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What is addiction?

Addiction occurs when a person cannot control their use of alcohol or other drugs, even though there are negative consequences.

Historically, the general public has looked at addiction as a moral failing. Addiction is a brain disease because drugs change the brain. Drugs change how a brain works, especially the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centres. Addiction is a treatable illness.

When can you tell that your loved one has developed a problem?

People meet the criteria for Substance Use Disorder (SUD) if at least two of the following symptoms occur in a 12-month period:

  • The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use of the substance.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance.
  • Recurrent use of the substance resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued use of the substance despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of use of the substance.
  • Recurrent use of the substance in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Use of the substance is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

  • A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
  • A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.

Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

  • The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance
  • The substance (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Click here for average periods of withdrawal for various drugs (see section on detox)

Another way to tell if your loved one may have a problem is to check these lower risk guidelines for alcohol and cannabis use:

Addiction is the severe form of Substance Use Disorder

Substance Use Disorder is on a spectrum. Clinicians specify how severe the Substance Use Disorder is depending on how many symptoms are identified. Two or three symptoms indicate mild, four or five symptoms indicate moderate, and six or more symptoms indicate addiction.

We at Families for Addiction Recovery care about all people suffering on the spectrum.