The term "addiction" has historically had Latin roots, with translated meanings ranging from deity devotion to attachments to enslavement.

From Myth and Middle Ages to Modern Use

In Roman law and the Middle Ages, a bankrupt debtor was sentenced to “addiction” and compelled to work for a master to pay back his debts. Thus, the addictus was an enslaved person because of unpaid debts. According to an ancient myth, after his owner liberated him, the slave, Addictus, walked the countryside in shackles since he was so used to them that he didn't know how to live without them.

As with Addictus, people with substance or alcohol use disorders typically relapse after periods of sobriety, much as the fictional character did. Relapse generally occurs because of a reaction to a set of circumstances called triggers (people, places, things). When a person is recovering from an addiction, they are so acclimated to drinking or doing drugs that they cannot resist the cravings and temptations that draw familiarity, which arise from the neuronal damage of addictive substances and their past behavior.

The Latin word “addictus” stems from “addicere,” which means "to deliver or give up." It first appears in the plays of Roman playwright Plautus in the late third and early second centuries BCE.

The reflexive use of the word can denote self-destructive behavior. Gambling, intoxication and gluttony may all confine or "enslave" a person. The term's usage then expanded to include interests such as riches, notoriety and philosophy. For instance, in the first century of the Common Era, Seneca, a Stoic philosopher, employed “addicere” in his moral and philosophical pieces of literature.

If you hear of a "good” addiction, it typically refers to a beneficial habit whose advantages outweigh its drawbacks. During the early modern period, the by-products of "addicere" were optimistic as the words were associated with attachment and devotion. For example, one could be attached or devoted to God. However, negative connotations began to surround derivatives of the word when the connections were to something unhealthy or damaging.

In its more common use, "addiction" has primarily referred to alcohol and drug misuse since the 19th century. The American Psychiatric Association omitted the term "addiction" from four DSM-III revisions. There were no terms in the vocabulary for nonsubstance addictions, such as online gaming disorder. The DSM-5's inclusion of behavioral addiction as a diagnostic entity is the first time it has been formally recognized as a diagnosis.

The Stigma Associated with "Addiction"

While addiction is a dreadful and debilitating disease, it does not automatically mean that the individual battling addiction is morally or ethically corrupt. The word "addiction" has been stigmatized severely. Nonetheless, an exceptionally high number of gyms, shoe shops, lingerie stores, and hair salons rely on the term "addiction" as a business trademark. It is also a well-known brand name for motorcycle clothing and men's underwear. Additionally, some businesses use the word for pet food, archery, and even a spiced sauce firm.

Stigmatizing addictive behavior and cruel treatment of people with a drug or alcohol problem may hinder those individuals’ efforts to seek recovery options. Using terms like "addict" does nothing to reduce the stigma and prejudice around drug misuse and abuse. The first step to healing from the damage of stigma is to use human-first language. For example, using a term like "substance abuse" rather than "substance use disorder" may only help to perpetuate stigma. When successful stigma reduction techniques are applied, both addiction treatment centers and patients benefit.

The word "addiction" has an extensive evolutionary etymological history and currently encompasses activities such as sex addiction and internet addiction, among other compulsive and addictive behaviors. The truth remains that addiction is a serious condition that many people cannot overcome without obtaining professional help. Still, recovery is possible, and that statement will remain valid and unchanging forever.

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