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A Drug Addiction Definition You Can Understand

Drug addiction, no matter how you consider it or whom it involves, is a complicated issue. It can be difficult for those who have never experienced addiction to understand just what it entails, and even some individuals who have gone through it struggle to understand what it means to the rest of their lives and what they can do about it.

Understanding the concept of addiction, especially to drugs of abuse, is important for every individual, whether they use drugs or not. It may be relevant to their future through a loved one or even through a chance encounter with a stranger. Being able to grasp the concept of addiction and what it entails could save your life or help you save the life of another.

Drug Addiction Defined

drug addiction

If you can’t stop taking drugs even if you want to, it may be addiction.

Several simplified definitions of addiction already exist. According to the NIH, “When a drug user can’t stop taking a drug even if he wants to, it’s called addiction.” A more intensive definition is given by the NIDA: “Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.” The NLM explains that tolerance is part of addiction, which is described as a term meaning “that a person has a strong urge to use the substance and cannot stop, even if they want to.”

Defining drug addiction can be tricky, as it is often described as a complex disease. And it is complex, especially because it has so many symptoms as well as many possible causes which can differ from person to person. However, perhaps the easiest way to understand addiction is to consider the point in which drug abuse moves from voluntary to involuntary.

When a person begins abusing substances, it is a choice. Perhaps they have chosen to take stimulants to try and get better grades in school or to lose weight. Maybe they are taking prescription painkillers because they like the way the euphoric high makes them feel. At first, this abuse is their decision, and whatever consequences occur are a result of that decision. But, eventually, if that individual continues to abuse these substances, they will actually make changes to the brain which causes the individual to

  • Crave the drug all the time
  • Experience intense and/or painful symptoms when unable to take it
  • Notice that the same amount of the substance does not cause the same results
  • What to do the drug more than anything else
  • Only receive the pleasure they seek from their drug abuse to the point where other types of pleasure pale in comparison
  • Seek out more of the drug to their own detriment or to the detriment of others

When these side effects occur as a result of the individual’s drug use, the same action of taking the substance will become involuntary, and the individual will not be able to stop abusing it. This occurs even when the person realizes how dangerous or problematic the results of their drug abuse are, and they will still be unable to stop.

Addiction can be defined as a chronic disease caused by a substance’s effects on the brain to where the individual cannot stop abusing the substance, even if they realize their abuse is harming them. The moment where a person’s drug abuse becomes involuntary or uncontrollable, that is when it crosses into the realm of addiction.

Do I Have an Addiction?

If you are concerned about the possibility that you may already be addicted to a substance, consider the definition again. Do you truly feel in control of your drug abuse? If you feel that you have lost control, you probably have. Still, it can be dangerous for a person to try and diagnose themselves, especially with a disorder like addiction, so ask yourself the questions below and answer honestly.

  • Do you abuse drugs every day?
  • Has your substance abuse ever caused a major problem in your life such as:
    • Getting fired from a job?
    • Breaking up with a spouse or significant other?
    • Falling out with a friend or family member?
    • Getting arrested or otherwise legally reprimanded?
    • Failing out of school or getting bad grades?
    • Experiencing financial issues?
  • As a result, did you continue to abuse drugs the same as you always did?
  • Do you sometimes feel you cannot face the day, an important meeting, a loved one, or your life in general without drugs?
  • Have you experienced health-related side effects as a result of your substance abuse?
  • Do you notice yourself displaying mood swings consistently, going from happy when you are able to take drugs to extremely moody and depressed when you are unable to?
  • Have you stopped caring about your physical appearance to the point where you do not bathe, brush your teeth, or change your clothes regularly?
  • Have you begun to neglect other aspects of your day-to-day life (such as eating, going to work, going to school, sleeping, etc.) in order to abuse drugs?
  • Do you feel apathetic toward everything except your drug abuse?
  • Have you become extremely secretive to the point where you lie to your loved ones about what you are doing and where you are going?
  • Have you ever become hostile when someone commented on your drug use?
  • Do you feel that the same amount of the drug you have ben abusing no longer causes the same effects?
  • Do you make excuses for yourself to use drugs, even when you know you shouldn’t?

If you answered yes to many of the questions above, it is likely that you have an addiction. You should seek help immediately in order to stop abusing drugs. Fortunately, “addiction is a treatable, chronic disease that can be managed successfully,” and those living with it are often able to stop abusing drugs with time and treatment (NIDA).

The most important thing to understand about the disorder is that you will not be able to stop taking drugs on you own after becoming addicted and that it is normal to need help in order to feel like yourself again.