addiction, help with addiction

Addiction: Risk Factors, Symptoms & Treatments

Addiction is a complex, serious, but treatable disease that affects someone’s brain and body. It can manifest in the form of compulsive use of substances. Not all addictions are related to substances, such as alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Some addictions are non-substance related, such as gambling or shopping addictions.

What Is Addiction

Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and the body. Addiction manifests through the compulsive use of one or more substances, despite the potentially harmful consequences to your health and social life. The condition disrupts the healthy function of certain regions of the brain that is responsible for motivation, judgment, reward, memory, and learning.

Individuals with severe substance use disorder develop such an intense focus on both using and thinking about a certain substance(s), such as drugs or alcohol, that their entire life begins to revolve around it. Addiction can not only damage their health and overall life, but also their family, relationships, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Even when they are aware of these consequences and don’t intend to cause harm, they keep using the substance. Substance use and abuse is the leading cause of preventable premature deaths and illnesses in the US.

While for many addiction is spiraling out of control, it doesn’t have to lead to lifelong suffering or become fatal. There are effective treatment options available. Recovery and living a productive, healthy and happy life after is possible. Addiction can also be prevented. The combination of professional help, as well as support from family, friends, and peers, is helpful, if not essential for successful recovery and prevention. (1, 2, 3)

People Can Develop an Addiction to:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Marijuana
  • PCP, LSD and other hallucinogens
  • Inhalants, such as glue and paint thinner
  • Sedatives, hypnotics, and anxiolytics
  • Opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, codeine, and heroin
  • Cocaine, methamphetamine and other stimulants

The Effects of Addiction

Substance use disorders cause changes in the wiring of the brain that leads to distorted thinking, behavior and body function. Judgment, decision making, behavior control, learning, and memory also become compromised. A sense of intense pleasure, calm, alertness, and increased senses can result from using certain substances as well. Addictions also result in intense cravings that make quitting difficult and relapses likely. Moreover, people can build up a tolerance to certain substances which results in needing larger doses to feel the same effects and eventually experiencing little to no effects from higher doses. This may lead to moving onto different or a mixture of substances. Addiction can lead to other mental illnesses, physical health issues, social issues, and possible death. (3)

Why Do People Use Substances, such as Drugs and Alcohol?

The four main reasons that people take substances include (2):

  • To feel good, experience pleasure, self-confidence, freedom, be ‘high’
  • To feel better, to relieve stress, feel less distress, feel happier
  • To get more focused, to improve cognitive or athletic performance
  • Curiosity, peer pressure, wanting to fit in

Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder and Addiction:

  • Impaired control that is characterized by strong cravings and urges of substance use, failed attempts to control, cut down or quit using the substance
  • Social problems, such as failing to complete tasks at work, school or home, not participating in former work, social or leisure activities in favor of or as a result of substance use
  • Risky use characterized by using substances in risky settings and risky ways
  • Drug effects leading to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
  • Mental illness that may be present before the addiction, may worsen, triggered by or develop as a result of the substance abuse (3)

Risks for Substance Abuse and Addictions

There are various factors that come in to play with someone’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. In most cases, the reason behind substance abuse is a combination of environmental, biological and other factors. There is no single factor that can exactly determine the development of addiction. It depends on person to person. Child development and our earliest interactions are particularly crucial in developing a substance abuse problem.

Home and Family

The home and family environment is a particularly important factor. If a child is growing up with parents or family members using or abusing substances or engaging in criminal behavior, their risk of developing a substance abuse problem increases. Lack of parental supervision, lack of care, violence within the family, abuse against the child, and other forms of maltreatment also increase the risks. (2)

School and Peers

The peer and school environment are similarly important as peers have a strong influence on each other. The availability of substance at school and a ‘drug culture’ can increase risks. Those who use substances are more likely to encourage children, teens and even young adults to try and frequently use drugs or alcohol as well. Poor academic performance or social skills can increase the risks as well as students are more likely to look for a way out, a way to fit in or a way to feel better. (2)


The overall community environment has an influence on the risks of substance use and abuse. Community poverty, the availability of drugs, lack of community support, lack of neighborhood pride, and living in a violent and unsafe area can increase the appeal risks of substance abuse. (2)

Genetics and Biology

Genetic factors may also account for 40-60 percent of someone’s vulnerability to addiction, but it doesn’t have to result in substance use or abuse. Besides genetics, certain medical conditions, mental health issues, and the person’s age or stage of development may also influence the risks. (2)

Early Use

The earlier age someone starts using a certain substance the more likely it is that they will develop a serious addiction. Early use can harm the developing brain leading to more vulnerability. Children and youth are still developing and haven’t fully learned healthy coping skills and self-care. Younger people who experience other factors of vulnerability, such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, unstable family environment, economic problems, financial struggles at home, mental illness or a genetic susceptibility may also be more likely to use and get addicted to substances as opposed to peers with a more stable environment. (3)

Method of Administration

Different substances have different levels of addiction potential. This doesn’t only depend on the substance itself but on the method of administration. Smoking and injection can increase the addictive potential as the substance enters the brain almost immediately resulting in intense pleasure and ‘high’. This feeling, however, fades away quickly urging the user to resupply. (3)

Treatment, Rehab, and Therapy

Successful recovery from any form of addiction is possible and effective treatment options are available.

