Defining addiction

Maia Szalavitz continues to put out excellent material, and while I personally don’t agree with how she wrote everything in this article — Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists. And It’s (Almost) All In Your Head — there’s one part that really resonated with me:

Addiction is a relationship between a person and a substance or activity; addictiveness is not a simple matter of a drug “hijacking the brain.” In fact, with all potentially addictive experiences, only a minority of those who try them get hooked—and people can even become addicted to apparently “nonaddictive” things, like carrots. Addiction depends on learning, context and psychology, not just neurotransmitters.

One of the best definitions I’ve heard.

This, to me, has been a huge problem in our discourse about drugs — a disconnect on even the definition of “addiction.” It’s a word that has had competing political, scientific, and common definitions.

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35 Responses to Defining addiction

  1. primus says:

    As with many things, the devil is in the definition. When I was young, I was told that addiction to drugs meant that the brain was changed in such a way that the addicted person could not live without the drug. Of course that is ridiculous in light of present knowledge. Unfortunately, there are many different definitions of addiction, all of which paint the addict in an unflattering light. Addiction is merely a human characteristic carried to extreme. We all have things we really love to do, whatever they may be. When we do too much of them, it may harm us, no matter what the addiction, whether to sex, drugs or television. We see the harms of the activity as less important to us than the benefits of it. In the case of drugs, it has become a one way street, where the addict is shunned by society as a pariah. This has the effect of reducing or removing the benefits of trying to quit or reduce the drug use. One of the principal benefits of the Swiss approach of heroin maintenance is that it shows that society has nothing to fear from addicts, so long as the substance they require is available. IOW it is prohibition which is the problem, not the addiction. We must push that narrative until it becomes common knowledge. Then society may more easily move to a regulated system.

  2. Uncle Albert's Nephew says:

    When I was in rehab 22 tears ago they were pushing a very convenient definition. Quite simply, if you had ever used an illegal drug you were an “addict” in need of “treatment”. They really held the drug laws in higher regard than other laws. It was my introduction to how fanatical those people can be. To this day I compare them to the anti-abortion crazies. In fact I tell people that if the anti-abortion people get the laws they want it’ll be a second war or drugs.

  3. claygooding says:

    If being addicted is only bad for illegal substances because of the involvement with underground sources then we need to legalize them and move them above ground and then the violence and corruption will end.
    And kev-kev can join the unemployable until he can buy a soul.

    • Kemp Woods says:

      Hello–I’ve seen and admired your comments on rant and would like to know if you might be interested in co-authoring my website/blog –End the drug war action center–I could really use help with search engine optimization, posting, and turning it into a real action center to end this damn WOD!!Please feel free to contact me at If you can get hold of Peter Guither I’d love to have him co-author too!

      • claygooding says:

        Kemp,,I am honored but not at this time,,I sometimes step even on my friends toes,,some of my longest arguments are with fellow legalization advocates,,prohibitches don’t argue,,they quote mantra and fear facts.
        By remaining a lone wolf I can continue spreading the knowledge and information through FB quite well and I am fixing to expand to twitter,,if I can figure out how not to type so much.

        • claygooding says:

          PS: Feel free to use anything on my wall on FB,,Normwn Gooding,,and edit it to fit your needs,,credit me or not,,just spread it.

  4. Frank W. says:

    “One in six teenagers who try marijuana become addicted.”
    -from the arguments against Measure 91 in our OR voters’ pamphlet. If you really want to read the whole schmear, here it is:
    I do like the landscape they envision, kind of like the factory scene in Willy Wonka. “Gummy Bears. Cotton Candy. Ice Cream..” Plus we get the story of the guy who ate a pot cookie and OMG JUMPED OUT A WINDOW AND DIED! Meanwhile in Hell, Art Linklater is rubbing his hands eagerly.

  5. NorCalNative says:

    And, to further muddle up the concept of cannabis addiction is the role of the endocannabinoid system and HOMEOSTASIS.

  6. thelbert says:

    today on “the view” charlotte figi’s mother appeared with one of the stanley bothers. they showed video of the siezures charlotte would have to suffer through without the use of cannabis. people are becoming aware of the medical utility of cannabis. they are also learning that the dea hates sick children. in order to protect the moral purity of the nation’s bodily fluids, some of our insignificant little citizens must suffer or die, according to the drug police.

  7. thelbert says:

    OT: seems that the russians have uncovered evidence of medical cannabis use amongst the ancient scythians.

  8. “Addiction is compulsive use of a substance or engagement in a behavior despite negative consequences.”

    This is always read by prohibitionists to mean that if you smoke marijuana its automatic proof of addiction to get arrested.

