On a more serious note, I talk about addiction. I also explain the difference between its colloquial use and its medical definition.


Hi! How’re you doing? Welcome to the sixth episode of the Along Came English podcast.

I don’t know if you can tell, I am a little sick at the moment. Recovering, but I lost my voice a few days ago, and haven’t fully recovered.

Anyway, for today’s episode I wanted to talk about addiction.

It’s more on the serious side. I recently heard about Demi Lovato who was hospitalised because of a drug overdose. For those of you who don’t know who Demi Lovato is, she’s a very popular American pop singer. I’m not a huge fan of her music in general, but her songs are played on the radio a lot.

Now she’s not going to be the main topic of today’s episode nor her recent experience, but I do sincerely wish her all the best in her recovery. But… hearing about her on the news did inspire the topic for this episode. I do watch a lot of shows on Netflix and YouTube that feature people – both fictional and real, who have issues with substance abuse and addiction. And I think, for the most part, particularly in English mainstream media, substance abuse and addiction comes up a lot.

I don’t have any personal experiences that I can share. I don’t know if you can tell, I live pretty conservative lifestyle so I’ll mostly talk TV shows and movies that I’ve watched.

I also just want to say I understand that this can be a sensitive issue and in certain cultures, even amongst native speakers actually, native English speakers, it is not a topic that is always openly discussed. This is also known as a “stigma,” which means that something is viewed as deeply negative and there is a strong sense of disapproval within a society.

So it is not my intention to minimise the seriousness of addiction. However, I think that talking and explaining some of the relevant vocabulary will be helpful for you as English learners – whether it is to help you watch and better understand a movie or TV show, listen to the news, to help you express your opinions or even your own experiences about the topic in English.

Now this is not an exhaustive or complete list of vocabulary relevant to addiction. I mean there is only so much you can talk about in half an hour. I’m really talking about addiction as a whole, rather than specific addictions like drugs or alcohol. I also want to mention that relevant vocabulary about addiction has a mix of formal and informal/casual words so I’ll try to clarify them as much as I can.

All right! Before we continue, do check out my website, alongcameenglish.wordpress.com for links and the vocabulary list for today’s episode. And follow me on facebook.

All right.

Vocabulary about addiction

To be addicted” or “to have an addiction” is to be physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance or activity to the point where it might be harmful.

An “addict” is a person who is addicted to a particular substance or activity.

So when people talk about addiction, it can be used in two different ways.

Firstly, it can refer to something serious like a drug addiction, gambling, alcohol. It’s considered very negative.

Addiction” is a physical and psychological dependence on a substance or activity, so much so that they become unable to stop even if they want to. If they try to stop, they experience “withdrawal symptoms,” which are reactions that come with trying to stop. So things like fatigue, anxiety, sweating, vomiting – reactions can be both… it can be physical and psychological.

Someone who is an addict may continue with the habit despite obvious negative consequences. And over time, they might need some of… more of the same substance or activity to get the same “high” – to get the same level of pleasure.

So generally, the addiction pretty much takes over the individual’s life and they lose control of it, partly because all their energy and activity revolves around continuing their addiction.

Habit” is an informal word and is used as a noun to talk about an addictive practice. It’s often used as a synonym for the word “addiction,” for example drug addiction or drug habit. To me, a habit implies just the practice of it, even though it is still negative, rather than all of the negative consequences and issues as I just mentioned attached to addiction.

High,” used here is an informal word and can be used as an adjective or a noun. This refers to the effects of drugs usually. Being high can be… sorry, can vary greatly. A person can be either intensely excited or kind of drunk and not very responsive.

Now I’m not sure if there are any limits to the substance or activity that one can become addicted to. I’m not an expert on the topic, but it seems like as long as they fulfil this criteria that I’ve explained, it is considered an addiction. So anything from drinking water, to shopping, exercising, tanning, collecting trash, the list goes on. So the most common ones talked about in media tend to be drugs and alcohol.

Another term you might come across is “substance abuse” or “drug abuse,” which is often used interchangeably with drug addiction. The effects on the individual can be pretty… still be devastating but there are actually differences.

So “substance abuse” refers to the harmful use of substances such as alcohol, drugs, petrol, glue, paint etc. This is considered an earlier, and milder form of drug or alcohol use, which may or may not lead to addiction. There may be health risks, legal problems caused by their substance abuse, inability to manage general responsibilities at work, or at home. But overall, they still have some control over their lives. And they have the ability to learn from their mistakes and change their behaviour before it gets worse.

