Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is a serious and debilitating problem today. It’s characterized by uncontrollable drug-seeking behaviors and an inability to stop using, even in the face of negative consequences (e.g., lost job, physical illness, broken relationships).
It’s also considered by experts to be an actual mental disease rather than a problem of willpower.
This guide takes a look at some of the major questions surrounding addiction. What is addiction? How common is addiction? And why do people get addicted? It also points out some of the most commonly abused types of addictive substances and what makes them unique.
Addiction is a complex disease that’s still not fully understood today. But as with any problem, overcoming it begins with learning about it.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control, and those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs.
It’s worth noting that addiction is an actual disease rather than a choice. And as such, that means that it requires professional treatment in order to recover from it.
The key to addiction involves the way that certain substances influence the pleasure system of the brain. This system is driven by the release and absorption of dopamine, the main pleasure-causing chemical in the brain.
This chemical is naturally released by a variety of activities – from eating a good meal or finishing an enjoyable book to having sex or getting a promotion at work. Essentially, everything that feels good can be traced back to dopamine.
Drugs and alcohol effectively hijack this system and cause the brain to release dopamine without having to perform any of these activities. And over time, the body becomes so used to this effect of drugs and alcohol that it stops producing dopamine on its own.
When this happens, the substance abuser is driven to use over and over again because doing so is the only thing that gives pleasure anymore.
Not all substance abuse means that addiction is involved. And it’s important to understand that these two terms do not refer to the same thing.
Addiction, as we’ve seen, is a chronic disorder that involves uncontrollable drug-seeking despite negative consequences.
Substance abuse, on the other hand, is simply using a drug in a way that it wasn’t intended to be used.
For legal drugs like prescription medications, this involves taking higher quantities of the drug or using it in ways that it wasn’t prescribed. For alcohol, it may mean having more drinks than the amount recommended by health agencies (around 2 per day for men and 1 for women).
For illegal drugs, substance abuse is simple: using them ever is considered abuse.
A case of substance abuse may just point to mild experimentation. And it doesn’t always mean that someone is addicted. However, the more substance abuse there is, the higher the risk of developing an addiction will generally be.
People use drugs for a variety of reasons. These may include:
It’s important to remember, though, that abusing drugs continually and habitually can often make the problems of an individual even worse in the end.
There are so many different consequences of substance abuse and addiction. Below are some of the most notable.
It’s estimated that around 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 suffers from drug addiction, alcoholism, or both.
More than 24 million Americans have used an illicit drug in the past 30 days.
And when it comes to alcohol, the numbers are even more staggering. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that around 15.1 million adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2015.
One of the first steps in getting help for an addiction is spotting the signs. And the earlier you can do that, the sooner you can seek out professional treatment.
There are a few signs of addiction to watch out for in others. Below are some of the most common.
While it may be easy to spot the signs of addiction in others, admitting that you are the one with a problem is monumentally harder. That’s because denial is incredibly common among addicts and substance abusers of all types.
In fact, among the 17.7 million Americans who needed help but didn’t get it, 95.5% didn’t do so because they didn’t think they had a problem. That’s 16.9 million adults who are in complete denial about their addiction.
That’s why it’s so important to be able to recognize the signs of addiction so you can see how you stack up. Taking a quick online addiction quiz is one of the easiest ways to do so.
You can also have a look at the guide below for more information.
While it is possible to overcome an addiction without professional treatment, the overwhelming majority of addicts will need expert help in order to stay clean permanently.
A professional program is designed to give recovering addicts the strategies and tools they need to deal with overpowering cravings, avoid unexpected triggers, and replace self-destructive life behaviors with healthier ones.
These programs are also essential for treating the dangerous and even life-threatening complications that often come with the first stages of getting clean. This is especially important when it comes to detoxing from prescription CNS depressants, alcohol, or opioids because withdrawals can be deadly.
The trick, however, is knowing how to find a treatment program that actually works.
Most programs will use a combination of three types of treatment approaches: individual counseling, group talk sessions, and behavioral therapies.
There are three main types of treatment programs: detoxification, inpatient rehab, and outpatient rehabilitation.
