Short Definition of Addiction:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
Addiction is more than a behavioral disorder. Features of addiction include aspects of a person’s behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and interactions with others, including a person’s ability to relate to members of their family, to members of their community, to their own psychological state, and to things that transcend their daily experience.
Behavioral manifestations and complications of addiction, primarily due to impaired control, can include:
- Excessive use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, at higher frequencies and/or quantities than the person intended, often associated with a persistent desire for and unsuccessful attempts at behavioral control;
- Excessive time lost in substance use or recovering from the effects of substance use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, with significant adverse impact on social and occupational functioning (e.g. the development of interpersonal relationship problems or the neglect of responsibilities at home, school or work);
- Continued use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, despite the presence of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems which may have been caused or exacerbated by substance use and/or related addictive behaviors;
- A narrowing of the behavioral repertoire focusing on rewards that are part of addiction; and
- An apparent lack of ability and/or readiness to take consistent, ameliorative action despite recognition of problems.
Cognitive changes in addiction can include:
- Preoccupation with substance use;
- Altered evaluations of the relative benefits and detriments associated with drugs or rewarding behaviors; and
- The inaccurate belief that problems experienced in one’s life are attributable to other causes rather than being a predictable consequence of addiction.
Emotional changes in addiction can include:
- Increased anxiety, dysphoria and emotional pain;
- Increased sensitivity to stressors associated with the recruitment of brain stress systems, such that “things seem more stressful” as a result; and
- Difficulty in identifying feelings, distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal, and describing feelings to other people (sometimes referred to as alexithymia).
–American Society of Addiction Medicine