Addiction 101

Substance Use

Substance addiction is a complex disorder, but it can be understood and addressed.

Substance addiction, also called substance use disorder, occurs when someone compulsively uses drugs or alcohol despite the negative consequences. This can lead to severe impairments in their lives, including problems with work, relationships, and physical health.

Substance addiction is a chronic disorder characterized by compulsive alcohol- and/or drug-seeking and use despite harmful consequences. Substance use disorder is considered a brain disease because it changes how the brain works. These changes can be long-lasting and can lead to harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

There are many different types of substances that people can become addicted to, including alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. People can also be addicted to behaviors like gambling or sex.

The signs and symptoms of substance addiction, or substance use disorder, can vary depending on the person and the substance they are addicted to.

  • Compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even in the face of negative consequences

  • Addictive behaviors

  • Unable to control or cut back on drug use

  • Continuing to use drugs even when it causes problems in their life

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or drug dependence

  • Giving up important activities to use drugs

  • Using more of the substance than they intended to

  • Being unable to fulfill work, school, or family obligations

  • Continuing to use the substance despite relationship problems

  • Developing co-occurring health conditions and mental illness

Withdrawal symptoms are different for every person and depend on the substance that was being abused. However, common withdrawal symptoms are seen in most people who go through withdrawal.

Some common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Irritability

  • Mood swings

  • Sleep problems

  • Loss of appetite

  • Cravings

  • Fatigue

  • Restlessness

There is no single cause of substance addiction. Instead, it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some of the potential causes of substance addiction include:

Family history of addiction: People who have a family member with an addiction are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.

Environmental factors: Exposure to drugs or alcohol at a young age can increase the risk of addiction. Because the brain is still developing through about age 25, it is more susceptible to changes.

Trauma: People who have experienced trauma, such as child abuse or military combat, are more likely to develop an addiction. Trauma can change how the brain works and lead to mood and behavior changes.

Mental health disorders: People with mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are more likely to develop an addiction. People with mental health disorders who self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms are prone to struggling with substance use disorder.

Substance addiction is a treatable disorder. Many different treatment services are available, and the best treatment will vary depending on the person.

Common treatment options for substance addiction include:

Individual therapy: This involves meeting with a therapist to discuss the problems and issues contributing to the addiction.

Support Group therapy: This involves meeting with a group of people who are also struggling with addiction. Group therapy can provide support and help people learn from each other.

Behavioral therapy: This therapy, also known as Psychotherapy, helps people identify and change the behaviors that contribute to their addiction.

Medication: In some cases, addiction medicine can be used to help manage the symptoms of addiction.

Mental Health Hospitalization: In some cases, people with severe addiction may need to be hospitalized when/if there is a risk of harm and/or medical complications resulting from substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder treatment is often most successful when the individuals follow their individualized treatment plan, aftercare, and support community.

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