The UK has an addiction problem. Around 2,500 people died from drug-related causes in 2016; almost 50% of the population gambles regularly, and the average Briton touches their smartphone over 2,000 times a day.

Addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful. A cycle of addiction starts when a person wants to achieve the feeling (or “high”) that they get from a substance or activity, again and again.

Some addictions are legal — each year in the UK, around one million people are admitted to hospital for alcohol-related issues. Last year, the World Health Organisation even classified video-game addiction as an official condition.

Some dependencies, such as drug abuse, can lead to issues with the law. The UK has one of the biggest problems with drug addiction in Europe, with almost one in three drug overdoses in the continent recorded in Britain.

Is there a solution? Some suggest decriminalising drugs and spending the money saved on health programmes to tackle addiction. Others argue that treating drug use as a crime deters people from trying them in the first place.

Learn more about addiction in the 21st century in our special report.

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Where does addiction come from? This short animation digs into the science.


  1. As a class, list as many different types of addiction as you can. Try ranking them into what you think are the least to the most dangerous.
  2. Debate: This house believes that all drugs should be made legal.
  3. Pick a drug (legal or illegal) and produce a brief fact file on it, highlighting at least three risks.