What is meant by substance misuse or addiction?

recovery month what issubstance miuse and addiction image of girl crying doing drugs

When we talk of substance in the context of addiction/misuse/abuse, we are talking about substances which are taken into, or consumed by the body. This includes street drugs, alcohol, nicotine, prescription medications and food. These substance addictions* are different from behavioural addictions such as gambling, sex, internet use, pornography and shopping. There are often combinations of these types of addictive behaviours and these can be treated together at times. At The Loft we offer treatment and support specifically for substance mis-use while appreciating there may be more than one problem of concern. It is quite common to live a full and satisfying life without using any of these substances or behaviours.   


Addiction means many different things to many different people. Over time these have ranged from a moral or biological deficiency through disease, to public health neglect.  

A common understanding also shared with mentalhealthireland.ie is that: 

“Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance (or activity) despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable”


The Latin original translation of addiction is dedication, devotion and sacrifice which might suggest an energy driven towards a goal. It is true, the addicted person is goal oriented, often away from pain and/or towards pleasure. It is quite likely a person who has drive and determination at the very least in his or her personal skill set.  So the substance devoted person is understandably seeking pleasure, as are all humans, and has a skill set with which to do so. The aim of substance use intervention then, is a method of gaining understanding of the harmful and perceived valuable substance use and seeking to replace this with alternative less harmful and pleasurable involvements and life choices. For example, if an individual has a long track record of going to Ibiza (even though going to Ibiza results in harmful experiences), it is now time to seek the unknown (yet different – vastly different at first) Algarve as a way to rediscover and replace what has been lost by not going to Ibiza.  The Algarve at first will likely appear as not enjoyable, people may even feel uncomfortable initially. However soon the benefits of harm reduction by not going to Ibiza will become clear which may make room for enjoyment to be experienced in the Algarve and or other new places and experiences.  

Some use substances and/or alcohol to ease their pain. They have come to believe substance (over) use is the best way to treat their dis-ease. Gabor Mate has a mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.” Mate claims that the source of the pain is to be found in a persons lived experience, usually beginning in childhood. Addictions are often attempts to escape the deep pain of the hurt child, attempts which are temporarily soothing but ultimately unsuccessful. 

Substance mis-use treatment at The Loft is a combination of addiction specific counselling, key working and adult learning, to empower the individual/family member to take charge of their lives and learn a new way of being. This includes one to one sessions, groupwork and workshops designed to address here-and-now issues with a view to reinstating a persons sense of self through deepening their self-knowledge and their potential. Therapeutic approaches used at The Loft feature an integrated combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Humanistic, Systemic, Psychodynamic, Motivational Interviewing – MI and Community Reinforcement Approach & Family Training – CRAFT.