Understanding Drug Addiction and Dependence


The term Drug addiction is a dynamic concept that has gained different meanings over the years. The most common indications of drug addiction are among others an intense craving or compulsive need to immediately consume the drug and to acquire it regardless of the means used, an inclination to increase the dosage or consume the drug more frequently, and the reliance on the drug both mentally and physically.

However, the term drug addiction has gradually been phased out in medical text since the beginning of the 21st century and has been replaced by the term substance dependence. Definition of substance dependence is the clinical impairment or suffering of an individual caused by a maladaptive behavior of substance abuse and indicators such as loss of control over drug use, neurotic use of the drug, persistent use of the drug regardless of impairment, and the uncontrollable desire to consume the drug appearing within one year. A common term used when discussing drug addiction is the word ‘Tolerance’ which refers to the ability of the body to buffer the standard dose of the drug, which had previously been effective thus leading to little or no effect. Individuals who are suffering from tolerance often increase the dosage to achieve the same effect gained previously from a smaller dose.

Types of addiction

There are two types of addiction in drug abuse and the main difference between them is the cause of the addiction. Drug addiction caused by illness and disease is relatively different from drug addiction caused by inappropriate behavioral patterns.

Drug addiction is due inappropriate behavioral patterns

This form of addiction is caused by individual misconduct through the improper use of drugs. In most cases, drugs such as amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, nicotine, sedatives, barbiturates, and hypnotics are used for recreational purposes due to their euphoric effect (Schaler, 1997). Other individuals use the drugs to ward off stressful thoughts and ease the tension but when the desire to continually consume the drugs is not controlled, the individuals end up becoming addicted (BCSSE, 2004). Characteristic pointers include neurotic use of the drug, the uncontrollable desire to consume the drug, and the persistent use of the drug regardless of impairment for instance an individual will persistently smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol while being aware of their negative effects related to use of the substances which is a sign of drug addiction.

Drug addiction due to illness and disease

As observed by McCabe et al (2009), this type of addiction is common with individuals who receive addictive medication in order to cure them of a disease or alleviate their distress. Opiates such as Morphine, codeine, heroin, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and meperidine are powerful pain relievers and are used to help patients in severe pain such as accident victims or surgery patients. Other prescription drugs such as sedatives for instance anti-depressants and other psychological drugs are used to pacify mentally unstable patients (Schaler, 1997). The drugs used in alleviating the above conditions are usually highly addictive and hence are very restricted. Patients using the drugs are usually closely monitored by medical experts and the dosages regulated though patients continue to crave the drugs even after their condition has improved. Consequently, most patients undergo a withdrawal period where they experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and uncontrolled shivering and may end up using the drugs again if the withdrawal symptoms are too extreme (BCSSE, 2004).

According to Bonnie & Whitebread, (2007), pseudoaddiction is also another form of addiction that is mostly caused by pain medication. Patients suffering from extreme pain may receive medication that is ineffective hence the patients’ pain is never relieved. Such patients will consequently be obsessed with acquiring pain medication thus displaying symptoms such as a loss of control over drug use, neurotic use of the drug, persistent use of the drug regardless of impairment, and the uncontrollable desire to consume the drug which are classic symptoms of drug addiction.

The changing attitudes towards addiction and dependence

Drug addiction has been perceived differently throughout the years as society continues to learn more about drugs and the prerequisites to addiction. Drugs in the early 20th century especially in the late 1940s were being excessively consumed in the United States which led to an augmentation of radical legislative drug policies (McCabe et al, 2009). The hippie movement was primarily responsible for the high rate of drug consumption which ultimately caused the public to call for steeper penalties (BCSSE, 2004). On June 12, 1951, an article in the Washington Evening Star stated that between five thousand and twenty thousand of the three hundred thousand high school students in New York City were drug addicts. In addition, a June 25, 1951 article in Time magazine written by Mr. Boggs was analyzing a statement by a New York City School Superintendent that claimed one out of every two hundred high school students in New York was a frequent consumer of drugs (Bonnie & Whitebread, 2007).

The article also identified the emerging drug consumption trend in other cities as well as the simplicity in which drugs could be obtained. Supporting information to the articles was provided by testimonies of individuals who dropped out of school due to drugs as well as others who engaged in crime to sustain their addiction (Bonnie & Whitebread, 2007). The articles also covered a wide range of drug addiction-related problems such as poverty, death, and effects of withdrawal. This and other reasons led to extremist policies being implemented to curb the consumption of drugs which eventually led to the ban of soft drugs.

Research by Schaler (1997) shows that addiction and dependence in the 1970s and 1980s was still a predicament since highly addictive drugs such as heroin and “crack” caused an increase in death and crime as well as poverty in the affected areas. However, the late twentieth century saw a more relaxed view of some drugs such as marijuana, with some of the states in America and Canada calling for the legalization of the drug. The formation of the narcotics police unit in the United States as well as the passionate campaigns launched by various governments to destroy the distribution and supply of drugs led to a decreased use of hard drugs in America.

Consequently, the public view of addiction and dependence has shifted from being a menace to being an infirmity (BCSSE, 2004). Previously, individuals thought to be addicted to certain drugs were arrested and jailed but recent policy changes have ensured that addicts are taken care of through state rehabilitation programs. Society has been keener on fighting the use of drugs and rather than vilify drug addiction, social programs have been launched all over the world to help addicts. For instance, an article in the Times magazine in April 2009 titled, “The Portuguese Experiment: Did Legalizing Drugs Work?” by Maia Szalavitz reported that between 2001 and 2006 the consumption of illegal drugs among seventh to ninth-grade students dropped by 4%. Heroin use between 16 to 18-year-old individuals fell to almost 1.5% with the deaths caused by heroin consumption dropping by 50 % (McCabe et al, 2009).

“The article also reported that the number of individuals on methadone and buprenorphine treatment due to drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040”. (McCabe et al, 2009). The case was almost similar to the United States with the author offering techniques through which the American government can incorporate the drug addiction control methods used in Portugal (McCabe et al, 2009).


Drug addiction has been deemed a social problem for more than a century due to the subsequent effects that society has to bear. Drug addiction has the propensity to bring theft, prostitution, poverty, street families, and different transferable diseases to society. As such, drug addiction has been considered a social threat for a long time with laws and policies being passed to monitor and impede the rate of addiction. However, the development in science and the deeper understanding of drugs has led to the discovery that drug addiction can not only be caused by inappropriate behavioral patterns but by illness or disease as well. Consequently, society has been more tolerant of drug dependence and addiction with social programs being developed to help the drug addicts in the community. Consequently, the attitudes of the social problem of addiction and dependence have changed drastically from those held in the early to mid 20th century.


Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences and Education (BCSSE). (2004). New Treatments for Addiction: Behavioral, Ethical, Legal, and Social Questions. Web.

Bonnie, R and Whitebread, C., H. (2007). The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree Of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition. Web.

McCabe S, et al (2009). ‘Subtypes of non-medical prescription drug misuse’. Drug Alcohol Depend, Vol. 102, No. 3, pp. 63–70.

Schaler, J. (1997). ‘Addiction Beliefs of Treatment Providers: Factors Explaining Variance.’ Addiction Research & Theory, Vol. 4, No.4, pp. 367–384.