Skip 
Navigation Link
secslider

What is Drug Addiction?

pile of pills

Drug addiction is a commonly used term that describes an impaired ability to limit drug use, despite the harmful consequences of continued use.  In this respect, drug meets the definition of addiction. In our topic center on addiction, we define addiction:

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.

Drug addiction is not a diagnostic term recognized by American Psychiatric Association.  The correct diagnostic term would be substance disorder.   The process of diagnosing drug addiction is discussed here.

Like all addictions, the severity of drug addiction may range from mild to severe.  Unfortunately, many pe...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is drug addiction?

  • Drug addiction is a commonly used term that describes an impaired ability to limit drug use, despite the harmful consequences of continued use. In this respect, drug meets the definition of addiction.
  • In our topic center on addiction, we define addiction as 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.
  • Drug addiction is not a diagnostic term recognized by American Psychiatric Association. The correct diagnostic term would be substance disorder. The process of diagnosing drug addiction is discussed here.
  • Like all addictions, the severity of drug addiction may range from mild to severe. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe they do not need to be concerned about their drug use because they do not consider themselves "an addict." In other words, people sometimes fail to recognize the substantial harm caused by their repeated and continued use of drugs.

For more information on identifying the many possible ways that drug use may be harmful to someone.

What causes drug addiction?

  • There is no one single cause of drug addiction. Instead, there are multiple causes that can be grouped into four basic categories.
  • These four categories are: 1) biological causes, 2) psychological causes, 3) socio-cultural causes, and 4) spiritual causes. Psychologists call this the Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual Model of addiction.
  • The biological causes of drug addiction include each person's unique physiology and genetics.
  • Psychologically, people learn to anticipate some benefit from using drugs even though it is harmful. These benefits can include: 1) stress reduction, 2) relief from boredom, 3) pleasurable sensations, 4) coping with negative feelings or situations, or 4) simply the benefit of avoiding withdrawal symptoms.
  • Socio-cultural influences also contribute to the development of drug addiction as it affords opportunities for pleasing social discourse and interaction.
  • Spirituality is another causal factor that can determine whether an addiction develops and flourishes.

For more information

What are the signs and symptoms of drug addiction?

  • The diagnosis of a substance use disorder is based upon a pathological set of behaviors related to substance use. These behaviors fall into four main categories:
    • Impaired control - 1) Using for longer periods of time than intended, or using larger amounts than intended; 2) Wanting to reduce use, yet being unsuccessful doing so; 3) Spending excessive time getting/using/recovering from the use; 4) Cravings that are so intense it is difficult to think about anything else.
    • Social impairment - 1) People may continue to use despite problems with work, school or family/social obligations; 2) Someone continues to use despite having interpersonal problems because of that use; 3) Important and meaningful social and recreational activities may be given up or reduced because of use.
    • Risky use - 1) someone repeatedly uses substances in physically dangerous situations; 2) Some people continue to use substances even though they are aware it is causing or worsening physical and psychological problems.
    • Pharmacological indicators (tolerance and withdrawal) - 1) Tolerance occurs when people need to increase the amount of drugs to achieve the same desired effect; 2) Withdrawal is the body's response to the abrupt cessation of a drug, once the body has developed a tolerance to it.

For more information

How is drug addiction treated?

  • There are four basic approaches to drug addiction treatment: Biological, Psychological, Socio-Cultural, and Spiritual.
  • People can combine these various approaches to match their individual needs and circumstances as they work to develop their own individualized, custom-tailored approach to recovery.
  • Biological approaches to addictions treatment attempt to correct or modify the presumed underlying biological causes of addiction. According to biological models of addiction, a "broken" or damaged brain causes addiction.
  • Psychological approaches to recovery aim to increase a person's motivation for change.
  • In addition to changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, individuals embracing recovery may also need to restructure their social world.
  • Strengthening the motivation for recovery is very helpful. One such approach is called Motivational Interviewing.
  • There are also several effective types of psychotherapy for addictions. These are: Relapse Prevention Therapy; Contingency Management; Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
  • Socio-cultural approaches to addictions recovery emphasize the important influence of social groups on individuals as they attempt to recover. These include: 1) harm reduction strategies such as needle exchange programs, or public campaigns such as designated drivers, 2) family approaches to addictions treatment, and 3) the social support approach to addictions treatment.
  • Spiritual approaches to recovery are based on research that has repeatedly demonstrated that spirituality can have a positive effect on recovery from many diseases and disorders. The most well-known spiritual approaches to addictions recovery are the 12-step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

For more information


News Articles

  • First Opioid Lawsuit Targeting Pharmacy Benefit Managers

    A first opioid lawsuit is targeting pharmacy benefit managers, according to a report published in Managed Healthcare Executive. More...

