According to the American Psychological Association

Addiction is a chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social and environmental factors influencing its development and maintenance.


Background: Addiction is a neurobiological disease, according to the American Academy of Addiction Medicine. Its development is influenced by environmental, cognitive, and genetic factors. Addiction can be characterized by “impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm and/or craving.” Addiction often implies dependence on substances other than alcohol, although alcoholism is essentially alcohol addiction.

The American Psychiatric Association recommends avoiding the word addict (and alcoholic – see entry below), suggesting instead the use of the phrase “someone experiencing a drug/alcohol problem.” The association also discourages using derogatory language such as the term “junkie” to refer to someone who misuses drugs.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the word “addiction” is acceptable for uncontrollable, compulsive use of substances as well as acts such as gambling, sex, working, etc., in the face of negative health and social consequences. The center states that addiction differs from dependence in that dependence only accounts for health problems, whereas addiction denotes use, despite health and social problems (this same distinction applies to alcohol dependence and alcoholism). The center also recommends using the word “misuse” in place of “abuse” when describing harmful drug usage.

It’s best to avoid using “clean” and “dirty” with regard to drug test results, according to the Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment. The terms are considered derogatory because they equate symptoms of illness to filth. When referring to a drug test, state that the person “tested positive for (drugs).”

NCDJ Recommendation: It is preferable to refer to someone who harmfully uses drugs as “someone with a drug addiction.” Use “recovering” or “in recovery from” to refer to someone trying to overcome active addiction, that is, “someone recovering from a methamphetamine addiction.”

Conforms to AP style, which states that addiction is an acceptable term, although some clinicians prefer “substance abuse disorder.” AP also suggests avoiding words like “abuse” or “problem” in favor of the word “use” with an appropriate modifier such as “risky,” “unhealthy,” “excessive” or “heavy.” “Misuse” also is acceptable. Don’t assume all people who engage in misuse have an addiction.


Substance use disorder (SUD).