    “Both the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance, among others, have helped us realize that the War on Drugs has actually been a war on people, and that while drug use can clearly be destructive, the impact of prohibition and incarceration is frequently even worse.”

    What we are dealing with here is a profession that thinks of drugs in this manner: “Are individuals who have difficulties with drugs and alcohol bad people who should be punished or sick people in need of healing?”

    I think my point is: why should they be either?

    The clear point for marijuana in all this: no matter how you slice it on the addiction end, not that many people have that kind of problem with marijuana. If they do, they usually stop just fine on their own.

    Keeping marijuana illegal on a federal level is more of an inducement to corruption for law enforcement than it is a problem in addiction for its users.

  9. claygooding says:

    The Tampa Bay paper is claiming to have run a poll on Amendment 2 and claim it is failing as has several other big newspapers around the state,,very little info on the surveys or questions used but none of the advocacy groups are buying it.
    I think we are seeing “anything necessary” and the ONDCP through local Republican owned mews outlets to discourage voters from showing up at the polls,,
    Divide and conquer worked for them in CA and failed in WA and CO so now they are trying false articles to discourage reform votes but they have a problem in FLA,,they are trying to discourage old folks from voting and that is the only thing we get to do in decision making in our government,,I doubt you could threaten seniors away from a voting booth.

    • thelbert says:

      i smell desperation

      • Duncan2003 says:


        That’s strange, I smell a 60% supermajority requirement. There really aren’t very many contested elections that bring in more than 60% of the votes. Even the vote to make Florida ballot initiative Constitutional Amendments only got 57.78% in favor.

        The Florida Legislature was able to knock out a not insignificant percentage of support by approving a CBD only patient protection law. From my own personal observations I think that there are a lot of people who are suckers for sick little kids but who really don’t care if adults suffer. I’ve still got my fingers crossed. If Amendment 2 is approved I’m going to take a trip to Florida to picket Calvina Fay’s workplace with a “we’re not laughing with you, we’re laughing at you” placard.

        But man those people in Florida are kooks, and kooks in every sense of the word. Gov. Scott backed out of a debate with Charlie Christ because Mr. Christ had a fan in his dais. Governor Scott said he never agreed to he took his ball and went home. Nucking futz.

        I’m telling you people we really got to get away from this election stuff. It’s the politicians that are the problem and I don’t think you can have elections AND keep the.politicians .from taking office. They really are some very sneaky, duplicitous weasels and there’s no doubt that they’ll figure out a way to infiltrate the candidates roll even if we try to exclude them somehow.

  10. “The recent polls on this question has diverged significantly. Last week one poll from the University of North Florida had support for the amendment at 67 percent, but a different poll from SurveyUSA put support at only 51 percent.

    Those damn Florida newspapers are doing their best to sink the proposal with their biased views. I don’t trust them.

    • Duncan2003 says:


      The Sun Sentinel has endorsed approval of Amendment 2. It’s the largest circulation newspaper in Florida.

      Florida is one of the easiest States to manipulate the results of an opinion poll while appearing to be unbiased. The first part is the Northwestern panhandle which for all practical purposes may as well be Alabama. Even down in the more “liberal” Miami-Dade/Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale metropolitan area just moving 20 miles to the west puts you in banjo music territory. Hey-oh Elmer, lets go kill some alligators for dinner!

      My favorite thing back when I was working in Hollywood was getting up to watch the sun rise over the ocean in the east then driving over to the west coast to watch it set into the Gulf.

  11. Dante says:

    Here’s one:

    Drug Warriors are addicted to the drug war. We should “treat” them for their addiction.

    Now, tell me when we get to swat-raid their houses and shoot their dogs. I’m sure that will help them with their addiction.

    Are you listening, drug warriors?

    Protect & Serve (themselves)

    Ps-I would never hurt a dog. Even a drug warrior’s dog. Only sick people would shoot a family pet.

  12. Servetus says:

    I don’t like a definition of addiction to include something that isn’t measurable. As the late great physicist Richard P. Feynman noted, if you can’t reduce a concept to a number, you really don’t know anything about it. In other words, show me the biomarker!

    Subjective interpretations of addiction cast a wide net. So wide, in fact, that some twisted government could, if it wanted to, persecute people for displaying sports addictions. No government will do that, but if it means subjugating a targeted minority, due to their liking the wrong thing, a government or controlling entity will make exceptions.

    Scientists know enough about addictions to have pinpointed predominant genetic influences, for example: Nicotine, Cocaine, Caffeine, Opium/Codeine, Alcohol, Chocolate, Gene Specific to Addiction.

    Genes and their chemistry can be programmed into a supercomputer for analysis and for modeling some additional chemical manipulations, thereby satisfying the requirement that the concept be reduced to a number.

