Text adapted in 2021 from The Fundamentals of Addiction in The Primary Care Addiction Toolkit (online only). A complete list of Toolkit authors, editors and contributors is available here.
Addiction is often not well understood—even by primary care providers. People with substance use problems are also stigmatized, which makes patients unlikely to volunteer information about their substance use, and care providers reluctant to ask. This toolkit provides the fundamental knowledge and tools required to work with patients with any type of substance use problem.
The word addiction is often used to refer to any behaviour that is out of control in some way. People often describe themselves as being addicted to a TV show or to shopping, for example. The word is also used to explain the experience of withdrawal when a substance or behaviour is removed or discontinued (e.g., "I must be addicted to coffee—I get a headache when I don't have my cup in the morning"). However, neither enjoyment nor experiencing withdrawal necessarily implies addiction.
Because the term addiction is commonly used in such a vague way, there have been many attempts to define it more clearly. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (2019) provides this definition:
“Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.
In Fundamentals of Addiction:
- Defining Addiction
- Key Concepts in Addiction
- Implications for Clinical Practice
- Intoxication & Driving
- Identifying Concurrent Disorders
- Motivation and change