People can become addicted to many different things, for many different reasons, and it can be hard to know if you have a problem. Generally we see something as an addiction if someone feels unable to stop the behaviour, or experiences ongoing problems caused by the behaviour, for example missing work due to hangovers, spending more than you can afford on gambling or becoming physically sick or depressed due to drug use.
Often people will turn to an addiction because of stress. Perhaps they lack other ways of managing stress or painful emotions. Sometimes, however, particularly with alcohol or other commonly used drugs, just using the drug frequently enough can cause a physical dependence. This can happen with prescription drugs as well, when people “self-medicate.“
To the addicted individual, their behaviour may appear to solve problems in the short term. When we use alcohol or drugs for instance, it changes our mood and can provide a temporary relief from stress, distressing emotions and memories.
If this becomes the only way we have of dealing with distressing emotions, then the solution can become the problem, and the consequences of our use outweighs any short-term benefit.