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What’s the Real Definition of Addiction? Here’s Ours, What’s Yours?

a person talks with a counselor about the question "what is the definition of addiction"

There are millions of people in the United States who suffer from the disease of addiction. In fact, statistics suggest that as many as 40 million Americans are addicted to some kind of mind or mood-altering substances. This means approximately one in 10 people in the United States over 12 years old are living with addiction. But what is the definition of addiction?

Northpoint Washington offers addiction treatment programs at our center in Edmonds, WA. You can get started by calling 425.437.3298.

What is Addiction

Addiction Is Misunderstood

What’s startling is that in spite of the fact that parents, children, family members, and friends are battling the disease of addiction, most people are still confused about what addiction really is. Keep in mind, that there is a difference between substance use, abuse, and addiction.

Many people argue that addiction is a choice. Others say it’s a moral defect of character. Some even believe addiction is caused by demonic possession. This is tragic. The first step to truly conquering addiction in this country is through education.

Addiction is not a choice

What Is the Definition of Addiction?

In no uncertain terms, addiction is a disease. It is a disorder of the brain. It is a biological condition that affects the overall health and wellness of the person who suffers from it.

There is no cure for addiction, but there are a number of approaches that promise to treat the condition. Several experts in the field of addiction and recovery agree that addiction is a disease:

  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.”
  • The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that “Addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction of these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations.”
  • The American Psychiatric Association says, “Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences,.”

Still not convinced? Do some internet research of your own. You will find that the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and countless other reputable health organizations also define addiction as a disease.

Addiction Phases

What Does the Addiction Definition of “Disease” Mean?

In order for you to truly understand that addiction is a disease, you should probably have a clear understanding of how the word disease is defined. Of course, you probably already have an intuitive idea of what a disease is. It is sickness, right? You get that. It is an illness. It is a departure from health. It is the opposite of wellness.

However, the disease of addiction operates in such a way that you may naturally reject the idea that it is a disease. To drive the point home, Webster’s Dictionary, which offers the most widespread and commonly accepted definition, says that a disease is “a condition that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.”

Does addiction meet the criteria to be classified as a disease based on this definition?

  • Is addiction a condition? Check! It is a condition that affects the mind, body, and spirit.
  • Does it impair normal functioning? Check! You can attest to how addiction has impaired your own normal functioning as a human being.
  • Is it manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms? Check! According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, “the most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal.”

Simple, right? A disease is defined as a condition that meets certain criteria. Addiction meets this criteria. Therefore, addiction is a disease.

Symptoms of Addiction

Common References to Addiction

Addiction is a disease, but it is so much more than a brain disorder. These synonyms for addiction were collected from a pool of individuals in recovery:

  • A cunning enemy of life
  • Powerlessness and unmanageability
  • Slowly committing suicide
  • A battle through the darkness
  • A struggle to find the light
  • A break from reality
  • A hopeless state of mind
  • Insanity
  • An affliction of the mind, body, and spirit
  • A disorder of the mind, driven by obsession and compulsion

What is the definition of addiction to you? Is it any of these things? Or perhaps, addiction is a combination of all of these references and more. The truth is, everyone’s experience with addiction may be different, but the underlying reality remains the same: addiction is a disease that requires understanding, compassion, and proper treatment in order to overcome its grasp on individuals and families.

Refuse the Disease Concept of Addiction

Denial Is Powerful

It’s understandable if you are still having a difficult time wrapping your mind around the definition of addiction as a disease. This is not uncommon. Most people who have the disease of addiction do not accept this concept right away. Why? Denial. Denial is a very powerful aspect of this condition. Denial is the part of the disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease. It keeps the truth hidden from you because it wants to keep you sick. Denial will tell you several lies because addiction wants you to continue to use drugs at all costs.

Once you accept that you have a disease, you might actually get help for your illness and remain abstinent from drugs for the rest of your life. Addiction doesn’t want that. Here are some of the lies denial will manifest so that you will remain in active addiction:

  • “You don’t have a disease. You just need to exercise some self-control so you can still drink on the weekends.”
  • “You can have just one.”
  • “You don’t need those meetings. Those meetings are for junkies. You only smoke pot and take pills.”
  • “It’s not like you shoot heroin or anything.”
  • “Okay, so you shoot heroin. But you still have a job.”
  • “You’re not sick. You’re just weak. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps!”
  • “I don’t have a problem with alcohol. It’s the cocaine. I just need to stop using the cocaine.”

The list goes on and on. Anything that your mind tells you that allows you to continue to use drugs while your life spirals out of control is a manifestation of denial.

Three Common Myths About What Addiction Is

Three Common Myths About What Addiction Is

If you don’t believe addiction is a disease, you have to believe it is something else. What else could it be? Let’s bust the three most common myths.

Myth # 1: Addiction Is a Choice

Addiction is not a choice. Not everyone has the disease of addiction. Medical experts believe addiction is a matter of genetic predisposition. This is why some people can use highly addictive substances like cocaine or opioids recreationally and not touch the stuff again for months or years. If you have the disease, you will become addicted and continue to use drugs in spite of the negative consequences.

Myth # 2: Addiction Is a Matter of Willpower

Addiction causes you to abuse drugs against your own will. This statement from Smart Drug Policy says it best, “Brain imaging shows that continued drug intake generates a progressive weakening in the prefrontal cortex required for exerting self-control. Once addicted, quitting alone becomes unlikely. It therefore seems strange to assert that one is exercising his or her free will when using drugs.”

Myth # 3: Addiction Is a Moral Failing

Addiction has nothing to do with whether you are a good or bad person. Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate. It affects individuals from all walks of life, regardless of their moral character or values. Believing that addiction is caused by moral failing only perpetuates stigma and prevents those who are suffering from seeking help.

Call Northpoint Washington for Addiction Programs

Now that you have a better understanding of what addiction really is, it’s time to take action. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Northpoint Washington offers comprehensive treatment programs designed to address the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of this disease. Don’t let denial hold you back from getting the help you deserve. Contact us online or by calling 425.437.3298 today and take the first step toward recovery.

Full Infographic:

Real Definition of Addiciton