What is Addiction? Adiction & Substance Abuse Defined | CASAColumbia

What is Addiction

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Defining addiction changes everything

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the functioning of the brain and body. It also causes serious damage to families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. The most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal. Addiction can be effectively prevented, treated and managed by healthcare professionals in combination with family or peer support.

Addiction prevalence

Addiction prevalence

40 million Americans ages 12 and older—or more than 1 in 7 people—abuse or are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs. This is more than the number of Americans with heart conditions (27 million), diabetes (26 million) or cancer (19 million). 

What is the Difference between Drug or Alcohol Abuse and Addiction?

What is the Difference between Drug or Alcohol Abuse and Addiction?

There is a range in the severity of substance problems: from mild to moderate to severe. Drug or alcohol abuse is a mild substance problem, defined by having two or three symptoms of addiction. People who abuse drugs or alcohol can experience serious consequences such as accidents, overdoses, crime, school problems, violence and suicide. Many people experience alcohol or drug abuse problems, but are able to stop using or change their pattern of use without progressing to addiction. 

The most severe form of addiction is a physical, often chronic, disease that most often requires intensive, long-term treatment. And just like other serious diseases, people with severe addiction get increasingly sick over time, develop other illnesses as a result of the disease, and can ultimately die.


  • CASAColumbia. (2012). Addiction medicine: Closing the gap between science and practice.

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