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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is drug addiction?

    Related Topic
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  • Dr Nikolas Dietis

    HealthShare Member

    Addiction is defined as the compulsive use of a substance or activity, despite its potential negative or dangerous long-term effects, usually because of short-term contentment. Addiction can be seen not only in substances of abuse (drug addiction, smoking) but also in activities (i.e. gambling, watching TV, playing video games, etc). 

    The most common misunderstanding, even among scientists, is the differences between “addiction” and “dependence”; its true that they don't have a very clear and solid boundary. However, these two definitions are used for slightly different things:

    Dependence is identified when the person stops a repetitive use of a substance, stops periodically, but the presence of unwanted “withdrawal effects” (often called rebound effects) compel a reuse. Withdrawal effects are very strong side-effects arisen from the abrupt discontinuation of a substance usage, i.e. when a person abruptly discontinuates anti-depressants then they may face withdrawal symptoms like panic, confusion, hallucinations, mania, and symptoms that they didn't necessarily had prior to anti-depressant use. 

    - Addiction is often reflected as the person not being able to stop due to short-term contentment. 
    - Dependence is often reflected as the person not wanting to stop due to negative withdrawal effects.

    - Addiction is a state of mind, a neurobiological disease, triggered by genetic/psychosocial/environmental factors, characterised by an impaired control of use and it has more psychological element involved rather than physical.
    - Dependence is a state of being (not a disease), triggered by the drug reward system and characterised by the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms, having more physical element involved rather than psychological. 

    What we do know is that in both addiction and dependence there are chemical changes happening in onse brain, that underline this behaviour. In both states, the role of specific neurotransmitters in our brain (chemicals that govern the brain activity, like dopamine which produces the “feeling good”) is implicated. For example, in addiction we know that the organism is over-active with dopamine in a way that the mind is “hijact” and these increased levels are “expected as usual”. The person cannot stop the use/activity because it will produce a drop in dopamine levels (loss of “feeling good”). 


  • Dr Joanne Dennison

    Counselling Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    Dennison Psychology is a private psychology practice, with a location in South Yarra (Melbourne). Appointments are available on weekdays (appointments available from early mornings through … View Profile

    Addiction can be psychological and/or physical in nature. It means that an individual struggles to function “normally” without 1) a certain substance (e.g. drugs or alcohol), or 2) engaging in a certain behaviour (e.g. shopping, sex, gambling, eating). Addiction tends to involve stimulation of the reward centre of the brain and becoming addicted to something tends to be associated with changes in the chemical balances in the brain.

    Being dependent upon something is not a requirement for it to be detrimental. As a guideline, an individual should consider giving up a behaviour if the relationships/social, personal, health, financial, or occupation areas of their life suffer as a result of it. A psychologist can assist individuals look at things in their life that may be related to an addictive behaviour, and assist them to make changes that will reduce their liklihood of relapsing (relapsing means engaging in an addictive behaviour that an individual previously gave up).

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