What Does Addiction Mean in Drugs?

May 20, 2019

Addiction is a widespread health problem in the United States that is costing Americans dearly. The use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and other addictive substances costs the U.S. billions of dollars each year in relation to healthcare, crime, and lost productivity in the workplace.

You may be wondering: What do you mean by drug addiction? Despite addiction being as widespread as it is, there is still some confusion surrounding the term. In order to combat this problem, one needs to understand the meaning of drug addiction.

So, what does addiction mean in drugs?

Addiction Defined

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disease that can deeply affect a person’s mind or behavior. This condition is characterized by compulsive searching for drugs and/or other illicit substances, continued use of said substances despite harmful consequences and long-lasting changes in the brain.

Drug addiction is referred to as substance use disorder by many health professionals. Addiction can start by experimental use in social situations, and then becomes more and more frequent over time. Drug addictions can also develop from using prescribed medications.

1. How Does Drug Addiction Affect the Brain

The vast majority of addictive substances target the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that can be found in parts of the brain that deal with cognition, movement, emotion, motivation, and behavior reinforcement.

When your brain’s reward system is working at normal levels, the system rewards your natural behaviors. Overstimulating this system with dopamine produces the effect that highly reinforces drug use, causing you to want to repeat the action.

2. Dangers and Risks of Addiction

Even though the risk of addiction can vary depending on which drug is used, it is nonetheless a severe condition.

Prolonged drug addiction can easily ruin one’s life, both at home and in the workplace. In too many cases, addiction can also end lives. In 2016, drug addiction killed 63,000 Americans.

While people of any age, sex, or economic status can become addicted, certain factors can speed up and increase the likelihood of drug addiction. These factors include:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Mental illnesses
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Peer pressure
  • Usage at an early age
  • Usage of highly addictive drugs

3. Addiction Symptoms

The symptoms of drug addiction can vary widely depending on which substance is being used. However, there are symptoms that are common when drug addiction is present:

  • Compulsive feelings to continue using drugs
  • Intense cravings for drugs block out other thoughts
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities
  • Doing things to get drugs, such as stealing
  • Spending money on drugs, even when you can’t afford to do so
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking drugs

4. Tolerance vs. Dependence vs. Addiction

Much of the confusion that surrounds this illness stems around mistaking the meaning of drug addiction with the meanings of tolerance and dependence. This can be an easy mistake to make, seeing as addicts can show signs of tolerance and dependence.

Tolerance is the need to take drugs at higher doses to produce the same effect. This can occur without addiction. For example, a patient who is taking opioid medications can develop a resistance to certain effects of the drug, diminishing the effectiveness of the medication.

When used as a medical term, dependence refers to the physical condition in which the body has adapted to a drug. When someone who is dependent on a drug tries to stop using the substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. One can develop a dependence on a non-addictive substance.


Fortunately, drug addiction can be treated through intervention. At Steps Recovery Centers, we are committed to helping those suffering from drug addiction find the road to recovery.

Whether you or a loved one is addicted to drugs, know that there is hope. You can break the chains of addiction and lead a happy, rewarding life.

To learn more about addiction recovery, check out our three stages of approach to caring for drug addicts. ')}

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