explosion of social media, with many individuals finding themselves lost in virtual spaces for hours.

Sex addiction

Sex addiction manifests as persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour despite increasing negative consequences. It often stems from deeper emotional turmoil and dissatisfaction but can escalate to the point where personal relationships and professional lives are significantly jeopardised.

Sex addiction can make it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships as the compulsive behaviour often leads to secrecy and infidelity. Individuals may struggle with guilt, shame and a profound sense of isolation, which can exacerbate the underlying emotional issues driving the sex addiction.

Shopping addiction

Also known as compulsive buying, shopping addiction is characterised by an overwhelming urge to shop and spending excessive amounts on purchases as a way to relieve stress or improve mood. It goes beyond simple “retail therapy”, triggering a relentless pursuit of the next purchase which helps to temporarily fill an emotional void with material goods.

Shopping addiction can lead to mountainous debt and homes cluttered with unneeded items, each purchase adding to a spiral of guilt and financial ruin.

Video game addiction

Often seen as part of an overarching internet addiction, gaming addiction creates a refuge from reality where virtual achievements or relationships overshadow real-world responsibilities. It can lead to severe social isolation and a decline in physical health as the virtual world takes precedence over everything else.
The UK saw official recognition of this issue when the NHS opened its first clinic for gaming addiction in 2019, with hundreds now treated across the country by both the NHS and private clinics every year.
Understanding the wide range of addictive behaviours is crucial for recognising the signs and symptoms of addiction in individuals. This knowledge forms the basis for our tailored treatment approaches at UKAT London Clinic, where we address each client’s specific needs by considering the type of addiction and the unique circumstances of their situation.

How is addiction defined>

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), characterises drug and alcohol addiction as a pattern of using substances that leads to significant impairment or distress. A diagnosis is based on the presence of at least two of the following eleven addiction symptoms within a 12-month period:

  • Substances are taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use or recover from the substance’s effects.
  • Cravings or a strong desire or urge to use the substance.
  • Recurrent substance use results in a failure to fulfil major role obligations at work, school or home.
    Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.
  • Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.
  • Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance or the substance (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Behavioural addictions in DSM-5

While the DSM-5 primarily focuses on substance-related disorders, it also includes criteria for behavioural addictions, recognising them under the category of non-substance-related disorders.

Currently, the only behavioural addiction officially recognised as a distinct disorder in DSM-5 is gambling disorder. However, the manual notes that other compulsive behaviours, such as internet gaming disorder, are areas requiring further study and are listed in the section for conditions that warrant more clinical research and experience before they are considered formal disorders.

Understanding the DSM-V criteria helps to highlight the complexity of addiction and reinforces the fact that it is a medical condition requiring specialised treatment approaches. This recognition supports the comprehensive, evidence-based treatment programmes designed to address the specific needs of our clients at UKAT London Clinic.

What causes addiction?

One of the most important advances in the field of addiction recovery has been our increased understanding of the root causes of addiction. While substances like alcohol and drugs can be inherently habit-forming, it is the presence of these root causes which make some people more susceptible to developing an addiction than others.

The recognition of these causes has also dispelled misconceptions about addiction being the result of a mere lack of willpower or moral failure. Instead, addiction is now understood as a complex interplay of genetic, environmental and psychological factors that contribute to its development. This nuanced understanding allows for more effective and empathetic approaches to addiction treatment and recovery. Some of the most significant factors include:

Genetic predisposition

Extensive research indicates that genetics play a significant role, with some studies finding that 40% to 60% of susceptibility to addiction is attributable to genetics. This includes inherited traits that may affect the reward centres of the brain, making certain individuals more prone to addictive behaviours than others. Inherent personality traits such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking can also increase the risk of addiction.

Environmental influences

A person’s environment includes a variety of factors, such as family beliefs, a social group that uses substances and a history of physical and emotional abuse. All of these factors can significantly increase the chances of substance use or compulsive behaviours, which can then lead to addiction. For example, individuals who grow up in a home with substance abuse are significantly more likely to develop substance use disorders themselves.

Psychological factors

Many people who struggle with addiction also experience co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These conditions can drive individuals toward using substances or engaging in addictive behaviours as a readily available form of self-medication to cope with their symptoms.

Social and cultural factors

Cultural norms and societal attitudes toward drug use, drinking and certain behaviours can also heavily influence addiction rates. For example, alcohol is deeply ingrained in British culture, which is potentially one reason why the UK has relatively higher rates of alcohol addiction.

Social factors, including stress, socioeconomic status and the availability of substances, also play crucial roles in the development of addictive behaviours. For instance, individuals experiencing stress due to poverty may turn to addictive behaviours or substances as a means of temporarily escaping their financial struggles.

