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What is Addiction?
Addiction, formally known as substance use disorder (SUD), occurs when someone's use of a substance (drug or alcohol) causes health problems and problems at work, school, or home. Other commonly associated terms include substance abuse, drug abuse, and drug use disorder.
A common sign of SUD is when someone is unable to stop using a substance despite the adverse consequences. This could mean neglecting daily responsibilities, ruining relationships to obtain/use substances, and driving under the influence, among others.
Someone struggling with a substance use disorder may also develop distorted thinking and behaviors. Drugs change the chemistry of the brain over time, resulting in personality changes, abnormal movements, intense drug cravings, and other behaviors.
In addition, when someone has a substance use disorder, they build up a tolerance to the substance, which means they need larger amounts of it to feel the effects. This increases the risk of overdose and feeds their addiction further.
Long-term substance use changes brain chemical systems and circuits that affect functions like:
Types of Addiction (Substance Use Disorders)
The most common substance use disorders (SUDs) include:
- Alcohol use disorder (AUD) — Alcohol is one of the most commonly consumed substances in the world. It’s legal almost everywhere and very easy to obtain.
- Opioid use disorder (OUD) — Opioids are pain relievers that are generally safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor for a short period. However, they also produce a euphoric high, which makes people misuse and abuse them frequently. Opioid misuse can lead to dependency, addiction, overdose, and even death.
- Marijuana use disorder (MUD) — Marijuana is the third most used substance in the United States, after alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana use disorder is similar to other substance use disorders but the long-term effects are less severe.
- Hallucinogen use disorder — Hallucinogens produce visual and auditory hallucinations, feelings of detachment, and a distorted perception of time. Most hallucinogens do not cause physical addiction but users may develop a psychological dependence. They can also develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), which refers to spontaneous, recurring flashbacks.
- Stimulant use disorder — Stimulants are a class of drugs that increase alertness and energy, as well as blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. They include illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Prolonged use of stimulants can have significant negative effects, including heart damage, memory loss, and psychotic behavior.
- Sedative use disorder — Sedatives are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that slow brain activity. They are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Tolerance and dependence can develop quickly when someone misuses or abuses sedatives.
Signs & Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
The symptoms of substance use disorder vary depending on the drug being misused. However, some of the most common universal symptoms of addiction include:
- Failed attempts to cut back or stop using the drug
- Feeling that you need to use the drug daily or several times a day
- Intense urges to use the drug
- Engaging in risky activities while under the influence
- Stealing money from others to obtain drugs
- Spending a lot of money on drugs
- Needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect
- Spending too much time getting, using, or recovering from drug use
- Continuing to use the drug regardless of physical or mental harm
- Neglecting daily responsibilities
- No interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Developing withdrawal symptoms after stopping use (nausea, shaking, anxiety, etc.)
Who is at Risk of Developing a Substance Use Disorder?
Anyone is at risk of developing a substance use disorder. However, specific factors can increase this risk even more. These include:
- If you've experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- If you've witnessed friends, peers, and/or family members use drugs or alcohol in excessive ways
- If you started drinking alcohol or abusing drugs at a young age
- If someone in your family has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder
- If you have a low socioeconomic status
- If you've experienced increased family aggression and violence
- If you've been diagnosed with a mental health disorder
How To Help Someone Get Into Rehab
If a family member or loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, you'll want to get them into rehab before it's too late.
About 76 percent of alcohol rehab patients who successfully complete treatment report sobriety at three months, and about 69 percent state that they’re still sober at six months. Between 85 and 95 percent of people who successfully complete drug rehab report still being abstinent nine months after discharge.
Here are three tips to help get someone into rehab who doesn’t want to go:
- Show them empathy. Try not to judge or criticize your loved one. Instead, try your best to empathize with them and establish rapport and trust. One way to do this is by asking open-ended questions instead of claiming to know everything they are feeling. Once they feel understood, they may be more willing to try out rehab. Be patient, as this can take time.
