what is addiction?

Our recent research has revealed that 1 in 7 accountants believe they know at least one person through work who has an addiction. To help you understand addiction better, discover the different types and recognise the signs of addiction, read this guide below.

In association with our partner psychologists, Psych Health.

what is the simple definition of addiction?

Simply put, having an addiction is a loss of control over doing, taking, or using anything to the point where it may be damaging to your health - physical, mental and/or financial.

what are the different types of addiction?

You may often initially connect addiction to drug or alcohol abuse, but there are many other forms of addiction.

There are two overarching categories of addictions: substance and behavioural.

You may be more aware of substance addiction, also known as substance use disorders, due to public support and campaigning for positive change. However, behavioural addictions, such as shopping, gaming, or gambling, are also highly prevalent within our society but can be harder to spot. Gambling, for example, may present itself as a fun, social activity to do with friends, but for some people, it can quickly develop into a problem.

Let's dive into these further:

substance use disorders

Substance addiction or substance use disorder is when recreational use develops into an inability to control your consumption urges. Alcohol, prescribed or illicit medication, and narcotics are types of substance addiction you may be more familiar with, but caffeine and nicotine are also addictive, with the power to alter your daily life.

how do I know if I have a substance use disorder?

medical professionals may consider the following ten aspects to diagnose:

  1. you use a substance more frequently or use it for longer than you intended (for instance, continued use of prescribed pain medication after recovery)
  2. you feel the inability to stop your substance abuse even if you want to
  3. you feel intense cravings, desires or urges to use the substance and feel a lack of self-control
  4. you notice an increased consumption of the substance to feel the desired effect due to your tolerance
  5. you feel intense withdrawal symptoms when you're not using the substance (for instance, you develop substance dependence and feel uneasy when you don't use it)
  6. it takes you much longer to recover after every use
  7. you are neglecting responsibilities or relationships due to your substance use
  8. you are disengaging from valued activities like socialising or individual hobbies
  9. you put yourself in dangerous situations to obtain the substance
  10. you have continued the use of a substance despite the difficulties it's causing

If you've noticed these signs in yourself and feel worried, we have further guidance for getting help here.

behavioural addictions

Behavioural addictions are when you are addicted to a specific behaviour or activity.

These can be difficult to notice at first. But like substance addiction, once it passes the point of recreational enjoyment and you can no longer control your urges, it may be an addictive behaviour. Often, behavioural addictions and their causes are linked to mental health disorders.

what are the examples of behavioural addictions?

food addiction

Food addiction is when the signals of fullness or satisfaction are misconstrued as reward signals to your brain when consuming highly palatable food and alcohol-free drinks (like fizzy juice). As a result, you may continue to consume this specific product regularly when you aren't hungry or thirsty.

gambling addiction

A gambling addiction develops when you can't control your urge to gamble, leading to damaging behaviours that affect your life or others around you. With the ease and accessibility of online gambling, it’s now become even more prevalent and hidden. Sports betting, casino games, virtual slot machines and even the lottery are just a few examples of activities that may lead to gambling addictions.

gaming addiction

Playing video, PC, or console games might be your escape from the real world and the pressures surrounding you. However, this may become a harmful addiction if your gaming habits begin affecting relationships, work, school, or your health (like sleep patterns).

internet addiction or social media addiction

By design, the internet and social apps are moreish, inviting you to click or scroll just that little longer. However, the constant stimulation and instant gratification these platforms provide could change your brain's chemistry, resulting in addictive behaviour.

This may also become a gateway to other behavioural addictions like gambling or shopping. The continual stream of notifications and updates can create a sense of urgency, subconsciously encouraging you to act on impulse.

shopping addiction

A little shopping spree to treat yourself can be an enjoyable activity. So much so, that it’s been coined as "retail therapy." However, when you feel the compulsion to avoid your feelings, like anxiety or stress, by shopping instead, this may be a sign you have an addiction. If this significantly impacts your life, finances, or relationships, we recommend seeking support from a trusted source or person.

sex addiction

This term describes a condition where someone has an intense and compulsive need to engage in sexual activities, often to the point where it interferes with their daily life and relationships. Sex addictions may include pornography use, masturbation, having multiple sexual partners, or engaging in risky sexual behaviour.

It's important to understand that sex addiction is a real and recognised mental health condition that could significantly impact your life.

stealing addiction

An addiction to stealing, also known as Kleptomania, is an impulse control disorder. If you suffer from this, you may have difficulty resisting the temptation or powerful urge to steal items you generally don't need. This often involves affordable or low-value items because you are addicted to the adrenaline rush of the activity.

addiction in a modern world

With the internet and social media at our fingertips, it’s now easier than ever to get swept up in addictive behaviours. From ordering Uber Eats to browsing through porn, shopping, gambling, and gaming, these activities are just a tap away. Therefore, it's essential to be mindful of the signs and seek help if they're causing issues in your life.

Remember, caring for our mental health is as important as physical and financial health. So, if you feel worried about yourself or someone you love, please reach out for help  or even just to have a friendly, supportive conversation.

The causes of addiction are varied and complex and will differ from person to person. Click below to find out how psychological and environmental factors can impact someone.

If you’re worried that you or someone you know might have an addiction, click below to know the signs to look out for.

further reading 


what are the causes of addiction

Discover the complex and varied causes behind addictive behaviour, from psychological factors to environmental triggers, and learn how habits can escalate into addiction.


habit vs addiction: what’s the difference?

Are your daily routines just habits or something more concerning? Can a habit turn into an addiction, and how can you tell the difference? With 1 in 10 accountants sharing with us that their drinking habits have negatively impacted their life, we explore the distinction between a habit and an addiction...


how to support a loved one suffering from addiction

Being part of someone’s support network is incredibly brave and thoughtful, but we understand this can have challenging effects on your own health. We’re here to help you navigate your emotions and recognise that looking after yourself is just as important as helping someone you care about.


understanding addiction: how to overcome it

Addiction is a difficult journey, but it's not impossible to overcome. In this article, we'll explore where to find help and the steps you can take to recover from addiction.

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your questions answered 

Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means-tested?

If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means-tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

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