Understanding these root causes helps in developing targeted treatment strategies that address not only the addiction itself but also the underlying issues that contribute to the onset of addictive behaviours. This comprehensive approach is crucial in UKAT London, as it provides effective and sustainable addiction recovery solutions.

How does addiction develop?

The development of addiction varies from person to person but follows a general path beginning with:

Initial substance use or behaviour

At the start, a person may start by experimenting with drugs or alcohol out of curiosity, peer pressure or because they seek relief from stress or emotional pain. This initial use is often recreational, where the substance or activity provides a desirable effect, such as euphoria, relief or escape, which can be very rewarding and lead to repeated behaviour.

It is important to understand that in this phase, the exposure to the substance or behaviour will not necessarily lead to addiction. Many people experiment at some point without their actions ever crossing the line. However, for those susceptible due to the above genetic, psychological or environmental factors, this stage can quickly escalate to frequent, excessive use.

Risky use or behaviours

During this stage, the frequency and intensity of substance use or behaviour increases and the individual may start to experience early negative consequences. Risky use can manifest as drinking or using drugs in dangerous situations, gambling beyond financial means or engaging in dangerous sexual activity. Despite these consequences, the individual may be unaware or in denial of the issues and begin to exhibit the compulsive behaviour that is characteristic of addiction.

Tolerance and dependency

Eventually, the individual may develop a tolerance to the substance or behaviour, needing more of it to achieve the same effects. With substance addiction, withdrawal symptoms may occur if they stop drinking or taking the drug, signalling physical dependence.

Psychologically, the behaviour or substance then becomes a significant focus of their life, often taking precedence over other interests and responsibilities. This stage marks the full development of addiction, where both physical and psychological dependencies are evident, compelling the individual to prioritise substance use or addictive behaviours above all else.

Understanding the progression of addiction is crucial for recognising early warning signs and intervening before the behaviour becomes deeply ingrained. At UKAT London Clinic, we understand that early addiction intervention can significantly alter the course of addiction, offering a greater chance for successful recovery and rehabilitation.

What are the dangers of addiction?

While different substances and behavioural addictions have specific consequences unique to their nature, the general dangers of addiction are pervasive and affect various aspects of an individual’s life. Understanding these general risks can help underscore the severity of addiction and the imperative for the comprehensive addiction treatment strategies employed by UKAT London Clinic:

Health risks

Addiction can lead to a myriad of health problems, which vary depending on the substance or behaviour but generally include both mental and physical health decline. For example, addictions to alcohol or opioids can cause liver disease, cardiovascular problems and respiratory distress.

Behavioural addictions, while not directly affecting the body’s physiology to the same extent, can lead to severe mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, acute stress disorders and even suicidal ideation.

Social consequences

The impact of addiction on personal relationships and social interactions is profound. Addictive behaviours often lead to isolation, as individuals may withdraw from family and friends to hide their behaviour or because of shame and guilt. Addiction can also lead to difficulties in professional relationships and job loss, significantly affecting social standing and causing further isolation.

Legal and financial problems

Many types of addiction involve behaviours that can lead to legal issues, such as arrest for driving under the influence or possession of illegal substances. The financial burden of addiction is also significant, with costs accruing from purchasing substances, legal fees and loss of employment.

Risk of accidents and overdose

Addiction increases the risk of accidents due to impaired judgement and coordination, particularly with alcohol and drug use. The risk of overdose is also a critical concern with various substance use disorders and can be fatal in the most serious cases.

Mental health deterioration

As noted above, the psychological toll of addiction includes increased symptoms of existing mental health conditions and the development of new disorders. The cycle of addiction often worsens feelings of despair, hopelessness and worthlessness, fuelling the addiction further and creating a vicious circle that can be challenging to break.

Addiction treatment at UKAT London Clinic

Addressing the multifaceted dangers of addiction requires a holistic approach that considers all aspects of a person’s health and life. UKAT London’s addiction treatment programmes aim not only to treat the addiction itself but also to mitigate the various risks, restore health and rebuild relationships and social functions.

Our approach to addiction treatment involves medical detox to manage withdrawal safely, a range of cutting-edge rehab therapies and holistic treatments to address the root causes of dependency and ongoing therapeutic support to prevent relapse.

We have some of the world’s leading addiction recovery experts who can help you to create a bespoke treatment plan that fits your individual needs and schedule. Through this highly personalised approach, we ensure that each client’s unique circumstances and recovery goals are at the forefront of their treatment process.

Contact UKAT London Clinic today to find out more about how our adaptive treatment programmes can help you reclaim your life from addiction.

Rehab Treatment

Works cited

(Click here to see works cited)

close help
Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

0808 250 2626