While most people are broadly familiar with the term “addiction” and have a general understanding of what it means, many may find it difficult to articulate a precise definition. Even established organizations and associations that share a common understanding of addiction can vary widely in their specific definitions of the term.

Merriam-Webster defines addiction as the compulsive need for and use of a harmful, habit-forming substance. Under this definition, tolerance to a substance and the suffering of withdrawal symptoms upon disuse are defining characteristics of addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) uses a different definition, defining addiction as a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by the compulsive use of harmful substances, despite their consequences.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) restructures addiction as a “chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” Under this definition, the primary characteristics of addiction include the inability to consistently abstain from use, impaired behavioral control, dysfunctional emotional response, and diminished awareness of interpersonal and behavioral problems.

Addiction is not included as a formal diagnosis under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Nevertheless, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines addiction as a brain disease that manifests itself through the compulsive use of a harmful substance. Under this definition, addiction is primarily characterized by the changes in brain functioning brought about by substance use that make it difficult to stop using.

Despite the wide variations in definition, there is a clear consensus among these organizations and associations that addiction involves disordered brain functioning and compulsive substance use.

If you think that you or someone you love may have an addiction based on any of these definitions, the Asana Recovery Center may be able to help. Call us at (949) 438-4504 to learn more about our alcohol and drug treatment program today.


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