Addiction Resources: Causes, Signs, & Treatment
In This Article
Addiction is a chronic disorder that causes brain changes. People struggling with addiction will continue to take or do something despite the negative consequences. 1, 2, 3
Addiction is usually associated with alcohol and drugs. But it can also involve potentially addictive activities or behaviors.
It’s important to understand that addiction is a disease. It shouldn’t be treated as a weakness of character.
Common Addictive Substances
Addictive substances directly activate the brain’s reward system, producing a high feeling. Here are the 10 classes of addictive substances:4, 5, 6
- Cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids
- Hallucinogens (LSD, mescaline, phencyclidine, and psilocybin)
- Inhalants (gasoline, paint thinner, and certain glues)
- Opioids (including fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone)
- Sedatives, hypnotics, and anxiolytics (benzodiazepines and barbiturates)
- Stimulants (cocaine and amphetamine-type substances)
- Tobacco (nicotine)
- Other or unknown substances (including anabolic steroids)
Available Resources for Addiction
There are various resources available for addiction. These include educational resources for people struggling with addiction or those who know an addicted person.
Here are a few available resources online:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- SMART Recovery
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA)
If you’re going through a crisis, you can contact an addiction hotline for support. If you need immediate help, dial 911. You can also contact SAMHSA’s national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
What Causes Addiction?
The chances of developing an addiction depend on the person. Generally, having more risk factors means more chances of developing an addiction.
Addiction risk factors include:2, 3, 11
- Genetic predisposition to addiction
- Environmental factors that influence addiction
- A close relative with a substance use disorder
- Lack of parental supervision in early years
- School struggles
- Poor social skills
- Low self-control
- Substance availability
- Low substance cost
- Aggressive behavior during childhood
- Presence of mental disorders (social anxiety, trauma, and depression)
- Stress or extreme professional pressure
- Early drug use
- Method of drug use (smoking and injection)
Stages of Addiction
The four stages of addiction are:12
- Experimentation: Using drugs out of curiosity
- Social or regular use: Leading to problems at school, work, or relationships
- Problematic or risky use: Aggressive, risky, or unsafe behavior
- Dependency or addiction: Physical and mental dependence on a substance leading to health and social problems
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the leading source for understanding addiction. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) publishes it.
The DSM’s latest version — the DSM-5 — lists 11 criteria for diagnosing substance use disorder (SUD) within a 12-month period:6, 9, 10
- Strong cravings or urges to use the substance
- Continued substance use that leads to hazardous situations (like drunk driving)
- Continued substance use, even though it causes or worsens social or interpersonal problems
- Continued substance use that leads to neglect of work, school, or home obligations
- Withdrawal (manifested as either withdrawal symptoms or using the substance to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms)
- Tolerance (increasing the substance’s amount to get the desired effects or diminishing effects with the same amount)
- Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to quit substance use
- Using the substance in larger quantities or over an extended period
- Significant time spent using or obtaining the substance or recovering from its effects
- Continued substance use even though it causes or worsens physical or psychological problems
- Giving up important activities because of substance use
How is Addiction Diagnosed?
If you meet two or more criteria, you can be diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD). The level of addiction is classified based on the number of met criteria:6, 10
- Two or three: Mild
- Four or five: Moderate
- Six or more: Severe
The DSM-5 doesn’t recognize certain addictions, like technology, sex, and work.9 These are diagnosed with different criteria.
What are Some Common Addictive Behaviors?
Some behaviors or activities that can turn into addiction include:6, 7, 8, 9
- Watching pornography
- Social media
- Video or internet gaming
- Watching television
Complications of Addiction
Addiction can have short and long-term complications for your physical, mental, and social health. These complications include:
Some immediate complications of alcohol and drug addiction include:12, 13
- Risk of falls and accidents
Some harmful consequences of alcohol and drug addiction occur in the long-term. They include:3, 14
- Physical conditions: lung or heart disease, cancer, internal organ damage
- Weakened immune system: risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C
- Mental disorders: anxiety, depression, schizophrenia
- Behavioral and emotional complications: stress, aggression, anxiety
- Social consequences: jail, damaged relationships
- Economic consequences: work problems, bankruptcy, debt
Addiction Treatment Options
Addiction is a treatable condition. No single treatment is the best option for everyone. Ask a medical professional to determine the best treatment option for you.
Available treatment options for addiction include:
- Residential or inpatient treatment: Involves checking yourself into a rehab facility for 24-hour medical supervision
- Outpatient treatment: A treatment program where people are freely allowed to leave the rehab facility
- Medical detox: Medically supervised detox used to avoid harmful withdrawal effects
- Partial hospitalization program (PHPs): A treatment program where you stay at a rehab facility for a day and return home at night
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A short-term therapy technique that explores the link between thought patterns and addiction
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): Involves using medication, counseling, and therapy to treat addiction
- Support groups and aftercare programs: Provides a much-needed community to help maintain sobriety during or after treatment
When is it Time to Seek Treatment?
You’ll know it’s time to seek addiction treatment if you:
- Cause harm to yourself and/or others due to your substance use
- Can’t quit using a substance(s) on your own
- Notice that addiction severely affects many areas of your life
- Can’t live without drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other activities
- Hide and act secretive about your addictive behavior
- Use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate
Many people seek help only after their addiction has already caused major problems. Always seek help proactively, even if you’re not sure you have a serious problem.
Addiction is a chronic disorder that causes brain changes. It can cause a person to be dependent on a substance.
A person with an addiction will continue using a substance despite its effect on their health. It can have short and long-term side effects and complications.
Addiction resources are available online to educate yourself on the subject. There are also different types of treatment that can cater to your needs.
Call to find out how much your insurance will cover
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- “Addictions.” American Psychological Association (APA).
- “Addiction: what is it?” NHS, 2021.
- Khan, M. “Overview of Substance-Related Disorders.” MSD Manual, 2020.
- “Substance use disorder.” MedlinePlus.
- American Psychiatric Association Publishing. “Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders.” DSM Library (Psychiatry Online).
- “Behavioural Addictions.” PsychDB.
- Potenza, Marc. “Non-substance addictive behaviors in the context of DSM-5.” Addictive behaviors, 2014.
- Hasin, Deborah S et al. “DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: recommendations and rationale.” The American journal of psychiatry vol, 2013.
- “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- “What is drug addiction?” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2020.
- “Overdose.” MedlinePlus.
- Khan, M. “Substance-Induced Disorders.” MSD Manual, 2020.
- “Addiction and Health.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2020.
- “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2018.
- “Overview of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Care Clinical Guidelines: A Resource for States Developing SUD Delivery System Reforms.”
- Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program (IAP), 2017.
- “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2019.
- “Treatment Settings.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2014.