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What is Addiction?

Drug concept: Needle, cocaine, dollar bill
 According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiological disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. Addiction is also characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and cravings for the drug.

People can become confused by the difference between dependence, abuse and addiction. Here is a breakdown of these terms:


 Tolerance develops when people use a drug over time. When it takes more of the drug to get the same effect, tolerance has developed. If the drug seems less effective or doesn’t affect you, in the same way, it is likely that tolerance has developed. This can happen quickly for some and slowly for others. It really depends on your individual physiology and the dosage. When your tolerance level increases, you are more likely to take more of the drug, or to take it more frequently.



Tolerance is usually closely followed by dependence. If you abruptly quit taking a drug and experience withdrawals such as shakes, sweats, nausea, headaches, etc. Then you have become dependent on the drug. It is important to note that dependence does not always equal, addiction. It is also important to note that you can become dependent on a drug even if you have used it as directed. As with tolerance, this is an individual thing, each person reacts to drugs differently.


If you are taking a drug in a way that is different than prescribed, this is abuse. If you are taking a drug that was not prescribed to you, this is abuse. If you are taking a drug for reasons other than what it was prescribed for, or in a recreational or social setting, that is abuse.


Addiction isn’t the same as physical dependence or even abuse, although these things go hand in hand. Addiction happens when changes in the brain occur that make the user feel compelled to use drugs at any cost. Addiction is characterized by severe psychological cravings, obsessive thinking, and compulsive using. Denial is a common characteristic of addiction, making it more difficult to identify and treat the problem.