About Addiction: Causes, Signs, & Treatment

Addiction is a disease that affects millions of Americans. It is treatable, yet many people do not seek out or complete treatment. Read on to learn more about addiction, including commonly used drugs, causes and risk factors, the health consequences of drug addiction, and treatment that’s available for someone who is ready to get help and stop the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol.
Understanding Addiction

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic health disease defined as the compulsive use of substances (i.e., alcohol or drugs) or behaviors that continue despite having significant negative effects on a person’s life.1

Pills, whiskey, tobacco products, white powder, playing cards and more splayed across a tableThe clinical term for an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a substance use disorder (or SUD).2 People with a substance use disorder may use or crave substances to the point that it affects their health, relationships, and work or school commitments.

Even though addiction and substance use disorders are complex and can involve many areas of a person’s life, they are treatable.1 A variety of treatment approaches are available to help anyone struggling with this condition and generally as successful as those for other chronic medical illnesses.

Addiction vs. Dependence vs. Tolerance

Addiction, dependence, and tolerance are all conditions that can develop in people who take drugs and certain prescription medications or drink alcohol. While they overlap and interact in some ways, they are distinct terms, and it can be helpful to understand the difference.

Tolerance and dependence are both normal neurobiological adaptations that can occur because of chronic exposure to certain drugs, medicines, or substances. These adaptations can result in behaviors that can, but don’t always, lead to developing a substance use disorder, or addiction.

Tolerance is an adaptation process where the brain attempts to accommodate for an abnormally high exposure to a drug, resulting in diminished biological or behavioral response over time. Tolerance can lead to taking more of a substance (or taking a drug or substance more frequently) to feel its effects (both desired effects as well as undesirable adverse effects commonly called “side effects”).3

Dependence is a state in which a person’s body has adapted to the continued presence of a drug or medicine. It’s manifested as withdrawal symptoms, or mental or physical disturbances, upon the removal of the substance from the body.3 Avoidance of withdrawal symptoms can contribute to a person’s continued use of a substance.

A person can experience tolerance or dependence without developing a substance use disorder, or addiction.2 Certain medications that are taken regularly as instructed by a doctor can lead to tolerance and dependence, too.

Common Drugs of Abuse

Some commonly used and misused substances that can result in a substance use disorder are:4

Facts & Statistics

Addiction Facts & Statistics

Recent data highlights the impact of addiction in America and underscores the need for quality, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Among the findings:

  • 138.5 million Americans aged 12 and older (50%) had used alcohol in the past month.5
  • Of those current alcohol users, 61.6 million (44%) met the criteria for binge drinkers.5
  • 59.3 million Americans aged 12 and up (21%) used marijuana or illicit drugs or misused prescription medications within the past year.5
  • Of the current alcohol and illicit drug users, 40.3 million (14.5%) meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. That number includes 28.3 million Americans with an alcohol use disorder, 18.4 million with an illicit drug use disorder, and an estimated 6.5 million with both at the same time.5
  • There were nearly 92,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2020, and provisional data from the CDC suggests that overdose deaths exceeded 100,000 in 2021.6, 7
  • In 2020, 41.1 million people (15%) met the criteria for needing addiction treatment, but only a fraction—roughly 1%—received treatment. Of those who were classified as needing treatment and didn’t get it, more than 97% believed that they did not need help.5
Signs & Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction

Young woman sobbing into her handsMedical professionals diagnose a substance use disorder (SUD) based on criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria for an SUD includes:8

  • Using more of a substance or for a longer duration than planned.
  • Trying to cut down or quit taking a substance, but being unable to do so.
  • Having cravings, or a strong desire, to use a substance.
  • Spending significant amounts of time getting, taking, or recovering from a substance.
  • Using substances in situations that could be physically dangerous.
  • Continuing to take a substance even though it causes social problems or negatively affects a person’s interpersonal relationships.
  • Continuing to take a substance even though it has caused or worsened physical or mental health problems.
  • Being unable to keep up with important work, school, or family responsibilities because of substance use.
  • Giving up activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed in order to use a substance.
  • Tolerance to a substance (i.e., needing to take more of a substance or taking a substance more frequently to feel the desired effects).
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when not taking the substance (i.e., dependence).

To meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, a person must meet at least two of the criteria listed above in a 12-month period. (Note that tolerance and dependence do not count as diagnostic criteria when a person is taking a drug prescribed by a doctor.)

