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
Understanding Addiction ?
People experiment with drugs for many different reasons. Many first try drugs out of curiosity, to
have a good time, because friends are doing it, or in an effort to improve athletic performance or
ease another problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Use doesn’t automatically lead to
abuse, and there is no specific level at which drug use moves from casual to problematic. It
varies by individual. Drug abuse and addiction is less about the amount of substance consumed
or the frequency, and more to do with the consequences of drug use. No matter how often or
how little you’re consuming, if your drug use is causing problems in your life—at work, school,
home, or in your relationships—you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem.
Signs of Addiction ?
Many people begin to use alcohol or illicit drugs asa result of peer influences, out of
curiosity, or in an attempt to cope with everyday life stressors. Still others begin to develop
addictive behaviors in conjunction with previous experiences with medications legitimately
prescribed for a medical condition—drugs such as opioids for pain management (e.g.,
Vicodin, OxyContin), benzodiazepines for anxiety management (e.g., Xanax, Ativan), and
hypnotics such as Ambien for sleep management—all substances with a pronounced
potential for dependence and abuse. A small proportion of these people who have used
drugs for medicinal purposes may go on to abuse them for their pleasurable psychoactive
effects, to deal with stress, or for other maladaptive reasons.
Signs of Addiction ?
Stigma is defined in the dictionary as “a mark of disgrace or infamy.” The stigma of
addiction—the mark of disgrace or infamy associated with the disease—stems from behavioral
symptoms and aspects of substance use disorder. For example, symptoms of alcohol and other
drug addiction, such as impaired judgment or erratic behavior, can result in negative
consequences including legal, occupational and relationship problems. Understandably, these
kinds of consequences cause embarrassment and shame among those afflicted and affected.
They also create stigmatized attitudes and perceptions about addiction among the wider public,
a response that perpetuates and exacerbates the private shame associated with drug addiction.