It seems that the one thing most people can agree on is that addiction is a problem. Just look at how the opioid epidemic is ripping apart the fabric of America. Acknowledging the problem is a big step, but maybe it’s time to take a step back to really understand what it is, where it starts, and how to deal with it.

While there is still some “chicken-or-egg” debate about the causes of abuse, dependence, and addiction, there’s not much debate about the following key facts from a survey of the National Institute of Drug Abuse via theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • Illicit drug use in the US continues to rise.
  • Marijuana use has increased over the past decade and more than half of these users began with marijuana.
  • Most people are introduced to drugs as teenagers.
  • Drug use is highest among people in their teens and twenties.
  • Drug use is increasing among people in their fifties and early sixties.
  • Binge and heavy drinking are more widespread among men than women.
  • In 2013, after alcohol, marijuana had the highest rate of dependence or abuse vs. all other drugs.

And, according to a 2016 report for the Center of Disease Control (CDC):

  • From 2000 to 2016 more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses.
  • The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. Recent statistics are even more frightening.

Defining – and Redefining – Addiction

One of the clearest definitions of addiction comes from the American Psychiatric Association (APA):
“Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.”

In a previous article, we discussed a major shift, a redefining moment, in how addiction is classified. After much research, the APA, in the 2013 version of the de facto diagnosis bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), stated that the terms “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” were being dropped for a the all-encompassing term, “substance use disorder (SUD).”

So why has the word “disorder” represented such a major shift in how addiction was to be treated? Briefly, there was little distinction between the criteria that defined substance abuse and substance dependence. It’s possible to be a substance abuser without being dependent or addicted to a substance. In fact, dependence and addiction can occur independent of one another. For instance, someone can be dependent on but not addicted to a prescribed medication. “Addiction conveys both social and health problems, whereas dependence only encompasses the latter,” according to SAMHSA. Under this hierarchy, addiction is at the highest level of the substance abuse disorder.  And under this larger diagnosis framework, the APA has set a path for more criteria and, consequently, more accurate diagnoses.

Are Substance Abuse Disorder and Addiction Inherited?

In light of all the research conducted on the genetics of addiction, one can conclude that addiction is a disease or disorder with a genetic component. Estimates of genetic addiction from various studies range from 25-60%. Unquestionably, if two parents are addicts, the chances of transmitting the addiction trait to their children is greatly multiplied, even though there is no evidence of an “addictive gene.” Addiction can also be magnified by environmental factors, including family issues, peer pressure and the availability of controlled and non-controlled substances.

Is Addiction Preventable and Treatable?

While classified as diseases and disorders, there are ways of preventing SUDs from becoming addictions. With a new emphasis on dual diagnosis, successful strategies for co-occurring services are available to those seeking treatment. According to the APA, drug addiction (and alcohol addiction by extension) can be both prevented and treated by early intervention, as summarized best in the chart below:

The Value of a Dual Diagnosis Program

While not totally predictive, there is a distinct link between mental health issues and substance abuse disorder and addiction. That’s why co-occurring, or dual diagnosis, treatment is so critical in treating drug addiction and mental health conditions. If you or a loved one needs help for a drug or alcohol addiction, please contact our admissions counselor online or call 888-711-0354 today. All communications with our staff are confidential.