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Drug Addiction and Abuse

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What Is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), negatively affects millions of people in the United States each year. Addiction is a progressive disease, meaning a user’s drug use will increase as time goes on. Drug addiction leads to compulsive dependency and drug-seeking behavior, despite the increasing harm caused to them and their loved ones. 

As use increases, so makes the difficulty of being without the drug. Periods of non-use cause intense cravings and physical illness, known as withdrawal symptoms.

Causes of Drug Addiction

Genetic predisposition and environmental risk factors most determine the likelihood of addiction. A person’s genetics account for 40 to 60 percent of their risk of drug addiction. A person’s genetics also determines the risk factors in how quickly an addiction to a drug develops.

Environmental factors are even more indicative of an addiction developing. For example, early-age drug use will alter a person’s brain development to be more defenseless toward addiction in the future.

The most common environmental causes of drug addiction include:

Peer Pressure
  • Use during social situations, experimental use, or being around drug users can lead to more frequent and addictive drug use. Typical in the case of recreational drugs.
  • Being prescribed the medication or receiving medications from a friend or relative commonly leads to compulsive use and drug addiction. This is especially true for opioid painkillers.
Depression and Trauma
  • The mental escape and positive feelings experienced while using certain drugs can lead to an addictive obsession with the substance. This is most notable for nicotine, alcohol, and opioid addictions such as heroin.

The risk at which a person becomes addicted to a drug also varies from substance to substance. Opioid painkillers, for example, have a higher rate of substance abuse and addiction compared to other common drugs.

Drug Addiction Symptoms

Although alcohol or drug addiction symptoms vary from person to person and substance to substance, common addiction behaviors include:

  • Regular use of the drug or substance
  • Increased use of the drug or substance as time goes on
  • Thoughts or efforts dedicated to maintaining a supply of the drug
  • Spending a fair amount of money or time on obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug
  • Not satisfying or cutting-back personal and work responsibilities due to drug use
  • Continued use of the drug despite adverse impacts on daily life, loved ones, or professional obligations.
  • Going to extreme or unethical measures to obtain or use the drug, such as stealing or driving under the influence
  • Failure in stopping or pausing drug use

Drug Addiction In Loved Ones

Recognizing drug use in family members and other loved ones can be difficult, but common addiction indicators include:

Problems with School or Work
  • A drop in grades or performance, missing school or work, or general and sudden disinterest in school or work responsibilities
Physical Health or Appearance
  • Weight loss or gain, red or dilated eyes, lack of energy, unusual skin coloration, and changes in hygiene or grooming
Behavioral Changes
  • Apathy toward previous interests, increased secretiveness, changes in relationships, changes in attitude, and rapid mood swings
Money Requests
  • Sudden money requests or unexplained money disappearances

Common Drugs and Substances

Many addictive substances exist, categorized as alcohol, opioids, benzos, sleeping pills, stimulants, and illicit substances.


Alcohol is a legal, controlled substance that includes beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol affects a person both physically and psychologically. Effects of Alcohol abuse include slurred speech, loss of coordination, and worse judgment or rational thinking. Consuming more than three or four alcoholic beverages per day can indicate an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Alcohol Detox

Severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms are common when stopping long-term alcohol use. Detox in a quality medical facility is highly recommended.

Alcohol Rehab

Psychological and medical treatment is usually necessary to help a person overcome alcoholism.

Drunk Driving

Causing a third of vehicle collisions, drunk driving is dangerous and deadly. In addition to the potential loss of life, a DUI and its resulting consequences can also ruin a life.

Health Problems

Alcohol abuse increases a person’s risk of liver disease. Alcoholism treatment is essential in avoiding future major health complications.

Genetics of Alcoholism

40 to 60 percent of a person’s risk in developing alcoholism stems from genetics. A family history of alcohol abuse can point to a high risk of future alcoholism.


Opioids are prescription painkillers used for acute and chronic pain. Incredibly effective, opioids pose a much higher risk of addiction compared to other drugs. Opioid addiction starts as compulsive substance-seeking, such as visiting multiple doctors to obtain more prescriptions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), when opioid “doctor shopping” begins to fail, opioid addiction often leads to heroin use as a cheaper, easier-to-get alternative.

Opioid withdrawal is dangerous and should only be attempted in a medical facility. Medical detox is the safest way to detox from opioids and will help with enduring withdrawal symptoms. An inpatient addiction treatment program is recommended after detox to ensure the lowest relapse risk.

Common Opioids


Codeine is a prescription and over-the-counter medicine for coughs. Often underestimated, codeine regularly serves as a gateway drug to more dangerous opioids such as morphine or oxycodone.


