Last updated on August 31st, 2020

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a complex and chronic condition characterized by an inability to control or consistently abstain from substance use in spite of all the harm it causes.1,2,3

In some cases, the road to addiction may start with intentional use of drugs and alcohol but, at some point, the person’s decision to continue using becomes increasingly out of their control.2,3,4 Eventually, seeking and consuming the drug/alcohol becomes a compulsion.2,3It is common for both tolerance and physiological dependence to develop in those who compulsively or otherwise consistently use substances. As tolerance develops, a person begins to no longer experience the effects of a given drug or alcohol in the way they did before.

Therefore, it takes a larger dose to achieve the same response as when used previously.4,5 As the frequency and amount of substance use increases to counter the effects of tolerance, the development of physical dependence may also be hastened. People with significant dependence will come to need alcohol or drugs to avoid the onset of withdrawal or, potentially, to be able to function normally in day-to-day life.4,5

As the frequency and amount of substance use increase to counter the effects of tolerance, the development of physical dependence may also be hastened.
The withdrawal syndromes associated with certain types of physical substance dependence can be markedly unpleasant and/or dangerous.

People at risk of a severe or complicated withdrawal stand to benefit from the added supervision, monitoring, and, when required, medications able to be administered in a medical detox setting.2,7,8 Professional detoxification services are available to help you through distressing withdrawal symptoms, helping provide comfort and safety throughout the process.2

Drugs, Alcohol and Cigarette

What are Addiction Effects on the Brain?

Addiction affects areas of the brain involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and control over behavior.1,2,3 Substance addiction does not develop as a function of choice; it is instead born from a complex interplay of many different factors, including genes, trauma, drug access, and community influences.1

In addition, different groups have unique issues that surround their individual addictions, and these people may benefit from tailored treatments that take into account culture, gender, age, and socioeconomic factors.6

The journey from a substance use disorder (SUD) to a healthy, sober life is not a quick and easy one. For many, it takes a lifelong commitment of dedication and hard work. The road toward sobriety may be difficult, but professional treatment helps many people start that endeavor.

Learn more about

Treatment doesn’t have to be expensive; to better understand if your insurance will cover most or all of the treatment, check your insurance coverage today.


  1. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2011). Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Drug Misuse and Addiction: What is drug addiction?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2017). Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction: What’s the Difference?
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Types of Treatment Programs.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Treatment and Recovery.
Does your insurance cover addiction treatment?

Use our free and confidential online insurance checker to see if your insurance covers treatment at an American Addiction Center facility.

See if you’re covered