Addicition is defined as: repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable. The 'repeated involvement' basically excludes any drug from a diagnosis of addiction after first-time use. Addiction is a behavioral dependence characterized by repeated and prolonged abuse. So because of the criteria needed to be medically 'addicted', a one-time drug use cannot lead to a diagnosis of addiction.
This question is a matter of definition. The question hinges on the use of the term 'addiction'. Addiction is diagnosed as such using the following criteria:
- Impaired control
- Social impairment
- Risky use
- Pharmacological indicators (tolerance and withdrawal)
Impaired control may be evidenced in several different ways, namely 1) using for longer periods of time than intended, or using larger amounts than intended; 2) Wanting to reduce use, yet being unsuccessful doing so; 3) Spending excessive time getting/using/recovering from the drug use; 4) Cravings that are so intense it is difficult to think about anything else.
Social impairment is related to the addiction being defined as repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable. Social impairment is one type of substantial harm (or consequence) caused by the repeated use of a substance or an activity. For example, people may continue to use despite problems with work, school or family/social obligations. This might include repeated work absences, poor school performance, neglect of children, or failure to meet household responsibilities. Addiction may also be indicated when someone continues substance use despite having interpersonal problems because of the substance use. This could include arguments with family members about the substance use, or losing important friendships because of continued use. In addition, important and meaningful social and recreational activities may be given up or reduced because of substance use. A person may spend less time with their family, or they may stop playing golf with their friends.
Risky Use; the key issue of this criterion is the failure to refrain from using the substance despite the harm it causes, as addiction may be indicated when someone repeatedly uses substances in physically dangerous situations. For instance, using alcohol or other drugs while operating machinery or driving a car. Some people continue to use addictive substances even though they are aware it is causing or worsening physical and psychological problems. An example is the person who continues to smoke cigarettes despite having a respiratory disorder such as asthma or COPD.
Pharmacological indicators: Tolerance and Withdrawal. For many people, tolerance and withdrawal are the classic indicators of advanced addiction. As such, these are particularly important concepts. This criterion refers to the adjustment the body makes as it attempts to adapt to the continued and frequent use of a substance. Tolerance occurs when people need to increase the amount of a substance to achieve the same desired effect. Withdrawal is the body's response to the abrupt cessation of a drug, once the body has developed a tolerance to it. The resulting cluster of (very unpleasant and sometimes fatal) symptoms is specific to each drug.
A person needs to meet at least 2 of these criteria to be diagnosed with a substance-use disorder. The severity of addiction is determined by the number of criteria met. In any of the criteria a matter of prolonged use is characteristic.
Sometimes craving is also included in the criteria list.
- Horvath et al., AMHC (2017)