Demerol is a highly potent, prescription opioid that is rarely prescribed outside of intensive hospital care. Rates of its use are on the rise, with similar “dreamlike” effects as other opioids like morphine when abused.


Very powerful, Dilaudid is only prescribed to cancerous or seriously injured patients. Abused for its euphoric effects, Dilaudid comes with an often fatally high risk of overdose.


Primarily used to treat pain after surgery, Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. Recreational use often involves combining with other opioids or heroin, increasing the potential for fatal overdoses.


Hydrocodone is prescribed to treat pain, usually after oral surgery. However, it is often illegally used long-after the prescription period ends, leading to a substance use disorder.


Methadone is used to treat heroin addiction. However, it should only be taken under careful medical supervision. Despite the intended legal use, methadone is still a highly addictive opioid.


Morphine is primarily administered to hospital patients recovering from surgery or with cancer. However, it is also often abused for its “dreamlike” effects and is highly addictive and dangerous.


A powerful painkiller, oxycodone is one of the most abused prescription medications in the United States. Addiction commonly begins in those taking their regularly prescribed dose. Once tolerance establishes, oxycodone addiction can be all-consuming.


Propoxyphene is usually known as Darvon or Darvocet. It was prescribed for moderate pain relief but is now banned by the FDA for its lethal side effects. Users abuse propoxyphene for a rush of euphoria and sedation, with a high potential for fatal overdoses.


Tramadol is perceived as less addictive than other opioids. It is often prescribed by doctors to treat moderate pain from fibromyalgia or similar conditions. As with other opioid prescriptions, the risk of addiction is still high.


Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are pharmaceutical drugs used to treat various mental disorders, such as severe anxiety or panic attacks. If consumed for an extended period, dependency and addiction can regularly form. A danger for overdose comes from the common recreational practice of combining benzos with alcohol, which strengthens its effects.

Benzos’ withdrawal symptoms, such as Grand Mal seizures, are dangerous, making detox while under medical supervision the only recommended method. Addiction treatment for benzos should also include cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and medications to reduce cravings.

Common Benzodiazepines


Lorazepam, known as Ativan, is used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and panic attacks. Lorazepam is potent compared to other benzos, with a high risk of developing a substance use disorder.


Halcion is prescribed for anxiety and insomnia as a short-acting medication, going through the body faster than other benzos. This leads many to self-increase their dose and develop an addiction.


Klonopin is very addictive, even if used as prescribed. Klonopin is long-acting, causing a person to experience severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms if detoxing.


Librium can treat various anxiety disorders. The calming effects this drug produces often leads to addiction. Its low potency leads many people to consume it with other substances for a greater high.


Xanax is the most prescribed medication in the country and is highly addictive in high doses or extended periods. Xanax addictions usually manifest as fatigue and motivation loss.


Diazepam, also known as Valium, is used to treat muscle spasms and seizures. The risk of addiction sharply increases when taking more than the prescribed daily amount, which is common.

Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills, prescription medications known as sedative-hypnotics, are incredibly addictive. People form sleeping pill dependencies when they take it upon themselves to increase their dose to achieve even better sleep. The need to take larger doses to fall asleep will increase over time, leading to an addiction.

Recovering from a sleeping pill addiction is often overwhelming and can cause withdrawal symptoms. It is recommended to attend a medical detox center when getting off sleeping pills. Inpatient rehab centers and outpatient programs can provide further treatment to heal a sleeping pill addiction’s psychological impact.

Common Sleeping Pills


Regularly prescribed for short-term insomnia, Ambien dependence can start when taking over the recommended dose to fall asleep faster. Addiction to Ambien can form in a few weeks.


Amytal is a potent sleeping pill used as a pre-anesthetic for surgeries and to treat chronic sleep disorders. Its effects are similar to alcohol intoxication, leading users to abuse it until addicted.


Often mistaken as non-habit forming, Lunesta is a highly potent sleeping pill. Lunesta is just as addictive as when users try to increase its sedative effects as other sleeping pills.


Sonata is fast-acting and not as potent, remaining in the body for only an hour. Most addictions to Sonata are from users overdosing to sleep faster, leading to addiction over the long-term.


Stimulants are prescription medications that include amphetamines and methylphenidates. They are typically used to treat mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are designed primarily to enhance performance, rather than achieving a high. Stimulants activate the central nervous system to increase physical and cognitive function.

When abused, a user will feel a rush of intense pleasure caused by the surge of dopamine. As tolerance builds from frequent use, an addiction disorder can form. Overcoming a stimulant addiction may require detox at a treatment center, with therapy and group support afterward being highly recommended. A universal withdrawal symptom from stimulants is severe depression, which is particularly dangerous in teenagers already at risk of self-harm.

