Drug And Alcohol Addiction

It’s estimated 1 in 7 people suffer from addiction worldwide. Alcohol is one the most commonly abused substances, and addiction to both prescription and illicit drugs are on the rise. These substances seize the brain and take over functioning, affecting decision making, impulse control, and survival instincts. Once a person’s primary motivations change to satisfy the demands of substance abuse, they’ll likely meet the criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD). While addiction can be detrimental, it’s both treatable and preventable.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as a chronic disease affecting areas of the brain related to reward and motivation. These changes in the brain, induced by drugs and alcohol, lead to compulsive and continual substance use despite damaging consequences.

Repeated use causes intense urges to use more, which makes it hard to resist. Whether people want to or not, using substances become their top priority. This can harm other aspects of their lives, like family obligations and professional responsibilities. Stopping use can be difficult, and relapse, or using drugs or alcohol during recovery, is common because of the long-lasting changes in the brain; addiction requires ongoing treatment and care.

Substance Use Disorder

A substance use disorder (SUD) is the medical term used to describe drug or alcohol addiction. People with an SUD become addicted to illicit drugs, prescription medications, and alcohol. Within the umbrella term of an SUD, there are many different types of addictions and disorders.

Common Substance Use Disorders

Drug or alcohol use becomes a disorder when a person meets certain criteria relating to their use and habits. The following disorders are the most common forms of addiction in the United States:

Alcohol Use Disorder

Drinking too much alcohol increases the risk individuals may develop serious health problems, intoxicating behaviors, and withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. Out of an estimated 176 million people who use alcohol, 17 million suffer from an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Unfortunately, only a fraction of those with AUD actually seeks treatment for addiction.

Tobacco Use Disorder

Millions and millions of people are addicted to cigarettes, which causes an estimated 480,000 deaths each year. Smoking tobacco may lead to serious health consequences, including lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke, damaging nearly every organ in the body. Nicotine, the addictive chemical found in cigarettes, makes it hard for many people to quit without help or assistance.

Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is one of the most abused substances in the U.S. Only tobacco and alcohol are used more than marijuana, and millions of people meet the criteria for a cannabis use disorder each year. Teens and young adults are particularly at risk, as millions of people over age 12 have used marijuana within the past year.

Stimulant Use Disorder

Stimulants include amphetamines, methamphetamines, and cocaine. These drugs increase energy, attention, and alertness, and have historically been prescribed to treat attention hyperactivity deficit disorder and obesity. Because stimulants are routinely abused, hundreds of thousands of people suffer from this disorder.

Hallucinogen Use Disorder

Hallucinogens can produce both auditory and visual hallucinations and are either produced synthetically in a lab or occur naturally in the environment. Commonly abused hallucinogens include peyote, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and PCP. In 2014, over 200,000 people were diagnosed with hallucinogen use disorder.

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorders are on the rise as more and more become addicted to opioids, which can lead to overdose and death. Opioids affect areas of the brain related to pain and pleasure and are extremely addicting because limited use can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Commonly abused opioids include prescription painkillers, fentanyl, and heroin.

General Signs And Symptoms Of Addiction 

Because addiction is a treatable disease, it’s important to know the signs. While each substance use disorder produces specific signs and symptoms, there are some general warning signs of addiction.

General signs and symptoms of addiction can include:

  • changes in appearance – substance use leads to neglecting personal hygiene, not showering, wearing dirty clothes, and an overall disheveled appearance.
  • continued use despite harmful consequences – substance use causes health issues or problems at home or work, but the person continues to drink or use drugs.
  • family history – the person’s family has a history of addiction, which increases their chances of developing a substance use disorder (SUD).
  • intense drug cravings – irresistible urges lead to further substance use.
  • loss of control – the person ends up drinking or using drugs more than they wanted to, for longer than they intended, or tried to stop, but couldn’t.
  • neglecting favorite activities – spending less time engaged in their favorite activities (hobbies, hanging out with friends and family) because their time is spent obtaining or using drugs or alcohol.
  • relationship issues – relationships begin to deteriorate when the person is confronted because of their substance use, or they favor using over relationships.
  • risky behaviors – the person engages in risky behaviors (unprotected sex, driving, illegal activity) when they use drugs or alcohol.
  • secrecy or lying – They go out of their way to hide their use and lie when asked about it.
  • tolerance – the person requires more than they used to in order to achieve the desired effects.
  • withdrawal – when the person stops using, they experience symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and general sickness or discomfort.

Who Gets Addicted To Drugs And Alcohol?

There is no single factor to determine who develops a drug or alcohol addiction. However, for many people, it’s a combination of factors that increase their risk of developing a substance use disorder. Three general risk factors include biology, environment, and development.

  • Biology – In the context of addiction, biology refers to genetic history. The genes a person is born with can account for nearly half of their risk for addiction. Biology also includes gender, ethnicity, and whether they have any mental illness, which can influence their chances of addiction.
  • Environment – Things like peer pressure, early exposure to drugs or alcohol, sexual or physical abuse, economic status, parental guidance, and quality of life can make some people more susceptible to addiction than others.
  • Development – As a person grows up, biological and environmental factors interact during critical stages of development, influencing the risk of addiction. The earlier a person is exposed to drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction because their brain is still developing.

In short, the more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to suffer from addiction when they use drugs or alcohol.

The Cost Of Addiction

It’s estimated addiction costs the United States around $740 billion dollars each year, factoring in the costs of health care, crime, and overall loss of productivity. Loss of life is also a major cost, as excessive alcohol use causes an estimated 88,000 deaths per year, and nearly 64,000 people died from a drug-related overdose in 2016 alone. Regardless of the costs, drug and alcohol addiction can be treated with consistent care, monitoring, and support.

How Is Addiction Treated?

Drug and alcohol addiction is a treatable disease. The goal of addiction treatment is to help people to stop using and craving drugs or alcohol. Treatment can take place in a variety of settings, including hospitals, residential rehabilitation centers, and doctor or therapist offices. The duration of treatment also varies, depending on the person, their level of addiction, and setting of treatment (which includes inpatient (residential), outpatient, and partial hospitalization).

Because addiction is a chronic disorder that reoccurs and can lead to relapse, treatment is usually ongoing. One-time-only treatment is considered insufficient, and effective treatment for addiction is a long-term process involving a combination of services.

While there is no right treatment for everyone, many individual treatment plans include:

  • withdrawal support during detoxification
  • medications
  • behavioral therapy
  • professional & peer support
  • treatment for other mental illnesses (dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders)
  • follow up care

Inpatient, or residential, rehab is best for people suffering from severe addiction in need of a fresh start. Outpatient rehab is best for people with mild addiction and a strong support system at home. Treatment can help people manage their addictions and learn to live a fulfilling life free of drugs and alcohol.


Contact us today for more information on treating drug and alcohol addiction.



American Society of Addiction Medicine—Definition of Addiction

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence—Signs and Symptoms, What Is Addiction?

National Institute on Drug Abuse—Overdose Death Rates, Understanding Drug Use, and Addiction, What is drug addiction treatment

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—Substance Use Disorders