Addiction is when you lose control over your use of a substance or behaviour, making it difficult to stop using the substance or repeating the behaviour. It includes cravings and a compulsive drive to keep using or doing the behaviour despite negative consequences. There are many things you can become addicted to, such as cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex and food.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease affecting your brain's reward, motivation and memory functioning. When something is not functioning well in these circuits, it has biological, psychological, social and spiritual effects on you. This is reflected by pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours despite negative consequences.

What are the signs of addiction?

Addiction is characterised by an inability to consistently abstain, difficulty in controlling your behaviour, craving, reduced ability to recognise significant problems with your behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and dysfunctional emotional responses.

Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

Anything you use a lot of and all the time (compulsively and obsessively) to ease tension or enhance your mood can become addictive. However, some addictions are much more harmful than others. If there's something you find hard to give up or stop doing that is causing any harm to you or others, then pick up the phone and ring one of the numbers below. Help and support are just a phone call away.

Take a test

Test your drug use NZ Drug Foundation
Is your drinking okay? Health Promotion Agency NZ


  • Learn about how to recognise an addiction Test your drug use
  • If you think you have an addiction, seek help from someone you trust or call a crisis line.
  • Learn about managing peer pressure.
  • Seek out a support person who will listen, motivate you, and help keep you safe.


Alcohol Drug HelpLine 0800 787 797
Gambling HelpLine NZ  0800 654 655 (multiple languages)
QuitLine 0800 778 778
Kina Families & Addictions Trust Support for family, whānau and friends of people using alcohol and other drugs

Learn more

Drugs – help for yourself or others NZ Drug Foundation
Learn from others – your stories Drug Help NZ
Learn about how drugs affect the brain with the interactive mouse party Learn Genetics (Genetic Science Learning Centre), University of Utah, USA, 2015
Anxiety and addiction guide Ocean Recovery Centre, UK, 2017
Start your recovery US, 2018


Definition of addiction American Society of Addiction Medicine, US, 2011

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team .