This section will run through the ins and outs of what it means to experience addiction so everyone can understand it better. While some people prefer to use the word drug dependence, we will be using the word addiction.



The word addiction is often misunderstood. Addiction is the physical or psychological need to use a drug even if it puts our health or well-being at risk or causes other problems in life.

It can be really hard to reduce or quit using drugs even though we know they are causing us harm. Many people who use drugs will not experience an addiction. Other people might.

But what does it mean to experience addiction? Usually, when we become dependent on a drug we need more of the drug to experience the same effects. We might have cravings or urges to use the drug again and experience withdrawal-like symptoms when we are not using drugs. We might feel the need to use drugs so we can get through the day.

What does addiction look like?

The experience of addiction will look and feel different for everyone. It can affect our lives in various ways and impact us physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially or financially. The impacts we experience will vary and depend on our unique circumstances.

  • Finding it difficult to meet responsibilities.
  • Withdrawing from activities or not enjoying activities that used to make us feel happy and connected – think of work, catching up with friends, playing sports, doing some hobbies etc.
  • Having constant issues with friends, partners, family members and community members.
  • Changes in our behaviours for no apparent reason.
  • Experiencing signs of depression, anxiety, paranoia or psychosis.
  • Financial problems.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Some of these sound rather vague and can probably describe each of us at some point in life. It’s best to view our drug use and see if any of these are connected.


There are also some signs linked specifically to the use of drugs.

  • An increased escalation in risk-taking
  • Having difficulty reducing or stopping drug
  • Being uncomfortable without using drugs
  • Using more than was originally planned or needing more to experience the same effects
  • Using drugs to regulate or cope with emotions
  • Minimising how much we are using
  • Selling our stuff to buy drugs – but the stuff we would otherwise want to keep

We may experience one or some of these – however while they may point to experiencing addiction, they could be a sign of something else.

We can all struggle with life’s challenges at times and a supportive chat can help get us moving in the right direction. Chat with someone from an LGBTIQ organisation or chat with someone from QLIFE on 1800 184 527.

Why do people experience addiction?

There are many reasons why. In short, drugs affect the way we feel, both physically and emotionally. These feelings can make us decide to use drugs again or more often.

However when we use drugs frequently and more often, we develop a tolerance to the drug – meaning the drug becomes less effective over time – so we need to increase how much we take and how often to experience the desired effects of the drug.

No one who decides to use drugs wants to experience addiction, and we know that people who experience addiction come from all walks of life.

We do know that some factors can put us at greater risk of experiencing addiction though.

  • Genetics, such as having someone in our family who has experienced addiction
  • Being brought up by someone experiencing addiction
  • Peer pressure to take drugs and the availability of drugs in our social or community groups
  • Pre-existing mental health concerns
  • Experiences of poverty and homelessness;
  • Experiences of trauma, such as family violence or sexual assault
  • Experiences of unemployment
  • Experiences of ongoing stress
  • Age of first use – the younger we are when we first use the higher the risk of experiencing addiction

It’s important to remember that even if we have any of these factors it doesn’t mean that we will experience addiction.


What about LGBTIQ people?

For LGBTIQ people, the stats show we’re almost twice as likely to experience addiction. But what makes alcohol and drug addiction in our community so common? The stats also show us that there is more use in our communities, and with more use comes the possibility of addiction… that’s a fair assumption right?

While that is true, there are a range of factors that we LGBTIQ peeps experience that increase our risk of experiencing addiction.

  • Experiences of discrimination
  • Internalised feelings of shame or stigma
  • Alcohol and drugs being centralised within spaces of connection
  • A lack of appropriate or inclusive support options, which limits the options to prevent experiences of addiction
  • Higher rates of mental health issues

How to reduce the risk of addiction?

Some things can help reduce our risk of experiencing addiction. These include:

  • Having relationships and friendships with people who don’t have a dependence on alcohol or drugs
  • Having an awareness of our own alcohol and drug use
  • Being informed and educated about alcohol and drugs, harm reduction strategies and how to access support services if needed
  • Getting involved in recreational activities where people are not widely using drugs, such as sporting groups, creative workshops or online classes
  • Engaging in proactive stress-relieving activities, such as exercise, mindfulness, meditation etc

These are not a sure-fire way to prevent an experience of addiction nor is it an exhaustive list. But they are some options that can help reduce the risk. Think about what might work best for you.


Getting Support

There are many different support options available if we’re worried about our drug use. It’s important that if we are experiencing these worries that we are the ones to seek help and support to figure out the next steps. We need to have the desire to change. There is a range of Support Services available to support us on our journey.

If it is someone we know and love, then this requires a completely different approach and support options. There is a range of support services for people who love those experiencing addiction. Check the concerned for a loved one section for tips on how to help others on their journey.


We’ve mentioned withdrawal, but what does it mean?

Withdrawal is when we stop or cut back on using drugs. When we go through withdrawal, our body is adjusting to functioning without the drug in our system. It can cause irritability, fatigue, mood changes, aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, chills, or sleep issues. The experience of withdrawal will be different for each of us and depends on the drugs we have been taking, how long we have been taking them, our general health, and the setting we choose to withdraw in.

It’s important to know that suddenly stopping drugs comes with some very real risks. If you’re thinking about stopping your drug use then it’s best to chat with a health or alcohol and drug service professional so you understand and are prepared for the symptoms and risks.


The information given on this page is not medical advice and should not be relied upon in that way.