  • Addictive Opioids Still Overprescribed After Surgery: Study

    Doctors continue to prescribe far too many opioid painkillers to patients following surgery, a new study indicates. More...

  • Doctors Curbing First-Time Prescriptions for Opioids

    Although the opioid epidemic continues to rage in America, promising new data show that first-time opioid painkiller prescription rates have slowed in recent years. More...

  • Education, Depression, Pain Associated With Opioid Misuse

    In adults age 50 or older, higher education, illicit drug use, depression, and pain interference with normal work are significantly associated with opioid misuse, according to a study published recently in Nursing Outlook. More...

  • Mom's Marijuana Winds Up in Breast Milk

    Breast-feeding has known benefits for both baby and mom, but if a new mom also smokes marijuana, does the drug turn up in her breast milk? More...

  • 45 More
    • Dance Club Scene Rife With Opioid Abuse

      Ecstasy and molly have other deadly company on the club drug scene. A new study finds odds of opioid misuse are higher than average among electronic dance music devotees. More...

    • Addicts Should Be Trained to Give OD Antidote, Study Finds

      Frequent opioid users may be the best candidates for training to reverse overdoses in other users, researchers say. More...

    • CDC: Overdose Deaths Up Across Drug Categories in 2015 to 2016

      From 2015 to 2016, there were increases in deaths across all drug categories examined, with 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016, according to research published in the March 30 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. More...

    • Could Medical Pot Help Curb the Opioid Abuse Crisis?

      Medical marijuana could help quell the ongoing opioid epidemic, a pair of new studies contends. More...

    • ER Docs Prescribe More Opioids Than They Realize

      Many emergency room doctors underestimate how often they prescribe potentially addictive opioid painkillers, new research shows. More...

    • Fentanyl Fuels Latest Spike in Opioid OD Deaths

      Drug overdose deaths continue to pile up in the United States, driven largely by the opioid epidemic and the emergence of dangerously potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a new government report shows. More...

    • As Pot Smoking Rises, Users Might Also Turn to Cigarettes

      A smoke is a smoke is a smoke: New research suggests that folks who smoke pot may be more prone to taking up -- or returning to -- the cigarette habit. More...

    • Geographic, Social Variances Tied to Higher Drug-Related Mortality

      County-level economic and other social conditions explain the geographic disparities in overdose rates across the country, according to a study published online March 26 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. More...

    • U.S. Opioid ODs Cluster in Centers of Poverty

      Poverty may be fueling America's opioid crisis, a new study suggests. More...

    • Substance Use Mortality Varies Widely Across U.S. Counties

      Across U.S. counties there is considerable variation in mortality due to alcohol use disorders, drug use disorders, self-harm, and interpersonal violence, according to a study published in the March 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. More...

    • Opioid ODs Outpacing Other 'Deaths of Despair'

      Though fewer Americans are dying from alcohol abuse, suicide and murder, opioid overdose deaths have risen dramatically in recent decades, a new report finds. More...

    • Certain Teens More Likely to Get Hooked on Opioids

      Teenagers with any mental health problem are more prone to painkiller dependence after receiving a prescription opioid, a new study finds. More...

    • ER Visits for Opioid Overdoses Soaring: CDC

      America's opioid epidemic is escalating at breakneck speed, with tens of thousands of overdose victims spilling into the nation's emergency rooms seeking lifesaving treatment, a new government report shows. More...

    • Xanax, Valium Looking Like America's Next Drug Crisis

      America is well aware of its opioid epidemic, but there's a hidden crisis brewing with prescription sedatives such as Xanax and Valium, a new review warns. More...

    • Mouse Study Another Step Toward 'Heroin Vaccine'

      Researchers say they are one step closer to testing a heroin vaccine in humans -- in what they hope will become an additional weapon in fighting America's opioid epidemic. More...

    • Fatal Opioid ODs Drop for People Treated While Jailed

      An opioid addiction treatment program for Rhode Island prison inmates appears to have significantly reduced overdose deaths among those who are released, researchers say. More...

    • Anti-Heroin Vaccine Shows Promise Against Lethal Doses

      A toll-like receptor 9 agonist in the presence of alum is stable over a month and elicits strong anti-heroin antibody titers and blockade of heroin-induced antinociception, according to a study published online Feb. 8 in Molecular Pharmaceutics. More...

    • Fentanyl Test Strips May Help Stem OD Deaths

      A thin test strip -- similar to a pregnancy test -- can detect whether a street drug contains the dangerous opioid fentanyl, according to a new report. More...

    • Driving May Be Risky Business on 4/20 Pot Holiday

      America's highways are decidedly less safe on April 20, a day when stoners publicly celebrate marijuana use. More...

