What is Addiction?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” ASAM also notes that since 2011, the public understanding and acceptance of addiction as a chronic brain disease and the possibility of remission and recovery have increased. Thus, treatment for addiction can be as successful as those for other chronic diseases.

What is stigma?

A major barrier to overcoming the challenges of addiction, treatment and overdose is stigma. “Stigma” is a Latin word meaning “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. Stigma associated with addiction means labeling, stereotyping and discrimination. The use of negative, offensive or judgmental terminology when referring to people in recovery or with substance use disorder, or in regard to medication and other types of treatment used for the disease is harmful to an individual looking to manage their addiction.

What Should I Know About Opioid Addiction to Prevent Stigma?

Opioid use disorder is not a choice. It is a disease that can be treated.
Many Americans incorrectly view opioid use disorder as a moral weakness or character flaw. In fact, it is a brain disease that can be treated. Viewing it as a choice stigmatizes addiction.

Overcoming addiction takes more than willpower. Medicine can be a very effective part of the solution.
Stigma leads some people to believe that taking medicine for opioid use disorder is “replacing one drug for another” and “not real recovery.” In fact, people who take FDA-approved medicines like buprenorphine (Suboxone®), naltrexone (Vivitrol®), and methadone are more likely to stay in recovery and enjoy healthy, productive lives

“I am a loving son and father, business owner, and sports fan, I also take medication for opioid use disorder.”

Learn How to End Stigma in Columbia and Greene Counties

Dispelling Myths About Addiction

Effectively managing drug or alcohol addiction can be complicated by the stigma that still surrounds it. The stigma or shame associated with drug or alcohol addiction often keeps individuals from seeking help.

  • Icon for A person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol is “lost.”
    A person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol is “lost.”

    Treatment can be effective, recovery is possible. There are many successful people living in recovery.

  • Icon for Recovery sticks the first time.
    Recovery sticks the first time.

    Unfortunately, recovery can be on-going. Although recurrence of use is possible, the person that is unsuccessful—even a dozen times—is STILL capable of recovery. Don’t give up.

  • Icon for There is one way to go about getting into recovery.
    There is one way to go about getting into recovery.

    There are LOTS of ways to go about getting—and staying—in recovery. There are also lots of points of entry into the system of services and supports.

Substance Types

It’s important to know the differences between each type of substance and the signs of their abuse. Without this knowledge, recognizing and treating addiction becomes much more difficult.

Alcohol (AKA booze, hooch)

  • Liquids such as beer, liquor, and wine drunk to experience  intoxicating effects. Signs of abuse include slurred speech, lack of coordination, nausea, vomiting, and hangovers.


  • Cocaine/Crack Cocaine (AKA blow, coke, rock, snow) – A stimulant in the form of either white crystalline powder, chips, chunks or white rocks. It is either snorted, smoked or injected to experience its stimulating effect. Signs of abuse include nervous behavior, restlessness, bloody noses, and erratic, high energy.
  • Methamphetamine (AKA ice, chalk, crank, crystal, fire, meth, speed) – A powerful stimulant that is found in the form of white or slightly yellow crystal-like powder, or large rock-like chunks. It can be smoked, snorted, injected or swallowed to experience its effects. Signs of abuse include nervous physical activity, scabs and open sores, decreased appetite, and insomnia.
  • Nicotine – A highly addictive substance found in all tobacco products including e-cigarettes and vapes. When used during adolescence, nicotine can change the way the brain develops. This may affect learning, attention, and susceptibility to other addictions.
  • Vapes and E-Cigarettes – Often have extremely high concentrations of nicotine. This makes users particularly vulnerable to becoming addicted very quickly and easily. Many people do not realize the product they are using has nicotine in it, or they are unaware of the amount of nicotine the product contains. Over 60% of Juul users do not know that Juul pods always contain nicotine, even the flavored pods.
  • E-Liquids – The liquids intended for vapes or e-cigarettes. These come in a variety of sweet and fruity flavors, which are especially appealing to kids. The flavors may give the impression the products are harmless. Some brands even advertise themselves as being “safer” or “healthy”; all claims that are totally unsubstantiated.


  • Marijuana (AKA blunt, dope, grass, herb, Maryjane, pot, reefer, skunk, weed) – A depressant found in the form of a green/grey mix of the dried flowers and leaves of Cannabis plant. Marijuana is typically smoked, brewed into tea, or imbued into food in order to experience its effects. Signs of abuse commonly include slowed thinking, delayed reaction time, impaired coordination, and paranoia.

Inhalants (AKA whippets, huffing, poppers, dusting)

  • Can fall in either the stimulant or depressant category, depending on the specific inhalant. They can take the form of paint thinners, glues, nail polish remover, whipped cream aerosol, air conditioner fluid, and many other substances. As the name suggests, they are inhaled in order to experience their effects. Signs of abuse include missing household cleaning products, and a drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance.


  • Heroin (AKA black tar, dope, junk, smack) – A common street opioid that can look like white to dark brown powder, tar-like substance, or chip. Heroin is typically injected, but can also be smoked, free based, or snorted in order to experience its effects. Signs of abuse include track marks on the arms or legs, slowed and slurred speech, decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting, and lethargy.
  • Opiates/Pain Medications (AKA Fentanyl, Codeine, OxyContin/Oxy, Percocet/Perk, Vicodin/Vitamin V/Vika) – These opioids have the appearance of pills, tablets, transdermal patches, and table salt. They are typically crushed up and snorted or injected, swallowed, or licked off the patch to experience their effects. Signs of abuse include missing medicine bottles, missing medication, disrupted eating habits, dark circles under the eyes, and nodding off.

Benzodiazepines (AKA benzos, tranx, sleepers, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin)

  • An intoxicant that is often found in the form of tablets or capsules. They are usually crushed up and then snorted, injected; or swallowed  to experience their effects. Signs of abuse typically include drowsiness, impaired equilibrium, blurred vision, amnesia, unexpected hostility and irritability, disturbing dreams, lowered inhibitions, and impaired judgment.