Supporting the stages of recovery

What is addiction/Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that develops in response to the use of an addictive substance. Symptoms include impaired control, social impairment, risky use, increased tolerance, and withdrawal. Drugs change the structure and functioning of the brain, impairing the part of the brain in charge of impulse control.

Substance Use Disorder, or SUD, is the clinical name for the wide range of chronic diseases often referred to as addiction. SUD can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe and specified to the type of substance a person is using. For example people who have a Substance Use Disorder around opioids are also referred to as having an opioid use disorder or OUD.

We tend to use Substance Use Disorder, Opioid Use Disorder, SUD, and OUD instead of addiction on our site since the term "addiction" can be stigmatizing and prevent people from engaging with proper treatment and other resources.

What is physical dependence?

Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs including opioids like heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Prescription opioids can lead to physical dependence even if taken as instructed. When drugs such as opioids are stopped suddenly, withdrawal symptoms develop. With opioids, withdrawal symptoms include tearing up, runny nose, sweating, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Many describe withdrawal as the worst flu of their life.

Can addiction/SUD be treated?

Yes. Addiction/SUD is a chronic disease that can be treated and managed successfully by the use of behavioral therapy and/or medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Research shows that a combination of behavioral therapy plus medication is the most successful form of treatment.

Due to the chronic nature of addiction, relapses happen. However, this does not necessarily mean that treatment has failed, rather that treatment needs to be adjusted or reinstated. This is similar to relapses in other chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension which have a complex set of physiological and psychological factors that could lead to relapse.

Resources to learn more