- Hold them accountable for their actions. The first step toward positive change is recognizing personal fault. Someone struggling with addiction will not accept that they need to change if they won’t even accept that what they’re doing is wrong. Do not make excuses for them, blame others, or enable them in any way. Instead, encourage them to take responsibility for their actions in a healthy way.
- Seek help from other people. Convincing your loved one to check into rehab is often difficult to do on your own. If you are struggling, reach out to other close friends or family members for help. Your loved one may be more willing to go to rehab if they receive support from multiple loved ones. Setting up a family intervention is an excellent starting point.
Substance Use Disorder Treatment Options
What's best for one person may not be best for someone else. There are several factors that will determine what type of treatment program is best, including:
- Type of substance use disorder
- The severity of your disorder
- Work, familial, or school responsibilities
- Living situation
- Existing support system
- Financial situation
Some common treatments for substance use disorder include:
- Outpatient treatment
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP)
- Inpatient treatment
- Residential programs
- Medicine-assisted treatment (MAT) programs
- 12-Step Programs
- Support groups
Browse the articles below to learn more about addiction and how it can affect anyone, no matter their age, situation, or lifestyle:
The rate of addiction in adults over 50 has been rising for years. Experts estimate that nearly 7 million elderly Americans will have a substance use disorder (SUD) by 2020. Alcohol remains the most commonly abused substance, but other drugs such as opioids, prescription medications, and marijuana are widely abused by the elderly.
Substance abuse has been linked to higher divorce rates in the US. If one or both people in a marriage suffer from substance use disorders (SUD), it is likely to have serious adverse effects on their relationship. Addiction can also impact the legal proceedings of a divorce.
Addiction is linked to domestic violence in multiple ways. It tends to occur more often and escalate faster if the abuser has a substance use disorder (SUD). Victims of domestic violence are also more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem.
While addiction is a chronic disease that affects members of all socioeconomic statuses, rates of substance use disorders (SUD) and alcohol use disorders (AUD) are higher among low-income communities. Living in a lower-income community exposes people to more risk factors, making it harder to avoid and overcome drug or alcohol problems.
Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is a huge problem in American colleges. Students, faculty, and parents need to work together to educate each other and decrease risk factors on campuses.
The terms “abuse and addiction” are often used interchangeably. However, they actually mean very different things. Learn more about college drug abuse and addiction here.
There is evidence that supports the connection between disability and addiction. However, the relationship is complex and nuanced. People who live with one or more disabilities face many challenges that may increase their risk of addiction.
The majority of food-related disorders happen between the ages of 18 and 21. College students face a tremendous amount of stress and pressure that often leads to mental and physical health disorders.
Both homelessness and addiction affect alarming numbers of Americans. The two issues are deeply linked. Addiction can be either the cause or the effect of homelessness.
Prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol is the number one preventable cause of congenital disabilities (birth defects), abnormalities, and developmental disabilities in the U.S. There is no confirmed “safe” amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.
In recent years there has been a trend in college and high school students to abuse prescription stimulants in an effort to gain an educational advantage. Common “study aids” include Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine.
Pain is one of the most common symptoms during and after cancer treatment. It takes careful monitoring and honest and open communication between patients and doctors to manage pain and avoid addiction.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a huge factor in fraternities and sororities in the U.S. Alcohol and date rape drugs are two of the most significant issues. Nearly half of all residential fraternity members report alcohol use disorder (AUD) symptoms by age 35.
Most teenagers are exposed to drugs and alcohol before they graduate high school. While most teenagers who experiment with drugs and alcohol won’t go on to develop an addiction, the risks are high and the consequences can be quite severe.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community face a variety of serious challenges that their straight peers do not. Unfortunately, this often increases the risk factors that they are exposed to. This is likely part of the reason drug and alcohol use is higher among the queer community.
Rates of substance use disorders (SUD) and alcohol use disorders (AUD) are much higher among military veterans than their civilian counterparts. Many conflict veterans have PTSD, which is also linked to drug and alcohol problems.