Detoxification – This is the first stage of treatment and it’s focused primarily on helping the patient get through the initial stages of withdrawal. This is when the body is readjusting to functioning normally without the help of drugs. And it’s often accompanied by a range of uncomfortable side effects like:
A detox program helps keep patients from turning back to substance abuse by treating these symptoms and making the process far more manageable. These programs also protect patients from dangerous complications that may even be life-threatening.
Inpatient Rehabilitation – Rehab comes after detox. These programs tackle the mental side of addiction – specifically the self-destructive and compulsive drug-seeking behaviors.
And an inpatient type of rehabilitation provides the highest level of care. These programs require patients to eat, sleep, and receive treatment all in the same centralized location. A more controlled environment means that patients are far less likely to relapse and don’t have to worry about any distractions during treatment.
These programs are usually around 28 days long and typically offer the highest recovery rates available.
Outpatient Rehabilitation – The more flexible rehabilitation option, outpatient provides treatment sessions in the evenings or on the weekends. That way, patients can spend their days and nights as they wish while still getting the care they need to stay clean.
However, people struggling with anything other than a mild addiction may need a higher level of care in order to recover.
There are 3 main types of outpatient programs. The first is general outpatient and it requires the least time commitment per week (around 6 hours per week). Next comes intensive outpatient or IOP (around 10-15 hours per week). And last is partial hospitalization programs or PHPs (about 30 hours per week).
Alcohol use is common around the world, but addiction to alcohol can be deadly.
Alcohol is a depressant. And as a result, it causes many of the body’s processes to slow down. Reaction times and reflexes are stunted, thinking becomes fuzzy, and memory can also be impacted.
Breathing and heart rate also tend to slow down as well.
Like most other addictive substances, drinking alcohol also produces a “high” that most users are trying to achieve. This high of being drunk usually includes feelings like:
Alcoholism is one of the most widespread addictions in the country. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 15.1 million American adults needed treatment for alcohol use in 2016.
And more than 91% didn’t receive treatment, mostly because the majority were in complete denial about their alcoholism.
Though it may be hard to spot the signs of mild intoxication, heavy alcohol consumption is marked by a number of easy-to-recognize signs. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), these signs include:
No matter what stage of alcoholism someone is in, being a problem drinker can have serious health implications for anyone.
And these health effects can be especially numerous too.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), drinking too much can cause:
The Cannabinoid category of drugs is named because of how they affect the cannabinoid receptors in the human brain.
Cannabinoids don’t fall neatly into the stimulant/depressant categorizations of most other drugs. And the effects that these drugs have on individuals vary wildly from person to person.
As such, the high from marijuana may come with a range of symptoms, including:
While marijuana doesn’t necessarily cause physical dependency, the truth is that cannabinoids can be mentally addictive. And in fact, addiction doesn’t even require physical dependency.
As a result, these drugs can still bring on uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms while quitting.
Despite the fact that cannabinoids like marijuana are becoming legal across the country, studies have shown that marijuana addiction is common and often left untreated.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that around 2.5% of American adults (around 6 million people) met the criteria for having a marijuana addiction in the last year. About 6.3% of adults were estimated to have such an addiction at some point in their lives.
There are a few common signs of cannabinoid intoxication that tend to pop up. According to CESAR, these include:
Though it is often considered one of the safest illicit drugs today, marijuana and other cannabinoids can have a variety of negative effects on health. According to the CDC, some of the most notable include:
On top of that, legal cannabinoids like K2 and Spice can be particularly dangerous. These are synthesized versions of marijuana and in many cases, what goes into them is not well regulated.
As a result, they may contain chemical compounds that interact with the brain differently than normal marijuana. The effects of these drugs can often be unpredictable and may be dangerous. Some side effects may include:
Depressants are a classification of drugs that are very dangerous, and they only become more dangerous with long term usage.
As the name suggests, central nervous system (CNS) depressants interact with the brain and the body to slow down certain processes. A lot of this slowing down is handled by one brain chemical in particular called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Many CNS depressants either make GABA more powerful or increase its rate of release in the brain.
The result is a relaxed, drowsy state that some people may find appealing. Some depressants may also bring on a sense of euphoria as well.