    • Responding to Opioid Crisis, FDA Puts More Restrictions on Imodium

      Increasingly, people addicted to opioid painkillers are using dangerously high doses of the diarrhea drug Imodium (loperamide), either to get high or to help ease withdrawal. More...

    • How to Avoid Opioid Addiction After Surgery

      Following surgery, many patients head home with prescriptions for 30 or more opioid painkillers -- enough to trigger addiction, warns a leading group of anesthesiologists. More...

    • Memory Loss Hitting Some Fentanyl Abusers

      Using fentanyl or other opioids alongside other illicit drugs could trigger possibly permanent amnesia caused by brain damage, doctors warn. More...

    • Will Smoking Pot Harm Your Heart? Experts Weigh In

      Anyone worried that smoking a lot of pot could lead to a heart attack or stroke will just have to keep worrying for the time being. More...

    • Opioid Epidemic Also Taking Toll on Babies

      In yet another example of how far-reaching the fallout from America's opioid epidemic is, researchers report that babies exposed to these narcotics while in the womb run the risk of certain head and neck abnormalities. More...

    • Brochure Can Improve Opioid Disposal Rates After Surgery

      Disseminating an educational brochure improves disposal of unused opioids after surgery, according to a study published Jan. 10 in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. More...

    • Opioid Abuse Rises When Prescriptions Are Renewed

      How long you take opioid painkillers after surgery is a much stronger risk factor for addiction and overdose than the dosage of the opioids you take, researchers report. More...

    • Socioeconomic Factors Associated With Opioid Prescriptions

      Among disabled Medicare beneficiaries, county-level socioeconomic factors are associated with opioid prescriptions, with more prescriptions seen with lower socioeconomic indicators, according to a study published in the January issue of Medical Care. More...

    • Epidemic of Opioid Abuse Is Top Health News of 2017

      The millions of Americans caught in the grip of an addiction to opioids -- prescription painkillers or heroin -- remained the leading health news story of the past year. More...

    • More Pregnant Women Are Using Pot

      An analysis of urine samples from roughly 300,000 California women finds that more than 7 percent used marijuana while pregnant. More...

    • U.S. Life Expectancy Drops as Opioid Deaths Surge

      The opioid epidemic continues to chip away at the average American life span, federal health officials reported Thursday. More...

    • Heroin Vaccine Blunts Drug's Effect in Animals

      An experimental heroin vaccine has shown promise in an early animal study. More...

    • Drug May Help Surgical Patients Stop Opioids Sooner

      Opioid painkillers after surgery can be the first step toward addiction for some patients. But a common drug might cut the amount of narcotics that patients need, a new study finds. More...

    • Often, Opioid Abuse Becomes a Family Affair

      Opioid addiction often starts in the family medicine cabinet, a new study warns. More...

    • U.S. Courts, Jails Could Be Key Players in Curbing Opioid Abuse

      Just 5 percent of people referred for opioid addiction treatment by the U.S. criminal justice system receive the best treatment More...

    • Smokers 10 Times More Likely to Use Pot Daily

      A strong link exists between smoking and daily marijuana use, with U.S. smokers 10 times more likely to use pot every day More...

    • Steep Rise in Deaths for People Hospitalized After Opioid OD

      The death rate has quadrupled among people whose opioid use lands them in a hospital More...

    • FDA Approves Once-Monthly Injection for Opioid Addiction

      Sublocade, a once-monthly injection of buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More...

    • 'Pill Mill' Docs Only Partly to Blame for Opioid Epidemic

      All prescribers of opioid pain medications -- not just high-volume prescribers -- play a role in the U.S. epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses, a new study says. More...

    • Chronic Pain Common Among Those Who OD on Opioids

      More than 60 percent of opioid overdose deaths involve people who suffer from chronic pain More...

    • Pot May Alter Brain Function of Some With HIV

      Using marijuana when you have HIV could lead to problems with brain function if you also abuse alcohol or drugs More...

    • Immediate Access to Opioid Agonists Found Cost-Effective

      Immediate access to opioid agonist treatment for patients presenting with opioid use disorder may provide greater health benefits at less cost than observed standard of care, according to a study published online Nov. 21 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. More...

    • Opioid Crisis Hitting Boomers, Millennials Hardest

      The U.S. opioid epidemic seems to be taking its biggest toll on the baby boomer and millennial generations More...

    • Top Anti-Opioid Meds Are Equally Safe, Effective

      The top two medications used to treat opioid addiction appear equally safe and effective More...

    • Is Meth Use Destroying Vets' Hearts?

      Methamphetamine appears to be damaging the hearts of U.S. military veterans at an increasing rate More...

    • Health Tip: Spread Awareness of the Opioid Epidemic

      You can do your part to help reverse the trend by alerting others to the dangers of these drugs, and helping them avoid becoming addicted More...

Share This

Resources