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

  • Have Insurers Played a Role in Opioid Crisis?

    Health insurers may have helped fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic by not encouraging use of less addictive pain medications, a new study contends. More...

  • Pot Still a Drug of Choice for Many U.S. Adults

    Fewer American teens may be smoking pot, but the same can't be said for older adults, a new study finds. More...

  • If Opioid Addicts Survive OD, Other Hazards Lie Ahead: Study

    Survivors of an opioid overdose may consider themselves lucky, but they remain at heightened risk of dying -- not just from drugs, but from a host of medical problems or suicide, a new study finds. More...

  • When the Heart Stops, Drugs Often to Blame

    "Hidden" drug overdoses account for nearly 1 in 7 sudden cardiac deaths, a new study contends. More...

  • Meds Can Cut Deaths From Opioid Abuse, But Too Few Get Them

    Buprenorphine and methadone can cut the chances that someone who survives an opioid overdose will succumb to yet another one, but too few patients get the treatments, a new study shows. More...

  • 45 More
    • When DEA Cracked Down on Opioids, Abusers Moved to Black Market: Study

      Illegal opioid sales on the internet have surged in the wake of U.S. government crackdowns on prescriptions for the highly addictive painkillers, a new study shows. More...

    • More Teens Than Ever Would Try Marijuana

      One in four U.S. high school seniors would try marijuana or use it more often if it was legal, a new survey finds. More...

    • High Schoolers on Heroin Abuse Other Drugs, Too

      High school seniors hooked on heroin are likely to misuse a multitude of other drugs, a new study finds. More...

    • Pot, Opioids Now Rival Alcohol as Factor in Driver Deaths

      Pot and opioids have become almost as deadly as booze for drivers, a new report shows. More...

    • Pot Replacing Tobacco, Booze as Teens' Drug of Choice

      Pot is increasingly replacing cigarettes and alcohol as the first drug of choice among young Americans, researchers have found. More...

    • Patterns of Potential Misuse Help Assess Risk of Opioid Overdose

      Patterns of potential opioid misuse are positively associated with subsequent opioid overdose, according to a study published online May 22 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. More...

    • Boys' Early Pot Use Linked to Adult Drug Abuse

      Boys who start smoking pot before they are 15 years old are more likely to have a drug problem when they're adults than those who don't start until they are a few years older. More...

    • FDA Approves Non-Opioid Medication to Treat Opioid Withdrawal

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the non-opioid drug Lucemyra to help adults cope with symptoms of opioid withdrawal. More...

    • Hit Hard by Opioid Crisis, Appalachian States Expand Clean-Needle Programs

      Clean-needle programs are exactly what's needed, experts say, with Appalachia now an epicenter of the opioid addiction crisis ravaging the United States. More...

    • Programs That Monitor Opioid Painkillers May Drive Some to Heroin

      Prescription drug monitoring programs are touted as a way to reduce overdoses from opioid painkillers, but they might have the unintended effect of increasing heroin overdose deaths, researchers say. More...

    • Racial Divide Narrows in Opioid Prescribing in U.S.

      Black Americans are no longer less likely than whites to be prescribed opioid painkillers -- but that means their risk of addiction to the narcotics has increased, researchers say. More...

    • Opioid Crisis Means More Newborns With Hepatitis C, But Few Get Tested

      Due to the U.S. opioid epidemic, hepatitis C is up among pregnant women, raising the risk for mother-to-child transmission of the virus, a new study reveals. More...

    • Fentanyl Now Drives Drug Overdose Deaths in U.S.

      Overdose deaths involving dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl have skyrocketed in recent years, surpassing deaths from prescription painkillers, a new U.S. study reveals. More...

    • People With Opioid Use Disorder Have High Suicide Rate

      Patients with opioid use disorder seem to have a high rate of suicide, according to a perspective piece published in the April 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. More...

    • Many Opioid Overdoses May Be Suicides

      As the United States grapples with an ongoing opioid epidemic, experts are calling attention to a hidden aspect of the crisis: Many overdose deaths may, in fact, be suicides. More...

    • 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...

    • 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...

Share This

Resources