Risk Factors

Addiction Causes & Risk Factors

There is no single cause of addiction. Rather, it is a combination of biological and environmental factors that influence a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder.9

Biological factors refer to the role that genetics, the brain, and mental health play in a person’s risk of developing an addiction. Having a family history of addiction and certain mental health conditions can increase the risk of developing an addiction.

Environmental factors refer to aspects of a person’s surroundings, like family, peers, and community, which may contribute to addiction.

There are many risk factors associated with addiction. Some common risk factors for addiction are:9

  • Aggressive behavior in childhood.
  • Poor parental supervision of children and teens.
  • Lack of ability to say “no” to peers.
  • Early experimentation with drugs and alcohol.
  • Easy access to drugs in school.
  • Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood.

Having more risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing a substance use disorder, but does not guarantee a person will become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Conversely, protective factors decrease a person’s chances of developing an addiction, but does not guarantee a person will not become addicted to drugs or alcohol. These include supportive family relationships, access to community resources, and participation in extracurricular activities and hobbies.9

Dangers & Consequences of Addiction

Man struggling with depression and addictionAddiction can have serious consequences for the person who is addicted, their loved ones, and society. Someone with SUD may experience negative effects on their employment, relationships, work, and other areas of their lives, including their physical and mental health.

Substance use and addiction may increase a person’s risk of:4,9

  • Mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
  • Aggression and violence.
  • Memory and learning problems.
  • Injuries and accidents.
  • Cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Psychosis.
  • Seizures.
  • Lung disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, such as Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
  • Overdose.

Overdose can be a deadly consequence of substance use. People who take opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers, as well as benzodiazepines, are at increased risk of an overdose.4 The risk is even higher when these substances are mixed with alcohol. The number of overdose deaths have increased significantly in the past 20 years.6

If your substance use or addiction is causing significant negative effects in your life, then it may be time to seek help. You do not have to use drugs and alcohol every day or experience every negative consequence to benefit from treatment.

Treatment

Addiction Treatment

Young female doctor consulting with woman at rehab treatment centerAddiction treatment can help people recover from a substance use disorder. Treatment is most effective when it considers not only a person’s drug use, but other personal aspects as well, including biological, psychological, economic, social, and even spiritual aspects of substance abuse. There are different treatment settings and levels of care to help people in various phases of the recovery process.9

The types of rehab are:11

  • Medical detox —During detox, medical professionals monitor and treat withdrawal symptoms, with medications and supportive care. This helps a person both stay safe remain more comfortable as the drug clears their system and they are readied to enter rehab treatment.
  • Inpatient — During inpatient or residential treatment, a person stays at a facility and attends daily groups and therapy sessions. Medication may also be part of treatment.
  • Outpatient — In outpatient treatment, a person goes to the treatment facility for groups and sessions, but does not stay there. A person may live at home or in a sober living residence while attending outpatient. There are also different types of outpatient care with varied levels of intensity, such as partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient. Medication may also be prescribed to support recovery efforts during outpatient rehab.

A typical day in treatment involves group and individual counseling sessions. Programs offer evidence-based therapies to help treat addiction, including , , and, for some, medication.

Educational and counseling topics vary and may include relapse prevention, coping skills, and stress management. There is also free time available to read, do homework assignments, and participate in recreational activities, like exercise, meditation, and sports. As-needed medications prescribed during rehab to help manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse may be continued after you’ve completed a treatment program.

The length of treatment will vary from person to person depending on their individual needs. Some patients may benefit from a few days or weeks of rehab, while others might require something more extensive.

Addiction is a complex disease that affects multiple areas of a person’s life, so the most effective treatment is tailored to the individual based on how addiction has affected them. If you attend addiction treatment, a personalized treatment plan will be created for you.

Can Addiction Be Treated?

Group of people with their hands in center of circle, supporting one anotherYes, addiction is a treatable medical condition.10 Like other chronic health conditions, it can be managed with medications, therapy, and social support.

Sometimes relapse, or returning to substance use, occurs. This is not a sign of treatment failure, but rather an indication that a person’s treatment plan needs to be adjusted. Some people may need to return to rehab to sustain their recovery and get back on track.

To learn more about the addiction programs and various payment options offered at our Texas treatment center in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, call us at today. You can also find out whether we accept your insurance and verify your benefits by quickly filling out this confidential .

Addiction: Frequently Asked Questions