The terms “substance abuse” or “drug abuse” tends to be used in a more formal way, in news or official websites where they are… where they’re talking about the issue.

Now in colloquial English, words like “addiction” and “habit” are definitely more common. So… you’ll be more than likely to hear sentences like, “He’s a drug addict.” Or “He has a drug problem.” Or “He is an alcoholic.” Rather than sentences like, “He has a substance abuse issue.” Or “He is a drug abuser.” – even though they mean the same.

The second meaning for “addiction” refers to one’s dedication or devotion to a particular thing or activity, like cars or dancing, or something fun like chocolate or pizza. And it usually demonstrates the individual’s interest and even their dedication if it’s an activity.

Now, this can swing from positive to negative depending on how it’s used. Usually in everyday English, people don’t use this in the literal sense. They might say they are addicted to chocolate or pizza, but they just really enjoy eating them. Usually this is self-confessed, like “Oh, I’m a chocolate addict.” Or “I’m addicted to pizza.”

Now if we talk about something like cars or computers, sometimes it’s negative. So someone might say, “Oh, he is addicted to computers.” And it kind of implies that the person saying it thinks that he is spending a little too much time on it and kind of disapproves of it.


So recently, there’re articles, stories and documentaries about addiction to technology, social media, gaming, which sometimes at first, you know, I don’t grasp the seriousness of what was discussed until I read the whole article. So sometimes there is a blurred line between the first and second definitions I’ve explained here. But usually the context is a good indication of understanding the seriousness of what is being talked about.

“Addiction” vs “Compulsive behaviour”

There is an American reality TV show called My Strange Addiction. You can find clips of the show on their official YouTube channel called TLC. There are people there who eat chalk, toilet paper. There are people who are obsessed with teddy bears or pillows. And although the show’s title says it’s about addiction, few of the individuals featured there would medically be considered true addicts as is stated on their Wikipedia page. So I think this is an indication of the kind of everyday, colloquial use the word has – “addiction,” as opposed to the formal, medical definition.

Most of the individuals featured on the show have unusual compulsive behaviour. Now “compulsive behaviour” is about persistently and repetitively doing something without actually receiving any pleasure or reward from it. So this is technically different from “addiction” because addiction is about getting high – it’s about getting pleasure from it. But yea, how it’s commonly used in everyday English doesn’t always reflect that.

There is also another TV reality show called Hoarders, that feature people with a hoarding disorder, where they are obsessed with collecting and acquiring things until it overtakes their house and their lives. Now one might say that they are addicted to collecting things, but medically, it is recognised as a compulsive behaviour.

All right. Going back to addiction.

Documentaries & movies about addiction

One video that I’ve watched recently is from a series called Sex Map of Britain by BBC Three on YouTube, titled Selling Sex for 4pounds in Liverpool. And it follows the story of a sex worker who, because of her cocaine addiction, has become a sex worker in order to sustain… to continue her addiction. It also… it also features a few other people in her life and other sex workers working on that particularly street.

I can’t really recommend it as an English resource because the Liverpool accent is quite strong, and might be difficult for non-native English learners. The content may also be quite upsetting for some viewers, considering the theme of the video. But I think it highlights the severity of a drug addiction and what it can do to a person to take over their lives and the person ultimately losing control.

Now of course, not everyone struggling with an addiction becomes a prostitute, this is just one example. But there is a scene where she shows a picture of herself only a few years before, looking very healthy and normal. So I think that anyone, regardless of age, gender, or status can become a victim of their addiction.

A movie reference that comes to mind is Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis – I think that’s how you pronounce it, sorry. And Denzel Washington, who is a really famous American actor. And the movie is about an airline pilot who has a drug and alcohol problem, who miraculously crash-lands a plane full of passengers after a mechanical failure while drunk and high.

Now I remember I watched this film a week before an overseas trip, so probably not the wisest choice to watch a plane crash on a big screen just before flying. But the acting was really good. Throughout the length of the movie, Denzel’s character is drunk and high but trying to act and maintain sober because he’s a pilot. He’s not supposed to have any drugs or alcohol in his body, particularly while he’s working. So if he was found out, he would be banned from ever flying a plane again.

Also recently, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on YouTube, particularly from BarCroft, which is a channel there. There’s a documentary series that I watched recently on their channel called DOCS: Weight Loss Ward, which features a hospital ward in the UK that specialises in treating obesity.

