What is addiction? How common is it?
Addiction is a disorder characterized by a group of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological signs and symptoms, as well as the individuals’ continuation of the use despite the negative impact it had on one’s health, relationships, or daily life. One’s object of addiction can be anything from a substance, i.e. drugs or alcohol, to an activity such as gambling. An informal characterization of the disorder includes the following three signs:
- Mild to intense craving.
- Losing control of one’s use.
- Continued use despite negative consequences. If the individual meets these signs in relation to their object of addiction, they may have a problem.
However, addiction disorder is much more complex than that. The amount of use or engagement with the object of addiction and how often it happens influences the progression of the addiction. Having said that, the disorder is defined by how it affects your daily life.
Addiction is quite common, although not as common as one might think. According to data collected in 2015 in the United States, 20.8 million people in the age group of 12 and older in the past year suffered from a substance use disorder. That number accounts for nearly 8% of the population within this age group, while 9% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 disclosed illicit drug use in the past month. Of the 20.8 million individuals, 13.1 million had alcohol use disorder, whereas 5.1 million had problems with illicit drugs, and 2.6 million experienced problematic use with both. It is not uncommon for some people to experience problematic use with more than one addictive substance or behavior. The most commonly used addictive substances are nicotine and alcohol; they account for more addiction problems and fatalities than opioids. These substances are considered to be psychoactive substances, which means they change one’s mood, behavior, or thinking. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), individuals are formally considered to have an addiction disorder when they display two of the following signs, symptoms, or behaviors in the past year:
- Continuous desire to quit using
- Losing control over the quantity or involvement
- Higher focus on the substance
- Inability to fulfill obligations
- Social issues
- Giving up or reduced activity
- Repetitive dangerous use
- Health issues
- Higher tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms
To determine whether your substance use is problematic, please refer to our Substance Use Self-Assessment here.