Identifying the exact point at which the use of a substance constitutes an addiction ought to be easy, but it is not. Confusion arises because we are limited to observing and describing behaviors, when what we are really trying to define involves a change in the way the brain functions as a result of exposure to an addicting substance. (Schaeffer, p.11) It’s the same problem that appears in the story of the three blind men and the elephant. One man feels the elephant’s ears and concludes that the creature is broad, thin, and waving like a leaf in the wind. Another feels the elephant’s trunk and believes that he is touching something long and sinuous, like a snake. The third feels the elephant’s leg, and notes that it is chunky and sturdy, resembling the trunk of a tree. All three are correct, but none has discovered the true nature of the elephant.
Addiction is a complicated condition, with biological, physiological, psychological, behavioral, and spiritual aspects. For this reason it is best to think of alcoholism and drug addiction as multifaceted disorders, only one of which is the compulsive use of the addicting substance.