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Addiction: Defined

The words we use matter when talking about addiction.


20 million people in the United States currently meet the criteria for a Substance Use Disorder

Substance Use Disorders: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) defines Addictions/Substance Use Disorders as occurring “when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. A diagnosis of substance use disorder is based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria”. Substance Use Disorders can range from mild to severe and diagnosis ultimately comes down to the individual.

Co-Occurring Disorders: Commonly called a dual diagnosis- is a situation when someone is experiencing a substance use disorder and mental illness at the same time. Co-occurring disorders are often hard to diagnose due to the complexity and intertwining natures of substance use disorders and mental illness symptoms. Often people receive treatment for one disorder while the other remains untreated, and either substance use disorders or mental illnesses can develop first. Currently, the most common treatment for co-occurring disorders is called integrated treatment. With integrated treatment, mental illness and substance use disorders are addressed at the same time, leading to more effective treatment and better long-term outcomes. However, because there are many ways in co-occurring disorders present diagnosis and treatment will not be the same for everyone.

Remission: Individuals in remission from substance use disorders is more common than most people realize. Supported scientific evidence indicates approximately 50 percent of adults who once met diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder—or about 25 million people—are currently in stable remission (1 year or longer). Even so, remission from a substance use disorder can take several years and multiple episodes of treatment, Recovery Support Services, and/or Mutual Aid.

Recovery: The notion of recovering from substance use disorders has had several definitions. Although specific elements of these definitions differ, all agree recovery goes beyond the remission of Substance Use Disorder symptoms to include a positive change in the whole person. In this regard, ‘abstinence’ from substances, though often necessary, is not always sufficient to define recovery. In the same way Substance Use Disorders are unique to the individual, so too is recovery. SAMHSA defines recovery as a dynamic change process through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.

For further detailed information on addiction please see The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health: Facing Addiction In America.

This guide was developed with the guidance of the Recovery Research Institute. Please visit their site for more evidenced-based information on treatment and recovery. Additionally, see their Addiction-ary for a complete listing of addiction specific terminology. 

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