When taken in high doses, these drugs can also make it quite hard to concentrate and perform even the simplest tasks.
Some of the most common types of depressants include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and anti-psychotics.
Some of the most common symptoms of depressant intoxication include:
Some signs that someone close to you might be abusing depressants could include:
Abusing depressants habitually can cause a range of health effects. These may include:
Once a person becomes physically dependent on these drugs, getting clean can be especially hard since the withdrawal symptoms can be brutal. On top. Of that, these drugs are some of the only ones that have potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.
That’s why it’s so important to partner with a professional facility when trying to recover from a depressant addiction.
Hallucinogens have been around for a very long time and are popular because they cause the user to lose touch with reality.
Hallucinogens include a wide variety of different drugs with different effects. But generally, these drugs fall into two categories in particular: classic hallucinogens like LSD and dissociative drugs such as PCP.
Both produce hallucinations – images, sounds, or physical sensations that aren’t really there. But dissociative drugs also typically cause the user to feel like they’re outside of their body and have no control over their actions.
Researchers believe that most classic hallucinogens affect the brain chemical serotonin, which helps control mood, sensory perception, and a range of other functions. As a result, highs from these drugs tend to create:
Dissociative drugs tend to focus more on glutamate, which helps regulate responses to the environment, emotion, and memory. The highs from these drugs may cause:
According to NIDA, around 229,000 Americans over the age of 12 reported using LSD in the past month. And for dissociative drugs like PCP, around 33,000 Americans reported past-month use.
Among high school seniors, 5.9% abused salvia in the past year, 2.7% abused LSD, and 1.3% used PCP in the same time frame.
Some signs of classic hallucinogen intoxication include:
Some signs of dissociative drug intoxication include:
The long-term effects of hallucinogen addiction and abuse can be brutal.
For classic hallucinogens, they may cause persistent psychosis – a condition characterized by a series of mental problems like paranoia, disorganized thinking visual disturbances, and mood changes.
They can also cause a condition known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPDD). This condition is the technical name for drug flashbacks – spontaneous re-experiencing of drug effects like hallucinations long after taking them (days or even years afterwards).
Dissociative drugs can cause more serious effects that can end up being permanent. These may include:
There are so many products that you can find in your home that are actually very addictive and harmful for you.
Most inhalants affect the brain and the body by slowing down activity in the central nervous system. And as a result, the user tends to feel effects that are similar to those of alcohol. These may include:
But since there are so many different products that are used as inhalants today, not all will have the same effects. Some, for instance, may also produce hallucinations and delusions.
In many cases, these effects tend to be short-lived, often only lasting for a few minutes at a time. This short high can drive users to abuse inhalants over and over in rapid succession. And after continued use, it can make abusers feel less self-conscious and less in control over their bodies.
These drugs are actually the only substances that are abused more by young Americans than by adults. And according to NIDA, middle schoolers actually abuse them the most.
A 2018 study found that among high school seniors, 4.4% had used inhalants in some point of their life. Less than 2% had used them in the past year and only 0.7% had in the past month. But among 8th graders, 8.7% had abused inhalants in their lifetime with 4.6% using in the past year and 1.8% in the past month.
The most obvious signs of inhalant intoxication are similar to those of being drunk. As such, abusers may exhibit symptoms such as:
Since these inhalants are often poisonous, they may leave other physical signs including blisters on the skin and around the nose.
Also look for paint or other markings on the skin.
Abusing inhalants is associated with a range of serious health effects, some of which can be long-term. These may include:
Abusing inhalants can also lead to what’s known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, and it can happen within minutes.
Opiates (which are sometimes referred to as Opioids) can be derived from the poppy plant, partially synthesized, or fully synthesized.
Opioids are used in the medical community to help treat chronic and acute pain. They’re especially good at doing so because they stop pain sensations at a variety of different points in the body rather than just one.
They interact with the brain and the body by activating special cells called opioid receptors. These receptors help regulate pain sensations as well as mood and other functions. And when they’re activated by opioids, they can cause a variety of effects, including:
The intensity of these feelings depends on the type of opioid as well as how it is administered. Heroin, for example, tends to bring on a “rush” of intensely pleasurable feelings that quickly fade away. Prescription opioids like OxyContin may come on more slowly but often last much longer.
