Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

People begin taking drugs for a variety of reasons:

  • To feel good, self-confidence, and increased energy
  • To feel better from anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression
  • To do better or improve their cognitive or athletic performance
  • For curiosity and “because others are doing it”.


The Addiction Cycle

Addiction can be described as a repeating cycle with three stages. Each stage is particularly associated with one of the brain regions described above—basal ganglia, extended amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. This three-stage model draws on decades of human and animal research and provides a useful way to understand the symptoms of addiction, how it can be prevented and treated, and how people can recover from it.
The three stages of addiction are:

Binge/Intoxication, the stage at which an individual consumes an intoxicating substance and experiences its rewarding or pleasurable effects.

Withdrawal/Negative Affect, the stage at which an individual experiences a negative emotional state in the absence of the substance

Preoccupation/Anticipation, the stage at which one seeks substances again after a period of abstinence.


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