Drug Addiction Defined: The definition of addiction has been very heavily debated for many years. Often the debates center around is addict a disease (the medical model) or a choice. Although often drug/alcohol use starts out as a choice, most experts believe drug/alcohol addiction is a disease.
So technically drug addiction is defined as a chronic disease of the brain, which is currently incurable and often fatal if left untreated.
Experts consider addiction a disease of the brain because, when drugs/alcohol are used, they attack the brain and change brain chemistry in negative ways. Because we are each created completely uniquely, drugs/alcohol effect our brains uniquely, and we respond differently to their negative effects.
This medical definition of addiction helps explain why some of us can use drugs heavily for years and never become addicted, while others can become addicted on first use. This is also why, we need to go through detoxification as our first step in treatment. Simply put, detoxification is the process our brain goes through to re-adjust our brain chemistry back to the way it was before our addiction.
Drug Addiction Defined: Often when trying to determine is someone is addicted we evaluate these seven characteristics of addiction:
1. Tolerance - needed to use more drug to get the same
2. Withdrawal – very unpleasant symptoms when the patient stops using
3. Difficulty controlling use – Patient uses more of the drug then they plan to even when they don’t want to
4. Negative consequences - Patient uses regardless of very negative consequences like DUI’s, divorce and job loss
5. Neglecting or postponing activities – Patient stops engaging in activities they used to enjoy
6. Spending significant time obtaining their drug
7. Desire to stop or cut down use but can’t
Drug addiction defined as having two or more of these symptoms, the fewer the symptoms the less severe the addiction.
Below is the definition of addiction as defined by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminstration known as SAMHSA:
"The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), no longer uses the terms substance abuse and substance dependence, rather it refers to substance use disorders, which are defined as mild, moderate, or severe to indicate the level of severity, which is determined by the number of diagnostic criteria met by an individual. Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of substance use disorder is based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria."
It breaks substance use disorders into five categories:
Alcohol Use Disorder
Excessive alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of developing serious health problems in addition to those issues associated with intoxication behaviors and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use causes 88,000 deaths a year.
Tobacco Use Disorder
According to the CDC, more than 480,000 deaths each year are caused by cigarette smoking. Tobacco use and smoking do damage to nearly every organ in the human body, often leading to lung cancer, respiratory disorders, heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses.
Cannabis Use Disorder
Some symptoms of cannabis use disorder include disruptions in functioning due to cannabis use, the development of tolerance, cravings for cannabis, and the development of withdrawal symptoms, such as the inability to sleep, restlessness, nervousness, anger, or depression within a week of ceasing heavy use.
Stimulant Use Disorder
Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. They include a wide range of drugs that have historically been used to treat conditions, such as obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and, occasionally, depression. Like other prescription medications, stimulants can be diverted for illegal use. The most commonly abused stimulants are amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
Hallucinogen Use Disorder
Hallucinogens can be chemically synthesized (as with lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD) or may occur naturally (as with psilocybin mushrooms, peyote). These drugs can produce visual and auditory hallucinations, feelings of detachment from one’s environment and oneself, and distortions in time and perception.
Opioid Use Disorder
Opioids reduce the perception of pain but can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, euphoria, nausea, constipation, and, depending upon the amount of drug taken, can depress respiration. Illegal opioid drugs, such as heroin and legally available pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone can cause serious health effects in those who misuse them. Some people experience a euphoric response to opioid medications, and it is common that people misusing opioids try to intensify their experience by snorting or injecting them.
To find out more about any of these disorders please visit the SAMHSA website: