What is Addiction
There is a difference between “substance abuse” and “substance addiction”. Usually the difference is a matter of degree. All addicts are abusers of the substance to which they are addicted. Not all substance abusers are addicts—but they could be either now or in the near future. The important thing for everyone is to make good decisions so that you become neither an abuser nor an addict.
A good chart that describes substance abuse and substance addiction appears on the website www.helpguide.org and is included below. Although the chart addresses “drug” abuse and addiction, the description are equally valid for alcohol abuse and addiction.
Signs and symptoms of drug abuse and drug addiction
Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse
- You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children) because of your drug use.
- You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
- Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.
- Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.
Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction
- You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to with smaller amounts.
- You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
- You’ve lost control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
- Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, and recovering from the drug’s effects.
- You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.
- You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway.
www.myaddiction.com provides the following definition of addiction:
Addiction is a catch-all term for a complex behavioral disorder. The most obvious symptom is that addicts reach a point where they cannot control their own actions. Even when they can see the harm, they continue the compulsive behavior. The inability to stop, more than any other attribute, marks addiction.
For this reason, addiction was first described as a failure of will power. We now know this is incorrect. Addiction is a real disease with psychological, genetic, and psychosocial aspects. It is not a character flaw or a failure of morality. There are actual changes that occur in the brains of addicts and treatments for addiction must address the biology behind the behavior.
A medical diagnosis of addiction depends on finding three or more of the following factors (within a 12-month period):
- Tolerance – Use is increased (amount or frequency) to obtain a similar effect.
- Withdrawal – Removing the substance or stopping the activity leads to physical or mental symptoms, such as tremor, seizure, or depression.
- The substance is taken over longer periods and in larger amounts than intended. This automatic ratcheting up of dosage is particularly obvious with drug addiction.
- A desire to stop and a lack of success in doing so. Short-term abstinence will be followed by use that quickly returns to pre-abstinence levels and above. Patients describe this as a loss of control.
- Time is spent in obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the addictive substance. The addiction begins to define the person’s schedule.
- Important activities are sacrificed because of the addiction. These can be work related, personal goals, recreational or social.
- Use is continued despite the knowledge that it is harmful, either physically, psychologically or socially.
While all addictions will exhibit some of these signs, substances and behaviors differ depending on the addiction. Most addicts will deny the extent of their problem, but at some point will admit (at least to themselves) that a problem exists.
Unfortunately, the label, “addict” is has become a powerfully negative and ugly stereotype. It is neither a character defect nor a moral weakness. Anyone can become an addict if they are exposed to the proper stimulus in the right context.
If you believe you may be an abuser of, or addicted to alcohol or drugs (or if someone close to you is struggling with this problem) check out the information under “If you have a problem”, “If you are a parent” or “If you have a friend” for more information.