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We all have ideas and perhaps even misconceptions about being addicted to drugs or alcohol. The addicted definition is something we might personalize based on our experiences. In reality, an understanding of addictive behavior is rooted in science and how drugs and alcohol hijack the brain.

Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. The disease affects every part of someone’s life. Addiction affects your thoughts, brain function, emotions, behaviors, and physical health.

Misconceptions About Addiction

When we talk about the term addiction, it’s important to be mindful of our language. We’ve learned a lot about substance use disorders in the past several decades, medically and scientifically.

We know, for example, that when someone develops an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s not due to a lack of willpower or because of poor morals. We also know that you can’t simply stop using drugs or alcohol once an addiction forms.

Understanding the addiction definition relies on gaining perspective into the biological components of this chronic disease.

Drug addiction isn’t just a disease—it’s highly complex and can be difficult to treat and often co-occurs with mental illness. 

We wouldn’t talk about someone else with chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, as if they should suddenly stop having the condition. We should remember that substance dependence is similar.

We most often talk about people with an addiction to alcohol or illicit drugs. There are also behavioral addictions like gambling addiction, food addiction, and addictions to video games that have similar symptoms. Compulsive behaviors related to sexual behavior and a loss of control are also related to the addiction concept. 

Addicted Definition

Addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is a chronic disease. The disease is characterized by drug-seeking and compulsive drug use. The seeking and use behaviors are out of the control of the individual, regardless of the harmful consequences that occur.

  • While the initial decision to drink or use addictive drugs or any problematic substance may be voluntary, repeated substance exposure changes the brain leading to the development of addiction. 
  • When you experience these brain changes from substances like illicit drugs, it affects the areas that allow you to exercise judgment and self-control. 
  • You can no longer resist cravings and urges to use the habit-forming substance regardless of the negative consequences. 
  • The changes to the brain tend to be persistent, so we consider the addicted definition to include the concept of relapse. With a relapsing disease, even following treatment, there is a risk of returning to addictive behavior in recovery.
  • Even after years, people may be at higher risk of returning to drug-seeking and drug misuse when they’re in recovery, although the risk tends to decline over time.
  • If someone does relapse on a psychoactive substance, it doesn’t indicate their treatment didn’t work. Besides addiction, chronic health conditions also go through periods of relapse when you aren’t in remission. This means that you need ongoing treatment that evolves and is adjusted as your needs change and based on your response and history of addiction. 

Addiction is also called a substance use disorder or SUD. The simplest definition of a substance use disorder is uncontrollable use of a substance, despite known adverse effects. 

  • Your focus is almost solely on obtaining and using the substance when you have an addiction. Your function in your daily life is impaired. 
  • You may not be able to keep up with your responsibilities at school or work, and your relationships suffer.
  • You could have distortions in your thinking and behavioral effects, leading to substance cravings, personality changes, and abnormal movements.

The Effects of Addiction on the Brain

When someone uses drugs or alcohol, it affects the brain’s reward circuit. You may experience euphoric feelings, at least initially, when using psychoactive substances. There is a flood of dopamine into the brain with many drugs, which is a chemical messenger. Dopamine contributes to the rewarding effects, a key mechanism in addiction. 

  • When your reward system works the way it should, you’re motivated to repeat the behaviors required to thrive in life, like eating and spending time with people you care about.
  • The artificially high surges of dopamine from drugs cause the reinforcement of activities that are pleasurable but aren’t healthy, like continuing to take drugs.
  • The longer you use drugs, the more your brain adapts to their presence. Then, the brain neurons making up your reward circuit can’t appropriately respond.
  • Once you reach this point, you might not feel the same high you did when you first started using the substance. When this happens, you’ve developed a tolerance.
  • You take more of the substance to get the same high and fend off withdrawal symptoms, no matter the negative consequences. 
  • Eventually, your brain is altered to the point that you can’t feel pleasure from the activities you once enjoyed in your life, like sex or food.
  • Other systems and circuits in the brain are also affected, such as those parts that help you with learning, judgment, and decision-making.

Why Are Some People More at Risk for Addiction Than Others?

There’s not one specific thing we can look at to say for sure if someone becomes addicted to drugs of abuse. Instead, it’s a complex set of factors influencing all of our risks for addiction. The more risk factors you have, the more likely that using addictive substances could lead to an addiction. This works as the addicted definition.

  • Biology or genetic factors you have at birth could make up as much as half of your addiction risk. 
  • There isn’t one single gene variant that leads to disorders in substance abusers. There are potentially hundreds of genes that play a role. 
  • Researchers are currently looking for the effects of certain independent genes to improve their understanding of addiction. 

If you have co-occurring mental disorders, these are considered potential factors for addiction risk. Psychiatric disorders and mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder highly correlate with an increased risk of drug addiction or substance dependence development. 

  • Environmental factors can include your family, friends, and socioeconomic status. 
  • More specifically, environmental influences might include exposure to substance use and drug abuse in the home when growing up. 
  • Environmental factors that can raise the risk of an addiction disorder include a highly stressful home environment or being in an abusive situation. 
  • Other environmental factors might include a close relative with an untreated mental illness, which creates a chaotic home life, or growing up in a neighborhood with significant violence. None of these things mean the risk of addiction is definite or unavoidable. 

According to the Mental Health Services Administration, the earlier substance use begins in your life, the more likely you are to develop drug addiction. 

For example, if teens use drugs at an early age, they’re more likely to then try other drugs leading to the development of drug addiction. 

With opioid addiction, the development of an opioid use disorder can stem from prescription drug use. People with addictions to opioid drugs have often been prescribed these medications for pain. Unfortunately, opioids are highly addictive and a key driver in overdose deaths. 

Is There a Cure for Addiction?

Similar to other chronic diseases, including heart disease, asthma, and diabetes, there isn’t necessarily a cure for addiction. The goal of addiction medicine, rather than curing a chronic disease, is to get the symptoms under control, minimize or eliminate their harmful effects on your life, and help you thrive. It is also known as recovery when you’re in remission from addiction. This is the Addicted Definition.

Recovery should include stopping problematic substances or compulsive behaviors. 

Treating a substance use disorder first requires recognition that there is a problem with adverse consequences. If someone isn’t aware they have a problem or don’t understand its extent, it delays their seeking treatment. That delay can then lead to more complications.

Once someone does realize that they have a substance use disorder, they first have to detox. Detoxing is when a person with a dependence goes through the process of the substances leaving their body. When you have a physical dependence on alcohol or illicit drugs, you go through withdrawal. 

After detoxing safely from alcohol abuse or drugs, treatment can begin. Addiction treatment can include behavioral therapy, family therapy, and other forms of talk therapy. Sometimes, a treatment plan may also include medication. Dual diagnosis treatment may be appropriate for people with co-occurring mental health disorders like bipolar, anxiety, or depression.

Breaking down the stigma surrounding addiction and truly understanding it as a disease is important individually and to help at a larger, society-based level. If you’d like to learn treatment for drug addiction, please contact Covenant Hills Treatment by calling 844-268-8412.