Addiction to Alcohol and Drugs

What is Addiction?

Addiction refers to someone who has lost the power of choice with regards to the use of a substance. They have no control over the amount of drugs and/or alcohol ingested because the body has altered to rely on substances to feel normal.

Many professionals believe addiction does not have to involve a substance like alcohol or narcotics. For example, some people develop an addiction to behaviors like sex or gambling, often referred to as “process” addictions.

Substance use by habit refers to someone who casually or recreationally drinks or ingests drugs. The danger in substance use by habit is that it can lead to addiction. In fact, almost all addiction arises from some form of habitual use. There is usually a period where someone chooses to take a drink or drug prior to establishment of full-blown addiction. Someone cannot develop an immediate physical addiction to a substance, but a person may become psychologically fixated on a substance after as little as one use.

Addiction is also known in the medical community as substance dependence, chemical dependency or substance use disorder. While there is debate regarding the factors that influence addiction, medical professionals generally agree that genetic factors constitute 50% of the addiction formula. The other 50% comes from environmental factors like childhood, relationship with parents and potentially traumatic events.

Dr. John Marsden – What Is Addiction?

It is important to note that medical professionals distinguish substance dependence (addiction) from substance abuse. The following criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) demonstrates the symptoms of each condition.

DSM-IV Substance Abuse Criteria

Substance abuse is defined as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by one (or more) of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

1. Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (such as repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; or neglect of children or household).

2. Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (such as driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by substance use)

3. Recurrent substance-related legal problems (such as arrests for substance related disorderly conduct)

4. Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance (for example, arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication and physical fights).

DSM-IV Substance Dependence Criteria

Addiction (termed substance dependence by the American Psychiatric Association) is defined as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring any time in the same 12-month period:

1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

-A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or the desired effect or

-Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the


2. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

-The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance or

-The same (or closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

3. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.

4. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.

5. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.

6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.

7. The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

Types of addiction: Major categories of substance abuse

Although there are various types of addiction (e.g. gambling, food, sex, etc.), Discovery Place is focused on addressing addiction as it pertains to drugs and alcohol. People suffering from alcohol and/or drug addiction usually fall into at least one of the categories listed below. Are you an addict or alcoholic? Find out by answering these questions.

  • Alcohol addiction (alcoholism)
  • Opiate addiction (hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, etc.)
  • Heroin addiction
  • Cocaine addiction
  • Methamphetamine addiction (crystal meth)
  • Benzodiazepine addiction (Xanax®/alprozolam, Valium®/diazepam, others)
  • The four stages of addiction

Other categories of substance abuse, substance dependence

  • THC: Marijuana, hash, etc.
  • Dependence on other substances including over-the-counter cough medication (dextromorthophan, a.k.a. DXM or DM), stimulants like Adderall & Vyvanse, etc.
  • Psychedelic drugs, designer drugs, club drugs
  • Other substances gaining traction in the U.S. (e.g., synthetic marijuana, Kratom, etc.)


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