Addiction is a little harder to define than you might think. You might see addiction as a harmful behavior someone can control but simply refuses to change. Addiction disorder is a lot more complicated than that. Just like us—we are complex, thoughtful creatures who see the world in black and white when, in reality, we actually live more in the gray areas of life.
So when we define addiction disorder, we need to start by explaining that we don’t use it as a clinical term. And as the Recovery Research Institute explains, there is a valid reason why. But first, let’s talk about the true definition of addiction disorder.
Changing the Way We Define Addiction Disorder
So we’ve established that we humans are complicated. We create order and definitions that can suit us for a while, but these terms must change to fit our current society over time. The same happens in both mental and behavioral health fields. The term “addiction disorder” is outdated and one you will no longer find in clinical or medical settings.
Instead, the clinical name we use is Substance Use Disorder (SUD). The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines substance use disorder as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug [or alcohol] seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.”
Along with that definition, it’s also important to note that there are varying severities to substance use disorders. Just because a person engages in drugs or alcohol use doesn’t necessarily mean they are addicted to that substance. As the National Institute of Health, Medline Plus states, the stages of substance use disorder typically go like this:
Experimental use: This stage usually happens with friends and is more recreational in nature.
Regular use: The substance use begins to impact daily life, such as work and school. At this stage, a person is worried about losing their source and often engages with drugs or alcohol to numb negative feelings or thoughts.
Problematic use: At this stage, motivation starts taking a big hit. The person engages in harmful use of the drug or alcohol and loses interest in all other aspects of life. There is typically a noticeable change in their behavior, and they stop attending work or school regularly.
Addiction: The final phase involves the need to misuse a drug or alcohol every day. A person’s physical health is negatively impacted, and they often deny there is a problem. Relationships are damaged, and the person feels isolated and hopeless.
It’s important to note that one of the main reasons we define addiction disorder as substance use disorder has to do with the stigma that comes with substance abuse and addiction recovery.
What We Say Matters
Choosing our words wisely helps us navigate the world a little better every day. In this case, when we decide to use the term substance use disorder over addiction disorder, we give the people living with the disease a chance to get better without shame. A study from the Recovery Research Institute shows that when we take a “person-centered” approach to substance use disorders and recovery, we begin to humanize the process and help relieve the stigmas surrounding it.
So today, choose your words wisely and always remember—what you say matters. And if you or someone you love is living with a substance use disorder, there is help. At our Promises Brazos Valley rehab, we can help you discover who you are without drugs or alcohol.
Our addiction treatment programs will teach you how to manage your substance use disorder so you can live a sober, healthy life.
Call us today to find out more on how we can support you along the way at 19794260086