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What is Addiction?

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

Addiction is a medical condition that affects the brain and changes a person's behavior.[1] The medical term for a drug or alcohol addiction is a substance use disorder (SUD).

People can develop an addiction to:

  • Alcohol;

  • Nicotine;

  • Opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl or prescription painkillers;

  • Marijuana;

  • Cocaine, methamphetamine and other stimulants;

  • PCP, LSD and other hallucinogens; and 

  • Sedatives, such as sleeping pills and/or benzodiazepines.

Addiction is characterized by a loss of control and continued use despite consequences, such as loss of a job, arrest, or other significant negative outcomes. It can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, or socioeconomic status.  

Addiction is a medical condition that affects the brain and changes behavior

1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020) Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from

An excerpt from Navigating Addiction and Treatment: A Guide for Families, Addiction Policy Forum, 2020.


A Note From Addiction Policy Forum

Substance use disorders get worse over time. The earlier treatment starts the better the chances for long-term recovery. Many families are wrongly told to “wait for rock bottom” and that their loved one needs to feel ready to seek treatment in order for it to work. The idea that we should wait for the disease to get worse before seeking treatment is dangerous. Imagine if we waited until stage 4 to treat cancer. Decades of research has proven that the earlier someone is treated, the better their outcomes—and that treatment works just as well for patients who are compelled to start treatment by outside forces as it does for those who are self-motivated to enter treatment.

Help is Here

If you have questions or need to speak with someone for support, call or text (833) 301-4357 today. Our staff of trained counselors at Addiction Policy Forum provides free, confidential support to anyone in need of help with a Substance Use Disorder issue, including patients, families and healthcare providers.

Addiction A - Z Topics

Navigating Addiction

Addiction Basics

Starting the Conversation

Evidence-Based Treatment

Recovery Support

Caregiver Self Care


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