Drug Addiction

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors. 

Abuse of and addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and illicit and prescription drugs cost Americans more than $700 billion a year in increased health care costs, crime, and lost productivity. Every year, illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol contribute to the death of more than 90,000 Americans, while tobacco is linked to an estimated 480,000 deaths per year. (Hereafter, unless otherwise specified, drugs refers to all of these substances.)

NIDA continues to use the term “addiction” to describe compulsive drug seeking despite negative consequences. However, “addiction” is not considered a specific diagnosis in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—a diagnostic manual used by clinicians that contain descriptions and symptoms of all mental disorders classified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). 

In 2013, APA updated the DSM, replacing the categories of substance abuse and substance dependence with a single category: substance use disorder. The symptoms associated with a substance use disorder fall into four major groupings: impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria (i.e., tolerance and withdrawal). 

The new DSM describes a problematic pattern of use of an intoxicating substance leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

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