drug addiction and drug abuse

Introduction

drug addiction and drug abuse, chronic or habitual use of any chemical substance to alter states of body or mind for other than medically warranted purposes. Traditional definitions of addiction, with their criteria of physical dependence and withdrawal (and often an underlying tenor of depravity and sin) have been modified with increased understanding; with the introduction of new drugs, such as cocaine, that are psychologically or neuropsychologically addicting; and with the realization that its stereotypical application to opiate-drug users was invalid because many of them remain occasional users with no physical dependence. Addiction is more often now defined by the continuing, compulsive nature of the drug use despite physical and/or psychological harm to the user and society and includes both licit and illicit drugs, and the term "substance abuse" is now frequently used because of the broad range of substances (including alcohol and inhalants) that can fit the addictive profile. Psychological dependence is the subjective feeling that the user needs the drug to maintain a feeling of well-being; physical dependence is characterized by tolerance (the need for increasingly larger doses in order to achieve the initial effect) and withdrawal symptoms when the user is abstinent.

Definitions of drug abuse and addiction are subjective and infused with the political and moral values of the society or culture. For example, the stimulant caffeine in coffee and tea is a drug used by millions of people, but because of its relatively mild stimulatory effects and because caffeine does not generally trigger antisocial behavior in users, the drinking of coffee and tea, despite the fact that caffeine is physically addictive, is not generally considered drug abuse. Even narcotics addiction is seen only as drug abuse in certain social contexts. In India opium has been used for centuries without becoming unduly corrosive to the social fabric.

The United States has the highest substance abuse rate of any industrialized nation. Government statistics (1997) show that 36% of the United States population has tried marijuana, cocaine, or other illicit drugs. By comparison, 71% of the population has smoked cigarettes and 82% has tried alcoholic beverages. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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