What is the real definition of addiction?
Experiencing addiction first hand or through a family member or friend can be complicated, challenging and life-altering. It’s difficult to process exactly what’s happening at any stage. To make it more confusing, there are myths, stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding the true addiction definition. It’s important to be clear about exactly what addiction is and the different stages of escalation that can be involved as a foundation to help explain the experience and understand the treatment options available.
Addiction is a disease of the brain. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), addiction is considered a severe form of a substance abuse disorder (SUD). This is the uncontrolled use of a substance, like drugs or alcohol, despite the harmful consequences. It’s considered uncontrolled when an individual is so focused on using a substance that day-to-day functioning becomes impaired.
Those living with addiction may also experience distorted thinking and behaviors. This can be caused by changes in the brain’s structure. Particularly, in the areas where judgement and decision making take place. As the uncontrolled use of substance continues, further changes can occur in the brain. These changes can last far beyond the immediate period of “intoxication”. Beyond that, the brain and body of someone living with addiction can build up a tolerance to choice substances which can perpetuate more significant use, eventually leading to total dependency.
Why is it important to know the true addiction definition?
Unfortunately, addiction has historically been paired with certain harmful stigmas that aren’t true. One of the biggest that still exists today is the assumption that there is ill intention behind the behavior of someone with addiction.
Our clinical director, Audrey Tanner, says, “Addiction is sometimes still looked at as a choice and issue of moral failure. The way it used to be addressed was through punishment. It wasn’t until people with addiction began to be treated as patients that it started to change.”
She adds that sometimes addiction can be referred to as ‘a disease of choice’ because the first time someone ever puts a substance in their body, that might be a choice, but they don’t have a choice as to whether or not they will develop addiction.
What is the definition of substance abuse and how is it different from addiction?
The terms “substance abuse” and “addiction” are commonly used interchangeably. They can actually feel like similar states as both are dangerous and damaging to the lives of those impacted. However, there are major differences between the two.
Substance abuse can certainly look like and, over time, lead to addiction. But, one of the biggest differentiating factors is the level of dependency on a substance. This includes whether or not an individual has the ability to stop using. Once a person’s body depends on a substance and is unable to quit on their own, despite desire and efforts to, they are experiencing addiction.
Symptoms of addiction can also present themselves through behavioral changes. When substance abuse begins to interfere with and become detrimental to several areas of a person’s life, that can be a sign of addiction.
As Tanner explains, “Substance abuse can have a time limit and a person might be able to walk away from a substance, while addiction is something much more chronic. With addiction, behavioral concerns are involved in a way that may not necessarily be present with substance abuse. Addiction can also have a component of family history or genetics.”
What are the stages of addiction?
Addiction does not happen suddenly; it’s a disease that develops over time. If you or someone you know is struggling with the use of drugs or alcohol, understanding the different stages that can be experienced is important for identifying, defining and ultimately treating addiction.
At Crest View, we define the progression of addiction in five stages:
Stage 1: Experimentation
Whether it’s out of curiosity, the influence of a social situation or sometimes peer pressure, an individual enters the experimental phase when they try a substance for the first time. Obtained illegally or legally (like alcohol), this stage happens for most people before the age of 18. Experimentation may continue with sporadic additional use, as a person tests how a substance can fit into their lives and observes the feelings that come along with it. These feelings include relaxation, stress relief or enjoyment.
Stage 2: Regular or prolonged use
Trying a substance and continuing to use it does not necessarily mean a person is on their way to becoming addicted. It’s actually quite common for a person to continue using a substance after their first time because it’s normal for our brains to crave the things that make us feel better. At this stage of regular use, an individual has had more significant experience with a choice substance and has begun to more regularly incorporate it into their life. Use of the substance doesn’t necessarily take place on a daily basis. But, at a minimum, a pattern has been established.
Stage 3: Risky use
Risky alcohol or drug use like binge drinking or substance abuse can be a turning point in which it begins to negatively impact an individual’s life. As a substance becomes more normalized in a person’s daily life and body, they may begin to exhibit reckless or harmful behaviors. Noticeable interruptions or neglect of responsibilities related to work or school can occur. Relationships may also begin to absorb some of the turbulence related to risky use of substances.
Stage 4: Dependence
When a person has moved beyond recreational (or in some cases prescribed) use, and they begin to become reliant on a particular substance, they have shifted to a stage of dependence. This dependency is happening in the brain and body. At this point, an individual may even experience side effects of withdrawal when they aren’t using, both mental and physical:
Mental Side Effects of Withdrawal
- Mood swings
Physical Side Effects of Withdrawal
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Fever and cold sweats
- Heart palpitations
Stage 5: Addiction (severe substance abuse disorder)
Dependency is a very dangerous state that requires intervention of a person who is unlikely capable of helping themselves. When substance abuse is no longer a conscious choice, that person may be living with a substance abuse disorder: addiction. It is at this stage where the body can no longer function without continued use.
Tanner says, “We often call it ‘active addiction’. This means the addiction takes over in a person and they are no longer able to make clear decisions. They can’t just set it down because their minds are telling them they have to keep using. In addition, the fear of withdrawal is so strong they feel as though they need to keep using just to function.
Addiction ruthlessly presents itself in many parts of a person’s life. This includes ways they may not even realize or care to address. Tanner explains that “the impulsive behavior and irrational thinking of someone with addiction can be among the most upsetting and heartbreaking challenges for family members and friends to cope with. Their loved one may seem like a completely different person. So, it’s important to understand that it’s more than just substance abuse and being under the influence. Understanding how addiction can escalate can help friends and family separate the disease from their loved one.”
At risk of causing permanent damage to the brain and body or even death, it is at this stage that an individual should receive professional treatment.
Addiction can be a lonely disease for those experiencing it. It can also be very difficult to overcome without support. It’s so important to discover the right type of treatment based on an individual’s experiences and needs. For those seeking help at any stage of alcohol or drug abuse, a holistic rehabilitation center like Crest View, can be a great treatment option.
Crest View offers customized addiction treatment based on what we call a WHOLEistic approach, treating all of the areas that make up the whole of an individual: mind, body and spirit. Through tailored therapy sessions and comprehensive wellness programs, we work with you to fully understand your experiences and teach reality-based therapeutic techniques for successful and ongoing recovery.
For more information on how to pick the right drug or alcohol rehab center, check out our 5-step process for finding the right fit.
If you have questions about the definition of addiction, the treatment process or want to know more about the holistic approach to treatment, give us a call or complete the form here.