What qualifies as a drug addiction?
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What qualifies as a drug addiction?



Learn what cutting edge science, and our resident expert at ALL IN Therapy Clinic, define as a drug addiction


Equipped with a better understanding of what Drug Abuse and Substance Abuse Disorders entail, you can make a more informed decision about your health and body. 






What qualifies as a drug addiction?


Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.


Drug additions involve some substance that one becomes dependent on. Some examples are cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, opioids, crack, synthetic marijuana, nicotine, alcohol, or benzodiazepines.


What qualifies as an addiction? To qualify as an addiction, one’s use of the substance must be regular, must engage in behaviors that interfere with the quality of their life and relationships, and must alter their mood or behavior in a severe way. Further, addiction is a chronic condition, and must be one that people engage in for long stretches of time.



What are the roots of an addiction?


The root causes of one’s addiction can be numerous; early traumatic events, lack of self-esteem, lack of familial support, unreasonably high expectations, or untreated mental health conditions to name a few.


Commonly, the root causes are typically a combination of several factors. The most common and widely accepted contributor to addiction is the genetic predisposition and co-occurring mental health concerns. Addiction, being a maladaptive coping skill for symptoms of underlying mental health.


The physical cravings and dependence on the substance must also not be discounted as a cause. Someone that has untreated depression is not inherently an addict. If that person is also dependent on an addictive substance, then their depression may be a root cause.


Some point to sociological or environmental factors such as unstable family culture, poverty, or dangerous neighborhoods. However, as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out, Mental health and substance use disorders affect people from all walks of life and all age groups. These illnesses are common, recurrent, and often serious, but they are treatable, and many people do recover.


Untreated mental illness can also be a root cause of an addiction, where the addiction may serve as a mean of coping or treating the mental illness. Untreated mental illness is also a risk factor for many negative health outcomes, including early death.



How do you know you are addicted?


Oftentimes an individual has an idea that their chemical use is problematic. Yet, they will develop rationalizations to continue using and over time the truth can get blurred. That being said, if you have a concern that you could be addicted, it is recommended that seek a medical assessment to determine.


One thing to consider is observing whether or not you have “addictive behavior”, or habits that are common amongst people with addictions that contribute to addiction.



What are some examples of addictive behavior?

1. Attempting to control or hide chemical use.
2. Using more than intended. (i will only take one pill, but then take more.)
3. Negative impact on social, occupational, or educational responsibilities.
4. Cravings
5. Tolerance
6. Withdrawal symptoms

(Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition)




Is an addiction a disease?


This is a controversial question. Some argue that addiction is a disease, and some argue that it is not a disease.


ALL IN’s resident addictions counselor, David Bjorklund, believes that “Addiction is defined as a disease. This is a result of it being a progressive, chronic, and fatal.”


Addiction will not typically start out as an addiction. Instead, over time the consequences of using become more notable, severe, and will begin to develop interpersonal difficulties. Thus, it follows the trajectory of other diseases.


What counts as an addiction

Which parts of the brain influences addiction?


According to Michael Bierer of Harvard University, “An addicted person’s impaired ability to stop using drugs or alcohol has to do with deficits in the function of the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain involved in executive function. The prefrontal cortex has several important jobs: self-monitoring, delaying reward, and integrating whatever the intellect tells you is important.


In other words, addiction inhibits an individual to think clearly. Rather, it operates on immediate gratification and pleasure seeking. Despite having the understanding of problematic experiences that are developing due to the chemical use.


The American Psychiatric Association also points out that “people with a substance abuse disorder may have disordered thinking and behavior”. This is due to the way drug addiction changes the structure and functioning of the brain, the APA argues.



How does an addiction hijack the brain?


Thinking about how the brain hijacks is somewhat like an individual that has an allergy. For this example, let’s use peanut butter. Rather than break out in hives, and swollen throats, the addicted individual has a mental obsession to use like a “normal person,” but when ingesting the chemical has the inability to stop.  


Michael Bierer goes on to state that, “Somewhere down deep in these problematic and often life-threatening behaviors can mitigate the self-loathing and guilt that is nearly universal among people with addiction. And to understand that it may even go deeper, to the genes and experiences over which they had no control, may also help.”



How do I become sober?


Every individual has a different experience with finding sobriety. However, the most common and effective way is either through treatment or attending addictions support meetings, such as NA meetings or AA meetings.


There is no hard evidence to support this as many of the ways data is collected is self report, and Alcoholics Anonymous has ever changing numbers. Yet, it is widely accepted as the standard for getting sober.


Addiction treatment can happen in outpatient programs. Treatment Centers are another option to consider for becoming sober. Centers will use a multidisciplinary team to help treat more underlying causes. Such as working with a drug and alcohol counselor in combination with a mental health professional.




What causes addictive behavior?


This can be best described as a mental obsession or preoccupation of the brain. Many people that suffer with addiction call this the “disease of the mind” In other words, there is a constant preoccupation with using or recovering from the effects of drugs.


The preoccupation manifests as the common traits of addiction. Sneaking, hiding, and lying.




Does everyone have an addictive personality?


To some degree, everyone has an addictive personality. As a human we seek ways to enhance our experience of things; socializing, sex, eating, vacationing, being creative, etc. Thus, people can do certain things (or consume certain things) in excess.


The difference between the true addict and non-addict is the ability to have an off switch. Meaning, non-addicted individuals can turn off the switch and not experience the desire to “keep going.”




Is dependence the same as addiction?


Yes, the terms dependence and addiction are interchangeable. However, it should be noted that dependence used to be defined as an individual having a tolerance, in combination of withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink.


Culturally the word addiction seems to be used as a catch all to any problematic behavioral patterns. Relatively benign things that are not formal addictions (such as working out, texting, or reading) can become synonymous with addictive substances such as heroin or meth.


This can create a high level of confusion. Therefore, if you are concerned about your chemical or behavioral compulsions it is important to be properly assessed by a professional.




How do addictive behaviors start?


Like with most things humans are engineered to try new experiences. This means that even an addiction starts as a new experience. Rarely do people start out using an addictive substance believing they will become dependent.


Wanting to experience something new, altering, or even to numb out feelings can come in the form of trying chemicals. It’s when the altered state becomes the preoccupation that the addiction begins to surface and slowly takes over.


It’s important to understand that of you have experimented with chemicals, and it has become problematic, there is nothing wrong with. You are not doing anything wrong. You just have a brain disease that is focused on getting high, and staying high. In the process, everything else in life can become dispensable (but not by choice, as a means to survive).


If you know a family member that has developed an addiction, please consider helping them seek support.


Consider reading more about drug abuse by reading our blog about sobriety, our blog about alcoholism, or contacting the National Institute on Drug Abuse.







Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.


Photo by Enric Cruz López from Pexels


Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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