Issue 12 | June 2010

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Addiction

***Articles reviewed and updated in September 2015***

Addiction is a term we all use, but what does it mean? In this issue, we look at the different ways in which people understand addiction, and ask why there isn't one widely accepted defintion. We explore the efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat additive behaviour, whether it's related to substances such as alcohol, or activities such as gambling.

This issue was first published in 2010. In 2015, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated. Please note that the PDF of the original 2010 issue has not been updated.

What is addiction?

Defining addiction

How do key health bodies define addiction?

What is addictive behaviour?

Exploring two different models for addictive behaviour

Dependency

Tackling an addiction may mean dealing with a physical dependency

Who’s vulnerable?

A person’s chances of developing an addiction depend on what they are like, and what happens to them

Runs in the family

What role do your genes play in predisposing you to becoming addicted?

Life’s a drag

What makes smoking so attractive to so many?

Addicted to mobiles?

Addiction isn’t just associated with drugs. If you have a mobile phone, do the bills shock you?

The brain and addiction

The brain’s reward system

An annotated guide to the areas of the brain involved with reward

The chemicals of the brain

Beneath every thought, dream or action lies a remarkable chemical dance

All in the mind?

A brief look at the psychological theories of addiction

Brain changing?

What does addiction do to your brain?

Looking in the brain

Imaging techniques help researchers get into the heads of people with addiction

Like a rat in a cage

Through animal research, scientists have learned a great deal about the brain circuits involved in addiction

Taking things to the extreme

One group of patients given a therapeutic drug have been part of an unintended experiment in addiction

Case studies

Addicted to mobiles?

Addiction isn’t just associated with drugs. If you have a mobile phone, do the bills shock you?

Just like a drug

Exploring how the potential harm of different drugs relates to their legal status

Legally sound?

Just because something’s legal, does that mean it’s safe?

Drug classification: should cannabis be legal?

Some countries have relaxed their laws around using cannabis. Should the UK do the same?

Online, all the time?

Some people consider compulsive use of the internet as an addiction

Double or quits?

Compulsive gambling has been studied more extensively than other non-drug addictions

How do researchers study gamblers?

Studying gamblers has plenty of potential pitfalls. Professor Mark Griffiths explains

Treatment

Psychological therapies

Many different psychological therapies are available to treat addiction

Pharmacological treatment

Chemical addictions are often treated with chemicals, as medication

Dependency

Tackling an addiction may mean dealing with a physical dependency

Should we treat?

Is it always right to offer treatment to addicts?

Picking up the tab

Health services in the UK spend large amounts dealing with the effects of smoking and excessive drinking

A high-tech solution?

Will we one day be vaccinating against drugs and alcohol?

Video: The line – Exploring addiction

Watch our video featuring an addiction therapist and Pablo ‘the drug mule dog’

Ethical questions

Drug classification: should cannabis be legal?

Some countries have relaxed their laws around using cannabis. Should the UK do the same?

Legally sound?

Just because something’s legal, does that mean it’s safe?

Brain boosters?

Cognitive enhancers, so called ‘smart drugs’, have gained popularity in recent years. But do they work?  

Just like a drug

Exploring how the potential harm of different drugs relates to their legal status

History and culture

Old habits?

A history of drink, drugs and addiction

Addiction in books, films and TV

Danny Birchall takes us through a selection of books and films – both classic and more modern – in which the theme of addiction plays a major part

History of addiction images

Browse our gallery of 16 historical and modern images exploring drug and alcohol use

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Dr Khaldoon Ahmed

Meet Khaldoon, a psychiatrist working in London

Real Voices interview: James*

Meet James, a student who has faced addiction

Real Voices interview: Catherine

Student with parents living with addiction

Video: Stuart – My gambling addiction

Stuart has a long history of addictive behaviour, particularly problem gambling. Now receiving counselling, he is attempting to turn his life around

Video: The line – Exploring addiction

Watch our video featuring an addiction therapist and Pablo ‘the drug mule dog’

Video: Beyond heroin – A story of loss and hope

Watch our video about parents dealing with their twin sons’ addiction

Activities and lesson ideas

Addiction prediction

Will addiction still be an issue in 25 years’ time? How about 100? Could there ever be such a thing as ‘harmless’ recreational drugs?

Deadliest drugs

This lesson idea uses an infographic about the number of drug deaths and media reports to spark debate and discussion

Further resources and activities on addiction

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce the following activities and resources about addiction and related issues

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic