What is Addiction?

Addiction is a serious issue in today’s culture. Defining addiction is the first step to understanding what it is and what it isn’t. Understanding the specific language in the definition can prove helpful in the communicating, developing awareness, and accepting the impact of a substance or behavior in ones life.

Insight and communication requires accurate definitions for words and phrases. Language use is quite important here. To clearly communicate about addictions, we will be referencing several definitions listed below from the leading organizations in the field of psychology as well as some of the practicing professionals who have given simple yet clear definitions of the topic. 

When looking at these definitions it is important to see how they are similar. If there are differences it should be noted what the differences are what, if anything, they effect in the understanding and use of the definition. 

"Addiction is a chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social and environmental factors influencing its development and maintenance. About half the risk for addiction is genetic. Genes affect the degree of reward that individuals experience when initially using a substance (e.g., drugs) or engaging in certain behaviors (e.g., gambling), as well as the way the body processes alcohol or other drugs. Heightened desire to re-experience use of the substance or behavior, potentially influenced by psychological (e.g., stress, history of trauma), social (e.g., family or friends' use of a substance), and environmental factors (e.g., accessibility of a substance, low cost) can lead to regular use/exposure, with chronic use/exposure leading to brain changes. These brain changes include alterations in cortical (pre-frontal cortex) and sub-cortical (limbic system) regions involving the neuro-circuitry of reward, motivation, memory, impulse control and judgment. This can lead to dramatic increases in cravings for a drug or activity, as well as impairments in the ability to successfully regulate this impulse, despite the knowledge and experience of many consequences related to the addictive behavior."

"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 a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences."

"A continued use of a psychoactive substance or repeated behavior despite adverse consequences. Addiction is a brain disease expressed in the form of compulsive behavior."

It is important to note that the definitions above reference more than just substance use. Behavior patterns can impact peoples lives in quite a negative way. In the 21st century, technology has developed environments where many behaviors can prove detrimental and meet the components of a addiction.

In order to understand how to address addiction it is first important to identify what addiction is and clearly define it on its basic levels. How addiction effects a persons life can vary. The basic tenants however will be in line with what is listed in the definitions above. With these definitions listed above further insight and exploration can occur. 


American Psychological Association (2018): Addictions http://www.apa.org/topics/addiction/index.aspx

American Society of Addictive Medicine (2018): Definition of Addiction  https://www.asam.org/resources/definition-of-addiction

Baker, B. & Russ, B. (2017) A Counselor”s Guide to Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Addiction. 

Psychology Today (2018): What is Addiction https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/addiction