The first and absolutely essential step to recovery is the initial recognition of the problem. If someone with an addiction denies that their substance abuse is a problem, recovery can be difficult if not impossible. An intervention may be necessary to help recognize the severity of the issue the issue and begin treatment.

The first actual step of the treatment is a formal assessment of symptoms by an appropriate healthcare professional. There is no need to worry that addiction is not ‘bad enough’ or ‘too bad’. People with the least severe and most severe cases of addiction can still benefit from treatment.

Addiction is a multifaceted issue involving many aspects of someone’s life, including their mental, physical and social health. Therefore, a multi-level treatment with a combination of medication, individual and group therapy and possibly other methods is the most effective. The personal desire to recover and active participation in recovery is essential.

Severe treatment may require hospitalization, living in therapeutic communities, or attending outpatient programs. Medication can help with drug cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms. Therapy can help in understanding behavior, motivation, thoughts, and feeling. It can also help develop coping mechanisms, build higher self-esteem, and address mental health challenges. Therapy, in particular, group therapy, can also help with social situations, relationships and how to relate to others. Family therapy can help to explore family dynamics. Self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and their related family groups are often useful in all phases of recovery even years into sobriety. Vocational, social and legal services can be part of a successful recovery process and living a ‘clean’ life. (2, 8)

Principles of Effective Treatment:

  • Remember that addiction is a disease affecting the brains function and the person’s behavior. It’s complex but treatable.
  • There is no one size fits all: no single treatment works for everyone.
  • Treatment must be readily available to all in need.
  • Effective treatment considers all aspect of the individual and their lives, not just the abuse itself.
  • Remaining in treatment for as long as needed is essential for successful recovery.
  • Therapy and counseling are common and helpful forms of treatment.
  • Medication can be helpful, especially in the initial phases, in combination with various forms of therapy.
  • The treatment plan must be assessed, evaluated and modified as needed regularly.
  • Substance addiction often comes together with other mental disorders.
  • The first stage is medically assisted detoxification.
  • Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to work, though voluntary treatment is best.
  • Drug use must be monitored regularly during treatment.
  • Treatment programs must asses for hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, provide necessary treatment and risk-reduction counseling. (3)


Substance use disorder and addiction is preventable. Examining and addressing all risk factors is important. Drug and alcohol education and prevention efforts aimed at children, teenagers and youth can be effective in preventing substance use, misuse, and abuse. Involving not only the children and youth but their families, schools, communities and the media in these efforts is essential. (3)

How to Help Someone with Addiction

  • Learn about addiction as much as possible.
  • Express your love and concern.
  • Offer and show support.
  • Listen to them.
  • Practice compassion, empathy, love and understanding.
  • Support their entire recovery process.
  • Accept that change is not immediate and recovery is a process.
  • Don’t expect them to change without help.
  • Don’t make excuses for them.
  • Don’t judge, blame, preach, threaten, bribe, moralize, or bully.
  • Don’t guilt them but don’t feel guilty either.
  • Don’t try to take on their responsibility, understand that recovery is their responsibility.
  • Don’t join or encourage them in their behavior. (3)

How to Find Help?

If you or your loved one is dealing with an addiction, talk to your doctor or mental health professional to seek treatment. The following websites and helplines can be helpful to find appropriate treatment options and support. (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21)

Search Engines

Behavioral health treatment locator:

Addiction recovery finder:

Drug treatment center finder:

Rehab finder:

Treatment center finder:

Buprenorphin Physician and treatment locator:

Opiod treatment program recovery:


Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Addiction and Alcohol Hotline: 1-844-244-3171

Heroin Addiction Hotline: 1-877-2724

Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

Veterans’ Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Drug-Free Workplace: 1-800-WORKPLACE (967-5752)

Online Options

7 Cups of Tea online support:

Online counseling:

Online non-12 step:

Online substance abuse counseling:

Online Alcoholics Anonymous:

Online Narcotics Anonymous:

Find a Support Group

Alcoholics Anonymous:

Narcotics Anonymous:

Addiction meeting finder:

Support groups:

What to Do in the Case of an Overdose?

  1. Call 911 immediately if someone you know has overdosed, collapsed, or stopped breathing.
  2. Start CPR if necessary.
  3. Call poison control even if there are no immediate symptoms at 1-800-222-1222
  4. Collect all the drugs, pills and substances (anything leftover, containers, bags etc) and give them to the emergency team to take them for examination. (22)

Related Disorders and Addictions

Addictions come in all shapes and forms. Not all addictions are substance use disorders, and not all are related to drugs or alcohol. Some addictions and addiction-like disorders are classified in the DSM-V under another category. Some other addictions are not classified in the DSM-V or as any form of a health condition as of today. These additions would be more like food, television, or social media addiction yet can cause addictive patterns and serious disturbances in ones life. (2, 4, 5, 6) Some non-substance addiction examples include: 

  • Gambling Disorder
  • Internet Disorder
  • Caffeine Use Disorder
  • Non-substance related addictions, such as Internet-related behaviors like video games, shopping, pornography, compulsive sex, and compulsive exercise
  • Food addictions

Recovery from non-substance related addictions and addictive behaviors is also possible through appropriate therapy and support.

Addiction is a serious disease, but there are effective treatment options available for you and your loved ones. Recovery is possible. If you are struggling with addiction or know someone with an addiction, talk to your doctor and/or mental healthcare provider to find the best treatment option and began recovery.

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