By definition, addiction is the use of a substance (alcohol, drugs, medications) or an activity (gambling, gaming, pornography, etc.) that interferes in a person’s life or causes distress to themselves or others. Addiction is a serious health condition that can damage relationships, break up families, end careers, and sometimes even lives.

Most people who have an addiction want to quit, but they feel trapped in a relentless cycle of craving, resisting, and giving in. If you or someone you know uses substances or participates in a risky activity, regardless of the consequences, it is likely an addiction. The good news: there is a way out – with the support of professionals, family and friends.

Who is affected by addiction?

There is a common misunderstanding that people with an addiction lack willpower or moral principles. As a society, we perpetuate the stigma that addiction only affects “those people.” But the truth is, addiction can affect anyone. In many cases, people turn to substances or risky activities as a way to cope with painful or traumatic experiences. And what starts as “a quick escape” turns into a habit – and then spirals into an addiction.

In Alberta, up to 20 per cent of adults have an addiction. This includes alcohol, gambling, legal and illicit drugs and a variety of other substances and types of behaviour.

How to recognize addiction.

The most common symptoms of addiction are:

  • cravings
  • loss of control over frequency of use
  • continued use, despite negative consequences
  • preoccupation with using
  • failed attempts to quit
  • withdrawal

What you can do.

Learn to recognize the signs and be honest with yourself. If you or someone you know has an addition, talk to a professional. There are a number of treatment options available – from medical professionals, including psychologists and counsellors – to support and recovery groups. What’s most important is to find the treatment or combination of treatments that is right for you.

For more information, check out these links:


Rush et al (2008). Prevalence of co-occurring substance use and other mental disorders in the Canadian population. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 53: 800-9.

Sussman, S., & Sussman, A. N. (2011). Considering the Definition of Addiction. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8(12), 4025–4038. doi:10.3390/ijerph8104025

Statistics Canada (2012). Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey. Accessed at

Wild, C. (2014). Gap Analysis of Public Mental Health and Addictions Programs (GAP-MAP) Accessed at


The self-help resources on this website are not intended to be a substitute for therapy or professional advice. The information is intended to give people the opportunity to explore topics of interest or that pertain to them or someone they know – in private and in their own time. While all attempts have been made to verify the information, we do not assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter. If you need to talk to someone, call our Engagement Team at 403.233.2360 or send us an email at