What Is Addiction?

Addiction comes in many forms, and it can certainly affect anyone. However, the term ‘addict’ gets thrown around a lot, that many people fail to understand what this condition entails. Understand the real definition of addiction, what are the signs, and how you can get help.

Popular media has its way of tackling mental health issues and substance use disorders. In a way, this is a good thing for awareness, but along with it are misconceptions that are formed when mere stereotypes are displayed in movies, TV shows, and songs. Like the highly popular song “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind, addiction can sometimes get glamorized that people, especially the younger generations become curious and eventually get hooked on substances.

When somebody says they are “coffee addicts” or “sugar addicts”, this increases the misconceptions about addiction. It isn’t just simply about having momentary cravings or a favorite item–there’s more to addiction than these labels that get used a lot.

Thus, it is helpful to have a deeper view of what addiction is like and how it affects individuals.

Difference Between Drug or Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Aside from knowing drug addiction definitions and what constitutes substance use disorder, we can delineate these disorders by differentiating them. Addiction and abuse are terms that are frequently interchanged. However, there is a difference between the two.

Addiction vs. Misuse vs. Abuse

  • Misuse: When someone misuses a substance, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are addicted right away. For example, a person may unintentionally take the wrong dosage due to poor recall, or they took a wrong measurement for the drug. These situations can also be called as misuse. Usually, those mistakes do not result in abuse or addiction. It is when there is intentional misuse that increases the risk of abuse and addiction.
  • Abuse: Substance use disorder occurs when there is a repeated instance of drug misuse. The person wants to recreate the pleasurable feelings associated with taking the substances, thus they tend to abuse the drug on several occasions. However, this doesn’t mean that they are automatically addicted. At this point, they may be developing a tolerance, but they don’t show other signs of addiction just yet.
  • Addiction: A full-blown addiction is diagnosed when the person is unable to stop the abuse. When tolerance is at a high level, the person becomes dependent on the drug to function within the day. They may also have intense cravings, neglect their personal lives, and experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to decrease or stop their use. There is an actual clinical criterion for addiction, as presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V).

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Symptoms of Addiction

If you suspect a developing addiction in yourself or a loved one, there are signs you need to watch out for. Any of these symptoms is a potential sign of drug or alcohol addiction, and you must respond to get treatment right away to prevent the life-threatening risks of overdose.

Psychological symptoms

  • Inability to stop use
  • Continued use despite health problems
  • Uses the drug to deal with personal struggles
  • Obsession and preoccupation with acquiring and using the drug
  • Risky behaviors
  • Consuming large and frequent quantities

Socio-emotional symptoms

  • Giving up previous activities that once brought fulfillment
  • Doing everything to maintain substance supply
  • Being secretive
  • Always in isolation
  • Denial of the problem
  • Legal or law enforcement problems
  • Financial problems

Physical symptoms

  • Experiencing withdrawal
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Drastic weight changes
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Heart, lung, kidney or liver issues
  • Changes in appearance

This general triad of symptoms usually happen simultaneously, and people should look out for worsening signs before an overdose or fatal health complication happens.

How Is Addiction Treated?

Now that we have differentiated between misuse, abuse, addiction, and its symptoms, it is also essential to understand the various treatment methods that work for substance use disorders.

Before we get into these treatment options, people must be reminded that there is no one-size-fits-all approach towards addiction recovery. As people have varying factors as to why they become dependent on drugs or alcohol, these reasons are targeted through the use of customized treatment plans that fully suit their needs.

Below are some of the most well-known options for addiction treatment.

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Medical detox

The first line of treatment for most substance use disorders is through medical detox. Detox is the process of removing the toxins caused by substance addiction. This can involve the use of other prescription medications that dampen the effects of drugs and alcohol. Alternatively, the person may also taper off the dosages of the drug for a specific period of time.

It is advised to do a detox under the hands of medical professionals. Do-it-yourself detoxes can be dangerous as some people have died due to severe withdrawal symptoms. It is not advisable to quit drugs or alcohol cold turkey, especially if you are dependent on these substances.

Rehab treatments

After getting rid of withdrawal symptoms sans the substances, patients can proceed to therapeutic approaches and protocols for addiction. These treatments have the goal of:

  • Pinpointing the cause of addiction
  • Healing personal wounds
  • Activating healthy outlets and abilities to self-cope
  • Mending relational hurts
  • Discovering strategies that work for each individual

Thus, there are a variety of treatment approaches that work for each person. Some would prefer a spiritual treatment such as 12-Step Rehab, and others would want a secular approach such as Non-12 Step or Holistic methods. Some people combine these treatment methods and eventually find what suits their needs.


Follow-up after intensive rehab is necessary. Oftentimes, people get used to the structure of a rehab facility that they have difficulties adjusting to the challenges of the ‘real world’. High-quality rehab centers have aftercare programs set in place to deal with these potential problems. These can include fitness plans, relapse prevention guides, continued therapy, and support groups to help maintain the patient’s sobriety.

Getting Help: Don’t Let Addiction Define You

Perhaps you’ve arrived at this page thinking if you or a loved one is suffering from addiction. You may be wondering if you’ve crossed the line between misuse and abuse, or if you’re already suffering from a full-blown addiction. It is time to stop worrying about these things and get the help you truly need.

Don’t let addiction define you–much like an impersonal word, let it be a part of your past and take hold of recovery once and for all.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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