This essay seeks to illuminate the shifting definitions of addiction over time by providing a brief, anecdotal history of addiction as well as a review of how it has been conceptualized by the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM classification system. While all addictions have in common the attempt to experience an appetitive effect (satiety), preoccupation, loss of control, and negative or undesired consequences, including physical danger, social complaints, or inability to carry on one’s life roles, the meaning of addiction has not always been consistent. By approaching addiction from the historical/anecdotal and the official/medical perspectives, this essay provides a framework for working toward a common understanding of this complex phenomenon.

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