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What is Addiction?

According to Google, the definition of addiction is “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity,” and the definition of addicted is “physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects.”

When someone refers to dependence, they may be referring to the physical dependence that the human body develops to certain substances. Alcohol, heroin, and cocaine are some common substances that the human body can become physically dependent on. Once the user stops, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction and continued use of mind-altering substances cause changes in brain chemistry that leads to changes in behaviors. This disease is marked by an individual continuing the usage of a substance despite negative consequences to their health, relationships, career, and financial status.


Substance abuse is when a substance is used in a way that is indulgent and/or delinquent. An individual can abuse a substance without being addicted, but abuse of certain substances can easily and quickly lead to addiction. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is never a good or safe idea. Overdose on substances such as heroin can happen at any point, even the first use. It simply is not worth the risk of abusing any substance.


Diagnosis of addiction can happen on 2 levels: a personal level, and a clinical level. An individual can identify as an addict but not be diagnosed with an addiction or vise versa. Some people are forced into treatment via a court order or social pressure, but those who acknowledge their addiction are likely to be more successful in achieving long term sobriety. In order to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, more commonly referred to as drug and alcohol addiction, there are certain criteria that a physician will look for. This includes:

  • Tolerance

  • Withdrawal

  • Cravings

  • Hazardous Use

  • Much time spent using

  • Neglected major roles to use

  • Activities given up to use

  • Used larger amounts/longer

  • Failed Attempts to Quit or Control Use

  • Social or interpersonal problems related to use

  • Physical or psychological problems related to use

If 2-3 of these criteria are met, it is considered a mild use disorder, 5-4 is moderate, and 6 or more criteria are diagnosed as a severe substance use disorder.


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