    I apparently lack the genes necessary to acquire a nicotine addiction, as I made valiant efforts to become addicted to tobacco in my younger days, and it didn’t work. Today, I remain tobacco free. Everyone’s body chemistry is different. And because of transposons, our genes change as we age. Over time, the genes in my left hand are not necessarily the same genes found in my right hand.

    Susceptibility to addiction apparently changes with age as well.

    Addiction is a fascinating topic if treated scientifically, but the NIDA doesn’t want to educate the public on the science. The NIDA’s goal is to talk down to the public, to make them aware that their only duty is to unquestionably obey a self-described-almighty, idiotic government.

    • Kemp Woods says:

      Hello–I’ve seen and admired your comments on rant and would like to know if you might be interested in co-authoring my website/blog –End the drug war action center–I could really use help with search engine optimization, posting, and turning it into a real action center to end this damn WOD!!Please feel free to contact me at If you can get hold of Peter Guither I’d love to have him co-author too!

      • Servetus says:

        I’m flattered that you seek my services. It appears you’ve made a good start at and

        I do short diatribes on current drug war events, oftentimes linking said events to similar crap that was going on 500 years ago and that still exists within the legal process. I also keep up to date on illicit-drug science. Here on the couch at DrugWarRant (which you need to include in your list of drug websites), others may be more helpful than I in building your site. For instance, DdC maintains a massive link library to drug war information.

    • Duncan2003 says:


      I think that George Carlin has it nailed. Describing his later in life enjoyment of cannabis starts at 2:40:
      George Carlin On Drugs And Marijuana

      Well I know my beliefs aren’t widely acknowledged I just put up with it as a cross eyed bear. IMO addiction is congenital. You either have it or you don’t. Within the last few days we’ve heard the statement “nobody looks at their first bottle of liquor and thinks they should drink it all.” That’s hogwash. I was an utter idiot back in my teens; my first bottle of booze was a liter of cheap vodka and I’d probably be dead if my (then) very smart stomach hadn’t refused to process it. Going just from my personal experience I would have said “everybody chug-a-lugs their first liter of cheap booze” because it was certainly how I thought it should be done. I’ve encountered enough people who shared my nature to totally disabuse myself of the notion that everybody wouldn’t do that.

      The results of the Rat Park study sure support my observations. Perhaps it’s just confirmation bias, I don’t know. But so far I’ve collected a huge pile of those confirmations and literally nothing that contradicts them. So is anyone willing to play lab rat? We’ll inject you with morphine for 57 days running and then drop you at Club Med and then see if you decide to keep shooting up when it becomes optional. There’s no question in my mind that the results would mirror Rat Park.

  13. bongstar420 says:

    Duh…People are religion addicts

    • claygooding says:


      However it is apparent that no matter the religious sect the books and scrolls they follow are only applied and quoted when it fits the sect’s purposes and ignored when not..

  14. Poca says:

    There’s this guy who showed signs fo addiction after getting google glass. He wasn’t addicted to the google glass, but the glasses made him so effective and efficient at documenting train cargo as it passed through that he became addicted to his job.

    For this guy, he was having trouble from over working, but just like anything else we might even call a passion. We need to find balance with everything else in our lives. It is our reasoning alone that would determine how & when we would find this balance. If we find this balance but maybe still need to use something to “excess” (relative to the standards of others) to remain in balance, such as ganja or exercise etc., there is not only no harm, but it even benefits the person when used properly as they alone can determine.

    You can call it a crutch or an addiction or whatever, but please hold your judgement for something you could directly relate to, walk a mile in their shoes first… Gain some respect for another’s perspective, and maybe gain a little yourself.
    Great post Pete…I often compare my ganja addiction to my sex, coffee, excercise, air, sweet tea , and water addictions

  15. sudon't says:

    Sure, marijuana’s addictive – because the word “addictive” is meaningless. For that reason, it’s impossible to have a useful discussion about this topic.
    We need to draw a distinction between compulsive behavior and actual addiction. Opiates, like heroin and oxycodone, are addictive. You will suffer actual physical withdrawal symptoms upon cessation, if you are addicted. The same is not true of other substances like cocaine. Cocaine causes compulsive behavior, including compulsive use. It is a different problem than actual addiction, (although they can overlap).
    I would suggest that it is possible to use marijuana compulsively, just as any behavior can become compulsive, but I think it unlikely that marijuana causes compulsive behavior like cocaine can. Either way, nothing meaningful can be said without first defining the terms.

  16. John says:

    A very interesting topic. People may become dependent on something whether it is a drug, person or whatever else and it may not be the same as an addiction.

Comments are closed.