Addiction Information

Understanding Addiction

Learn About Addiction & Abuse

Substance abuse is a general term that describes the misuse of a variety of psychoactive substances, including but not limited to alcohol, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription painkillers. Substance abuse can involve both legal and illegal substances, and the term can be applied both to a one-time occurrence and to ongoing behavior. Many people are able to engage in substance abuse without developing an addiction, or substance use disorder, but for millions of others the intentional misuse of alcohol or other drugs results in potentially devastating chemical dependency.

In general terms when a person’s substance abuse progresses into substance use disorder, this means that he or she has lost control of his or her ability to control the amount and frequency of his or her substance abuse. Individuals who have substance use disorder will experience negative outcomes because of their substance abuse, but will continue to engage in this self-defeating behavior. Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s dependence upon his or her substance of abuse, he or she may be incapable of regaining control over his or her thoughts and actions without effective professional intervention.

Thankfully, treatment professionals have extensive experience helping individuals who are struggling with substance abuse and substance use disorders. Specialized programming at substance use treatment centers is designed to provide a full continuum of care in a highly personalized manner, and treatment empowers clients to make the lasting changes that will support long-term recovery.


Drug Abuse Statistics

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 23 million people in the United States are in need of treatment for a substance use disorder, yet more than 20 million of these individuals will fail to get the help that they need.

Data that was collected as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) reveals that more than eight of every 10 adults in the United States have engaged in substance abuse at least once in their lives, and more than seven of every 10 have done so at least once in the previous year.  Among adolescents, NS-DUH data suggests that about half of all young people will abuse alcohol or another drug at least once before they graduate from high school.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

The development of a substance use disorder can be influenced by a number of genetic and environmental factors, such as the following:


Experts estimate that 40 to 60 percent of the variance in the risk in developing certain substance use disorders is due to genetics. Individuals who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has a substance use disorder are at increased risk for having a similar struggle. This genetic connection is reinforced through studies involving adopted children. Adopted individuals whose biological parents had substance use disorders, but whose adoptive parents did not, had similar risks as those raised by biological parents who had substance use disorders.


The prevalence and acceptance of substance abuse within a culture or subculture can play a significant role in determining if a person will engage in similar behavior. Other strong environmental influences on the development of substance use disorder include living in a household, neighborhood, or community where substances are available and affordable, associating with peers who regularly abuse alcohol or other drugs, and experiencing an amount or acuity of stress that exceeds an individual’s coping skills.

Risk Factors: 

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Current or prior mental illness
  • Exposure to substance abuse at a young age
  • Displays of aggression at a young age
  • Being male
  • Poor impulse control

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The type of substance being abuse, the presence of any co-occurring disorders, and several other factors can influence the signs and symptoms that will be displayed by a person who has been engaging in substance abuse. The following are among the more common of these signs and symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Multiple absences from work or school
  • Declining performance at work or in school
  • Possession of rolling papers, syringes, or other drug paraphernalia
  • Being secretive or deceptive about one’s whereabouts and activities
  • Engaging in risky or reckless behaviors
  • Inability to sit still; acting in a jumpy or jittery manner
  • Loss of interest in significant events, issues, and/or activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Bloodshot eyes and/or dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Itchiness
  • Persistent sores or scabs
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Poor judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anger and/or aggression
  • Dramatic unexplained mood swings
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of Substance Abuse

The following are among the many ways that substance abuse and a substance use disorder can negatively impact a person’s life:

  • Organ damage
  • Cardiovascular distress
  • Diminished cognition
  • Decline in performance at work or in school
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Strained interpersonal personal relationships
  • Social withdrawal
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Development of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who are engaging in substance abuse or who have developed a substance use disorder may be at increased risk for experiencing the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of substance abuse withdrawal: Though the exact symptoms will vary depending upon the nature and severity of an individual’s substance use disorder, the following are common symptoms that may be experienced by individuals who attempt to cease or reduce their substance abuse after they have become dependent upon a substance or substances:

  • Powerful cravings for the drug one has been abusing
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle cramping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Tics, tremors, and similar shakiness
  • Seizure

Effects of substance abuse overdose: Depending upon the type of drug that a person has been using, overdose can result in a variety of symptoms. Anyone who demonstrates the following symptoms after abusing alcohol or another drug may be in need of immediate medical attention:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Bluish tint to lips and fingernails
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Shallow or irregular breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Coma

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