Now “obesity” is the state of being extremely fat, and that becomes dangerous for a person’s health. And obesity… I think is understood to be the result of the individual’s food addiction. And the show interviews doctors and patients who desperately need help and treatment to reduce their weight and to limit their appetite.

Now I don’t know what you think about me watching these kinds of shows, but I just kind of feel that, you know… watching these kind of documentaries kind of… they kind of help me see a different picture outside of my bubble.

Maybe to think about certain issues that affect the society I live in. Obesity and drug-use is… are issues in Australia. Although in my current environment I don’t really have many friends who struggle with obesity or who use drugs. I guess in my own way, I want to be better informed, be more understanding. Not to be judgmental or critical of people who struggle with these issues because, in most of the cases I’ve seen, and even just… you know, having had conversations with people who have recovered, usually traumatic circumstances have led to that unfortunate situation.

All right. So let’s continue with more vocabulary. The following are words or terms that are relevant to addiction.

So “cold turkey,” yes, cold turkey, is an informal expression to refer to the sudden discontinuation of an activity or taking a particular substance rather than gradually reducing it. So usually we use this as an adverb, for example, “I tried to quit cold turkey.”

A “craving” is a powerful desire for something. We usually use this word in association with pregnancy, when a woman has weird cravings like pickles with everything, including ice cream. But in this case, a person has a craving for a particular substance or an activity.

Rehabilitation” is a noun and is the act of restoring someone’s health or life through training and therapy after illness, addiction or imprisonment. In everyday English, we often shorten the word to “rehab.”

So although rehab is often used to refer to the treatment of addiction, there are rehab centres and doctors who specialise in the recovery and therapy of patients who have had an injury. So maybe someone broke their leg in a bad way. After some time of rest, they then have to do physical therapy exercises to restore the movement of their leg, reduce stiffness of the muscle or joints etc.

So “addiction rehabilitation” is usually a program often conducted at a rehab centre or facility. The purpose is to help people end or reduce their dependency on the substance or activity.  There are many different types of centres from very basic to luxury treatment centres. So when I was actually… when I was doing the research for this episode, a luxury drug rehab centre in Thailand came up on my google search. I thought that was interesting.

Now I’m not going to go into the specifics of the programs since each program or facilities are different and they offer different services. But it may include something called a “detoxification” – which we also call “detox” for short, if it is related to a substance like drugs or alcohol. So detox is about removing all traces of the substance in the body, and in some cases with the help of medication. During this time, a person would usually experience withdrawal symptoms, which I explained earlier.

Fame & addiction

Now, there’s a song by Amy Winehouse called Rehab, where she sings about not wanting to go for rehabilitation for her addiction issues. She actually passed away from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27.

She was an English jazz singer. She became very famous around the end of 2000s. Amazing voice. And… but unfortunately her fame was also due to her personal problems, particularly her drug abuse.

So a number of years after her death, a biographical documentary film was made called Amy, directed by… sorry, this… anyway… directed by Asif Kapadia. I’m so sorry if I mispronounced that. The film is about her life and struggle with substance abuse, before and after she became famous, leading up to her death.

And I watched this… this film last year. It combines clips and interviews throughout her life and interviews of friends and family to create and contribute to the storyline, the narrative of the movie. So I have to say, it’s a really well-made documentary. Even though it’s quite a sad, dramatic documentary. It really was very well-made.

Now it’s become quite common to associate substance abuse with fame, to the extent that it’s not even surprising anymore, it’s actually… particularly for American and English media. Again this might be a little different if you come from a different culture but definitely for American, English news, celebrity, Hollywood… drugs and fame kind of go hand in hand.

But yea, personally, I found this film quite endearing and had a very tender approach to Amy Winehouse and her life, as tragic as it was.

Alcoholic Anonymous

Something else you might have heard of is “Alcoholic Anonymous” or AA for short, which is, you know, relevant but still different from rehab. Again, this is pretty common in movies particularly when the subject matter is about alcoholics.

And according to Wikipedia, it’s an international mutual aid fellowship, for the purpose of helping their members stay sober, or alcoholics to become sober. They have a 12-step program to bring about recovery from alcoholism. And as part of the program, members are encouraged to find a sponsor, who is an experienced fellow alcoholic who has already completed the 12-step program.

Anyway, I think that’s about it. I hope you find this episode useful even though the topic is rather serious. So don’t forget to check out the website for links and the vocabulary list.

And yea, have a good day! Bye!