The high from opioids is often quite strong. And it’s part of why these drugs are so highly addictive today.
America is in the middle of an opioid epidemic that continues to get worse every single year. From 1999 to 2017, almost 400,000 Americans have died from an overdose involving opioids. About 130 Americans die of an opioid overdose every single day.
The problem has gotten so out of hand that drug overdoses (driven largely by opioids) are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 55.
Some signs of opioid intoxication include:
Some opioids like heroin can cause a deterioration of white matter in the brain. And as a result, heroin abusers may experience:
The compounds often mixed with illicit substances like heroin can also cause serious damage to internal organs like the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart.
Another health effect of opioid abuse is the risk of hypoxia. This condition is caused by too little oxygen flowing into the brain. This condition can cause permanent brain damage, coma, and even death.
Opioids tend to be taken intravenously (by injection) too. This method of administration also increases the risk of contracting blood diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
When people learn that they've become addicted to prescription medications, once they recover from their surprise, they can understand how this occurred.
OTC drugs affect the body in a variety of ways.
Diet pills, for example, tend to speed up the body’s natural processes. And that can lead to increased energy levels and restlessness as well as some light euphoria.
Sleep aids tend to do the opposite, just as you’d expect. And that can cause sedation and relaxation at normal levels. When abused at high doses, some people experience hallucinations and euphoria.
Both Dramamine (an anti-nausea medication) and DXM-based cough medicine can be taken in high quantities to produce hallucinations and euphoria as well.
Some signs of OTC intoxication may include:
Some long-term health effects of OTC drug abuse may include:
In many ways, prescription medications are some of the most dangerous options when you're talking about addiction.
Prescription drugs like those above are often far more powerful than over-the-counter medications.
These drugs fall into a number of different classes, including:
For opioids, signs of intoxication may include:
For prescription stimulants, signs of intoxication may include:
For anti-depressants, signs of intoxication may include:
The long-term health effects of prescription drug addiction are both varied and numerous. Just some of the most common major complications include:
Anabolic steroids generally conjure up visions of athletes who use them to improve their performance in various sports, and the only time it really seems to be a problem for them is when they get caught.
Steroids are often prescribed to treat hormonal disorders because they are a synthetic version of the male sex hormone, testosterone. But when abused, they’re usually used to help stimulate muscle growth in athletes, body builders, and people looking to boost physical performance.
These drugs affect the body differently than other substances of abuse. Most importantly, they don’t directly affect the pleasure system in the brain like other drugs. And as a result, they aren’t associated with the “high” that comes with many other substances of abuse.
However, the muscle-building effects of the drugs can be mentally addictive in that abusers can get pleasure from seeing the results of the drug (i.e., impressive muscle growth).
And contrary to popular belief, steroids actually can be addictive.
The signs of steroid abuse include:
Some of the most notable long-term effects of steroid abuse include:
It is very easy to become addicted to stimulants, and once you're addicted, getting professional stimulant addiction treatment is the best way to stop taking them safely.
Stimulants essentially speed up the processes of the brain and body by interacting with two chemicals in particular: dopamine and norepinephrine. Some drugs make these chemicals more readily available in the brain while others make them more powerful.
Abusing stimulants causes in an increase in alertness, attention, and energy levels. It can also cause euphoria at high levels as well.
Some of the most common signs of stimulant intoxication include:
Health risks associated with stimulant addiction include:
Addiction is a complex and devastating disease. And only a qualified treatment program can offer the absolute best chances at long-term recovery.
When it does come time to partner with a professional addiction program, Northpoint Recovery in Boise is the best in the Pacific Northwest.
Our 28-day inpatient program uses only evidence-based treatments that have been proven to promote recovery. Every plan is individually tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient. And we also have one of the highest staff-to-patient ratios in the region.
Plus, we’re nationally accredited by the Joint Commission – a testament to our dedication to quality service.
Just have a look at some of the testimonials from past patients.
Addiction doesn’t have to be a lifelong disease. And with the right support, it can be overcome.
We’d love to help you recover today. So please, contact us now to get started.