What is addiction?

Definitions of Addiction

  • A disease that includes alcohol and drug cravings and continued drinking and drug use despite repeated alcohol and drug-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. Symptoms include craving, impaired control, physical dependence and increased tolerance.
  • A chronic disorder characterized by dependence on alcohol and drugs, repeated excessive use of alcohol and drugs, development of withdrawal symptoms on reducing or ceasing alcohol or drugs, morbidity that may include cirrhosis of the liver, and decreased ability to function socially and vocationally. Currently believed by many to be a disease with strong genetic links.
  • Continued excessive or compulsive use of alcohol or drugs; a chronic, progressive, potentially fatal, psychological and nutritional disorder associated with excessive and compulsive use characterized by frequent intoxication leading to dependence on or addiction to the substance, impairment of the ability to work and socialize, destructive behaviors, tissue or organ damage, and severe withdrawal symptoms upon detoxification.
  • A primary chronic disease influenced by genetic predisposition, psycho-social, environmental and cultural factors. The alcoholic or addict who chooses to drink or use does so because of a complex interaction between these factors.

Prognosis & Complications

  • Mental confusion, delirium or amnesia
  • Vomiting and ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infections
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • High blood pressure and heart disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Liver disease, fatty liver or cirrhosis
  • Brain and nerve damage — changes the emotion, decision, muscle, breathing and heartbeat-controlling centers of the brain
  • Linked to numerous types of cancer
  • Heart disease
  • During pregnancy, it's linked to lower birth weights, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), poor growth, delays in development, altered facial structure, other birth defects and addicted babies


Addiction Treatment and Prevention

Treatment Options

  • One-on-one addiction counseling with a trained specialist or psychiatrist
  • A free-standing or hospital-based outpatient, partial hospitalization or inpatient rehabilitation program
  • A 12-Step program or fellowship, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Note: Treatment programs and facilities can be non-profit or for-profit (private), and vary significantly in price. Also, an individual's level of addiction, as well as their mental and physical state should always be taken into consideration when choosing a treatment facility — are they a danger to themselves or the people around them?

How to Prevent It

Education. Teaching people, particularly those who are at a genetic risk for the disease, about alcoholism and drug addiction at a young age.


How It May End

  • Clean and Sober — Unfortunately, only a small percentage of alcoholics and addicts ever get help, and if they do manage to get clean and sober, they can never drink or use again.
  • Relapse — Relapsing after recovery is very common, but not always the end of the story. Some people have been known to relapse several times before coming to terms with a sober lifestyle.
  • Death — Like all diseases, alcoholism and drug addiction kills.