Common Stimulants


Adderall is the most prescribed stimulant for treating ADHD. Habitual use of Adderall to increase mental productivity and focus puts users at the highest risk of addiction.


Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant used to boost alertness and concentration. It is regularly prescribed for treating ADHD among children. Ritalin can be easily abused to achieve euphoric effects similar to amphetamines and cocaine, leading to addiction.


Concerta’s effects are similar to Ritalin but last longer at 12 hours compared to 3–4 hours. Dependence-forming with severe withdrawal symptoms, those on Concerta will have strong drug-seeking compulsions to avoid the “Concerta Crash”.


Dexedrine is a highly addictive amphetamine. Repeated abuse of Dexedrine makes the brain unable to function normally without the drug. Side effects include insomnia, blurred vision, and dizziness.

Diet Pills

Diet pills are over-the-counter and prescription supplements designed to help users lose weight. Along with the intended appetite-suppressing effects, diet pills are often abused for energy elevation and euphoric feeling effects.

Illicit Substances

Illicit substances are illegal drugs such as heroin and meth. Most are incredibly addictive and dangerous, with various effects on brain and behavior, intense withdrawal symptoms, and potentially fatal overdoses.

Even just a one-time use of some of these substances can generate devastating patterns of abuse. Using illicit drugs routinely takes priority over a person’s life once physical or psychological dependency forms.

When seeking recovery from these substances, a licensed inpatient treatment center is recommended to achieve and maintain sobriety. These facilities can offer services such as medical detox, behavioral therapy, and 12-step programs.

Types of Illicit Drugs


A stimulant with effects similar to high caffeine dosages, cocaine is most often snorted in powder form. Cocaine reprograms the brain’s dopamine reward system, making it highly addictive. Continued abuse is particularly dangerous as it can strain the heart and cause severe weight loss. Stoke or cardiac arrest is common in cocaine addicts.

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is a more potent form of cocaine and is usually smoked through a short pipe. Using crack cocaine can cause blisters and burns on the mouth and hands. Incredibly addictive, a crack cocaine dependence can develop after just one use.


Ecstasy, also known as Molly, is a stimulant with potential hallucinogenic effects that induce euphoria and intense sensations. Most ecstasy used is cut with dangerous substances such as heroin and LSD. Popular with teens and young adults, its interference of the brain’s pleasure center makes ecstasy very addictive.


Hallucinogens are mind-altering, psychoactive substances with a high potential for dependence and abuse. They are used to distort reality or self-medicate a mental disorder, such as depression, often making the condition worse.


A synthetic derivative of morphine, heroin is one of the most addictive substances on earth. Heroin comes in either powder or a gel, known as black tar heroin. Besides physical damage such as abscesses and scabs on the skin, heroin also causes psychological and internal damage.


Inhalants are household objects that can be abused for a brief high by inhalation. Typical examples are nail polish remover, paint thinner, gasoline, air dusters, and lighter fluid. Long-term inhalants abuse can cause severe muscle deterioration and psychological disturbances.


Ketamine is an anesthetic for animals undergoing surgery and is recreationally abused mostly by teens and college students. The effects are out-of-body and blissful sensations. Ketamine is incredibly addictive and often used as a date rape drug due to it being odorless and tasteless.


Very accessible and perceived as relatively safe, marijuana is one of the most abused illicit substances. Known as “weed” or “pot”, marijuana is gaining legal status in some states. Marijuana is usually smoked, with continued abuse potentially causing diminished brain function and lung damage.

Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana is a manufactured substance that contains an ingredient similar to THC – the active ingredient in marijuana. Known as Spice or K2, synthetic marijuana is dangerously addictive and produces effects just as strong as its natural counterpart.


Deadly and highly addictive, methamphetamine can be manufactured from everyday items such as lithium batteries and drain cleaner. Meth is typically smoked and available in powdered or crystal form. Aside from the brain-damaging effects of the induced dopamine rush, meth also degrades the user physically.

Drug Addiction Treatment

Escaping the cycle of drug addiction is one of the most challenging tasks a person can undertake. The psychological and physical dependencies of substance use disorders are very real. Addiction currently grasps over 28 million people around the globe and climbing.

Of these millions, only 10 percent receive the treatment they need. There are many reasons to put off treatment, such as social stigma or not wanting to leave your obligations behind. But it must be understood that addiction is a progressive disease and will worsen over time.

Avoiding rehab will have long-term consequences, such as:
Damage to relationships
Financial complications
Mental and physical deterioration
Legal troubles
Career loss

Confronting addiction head-on is difficult and scary, but does not have to be done alone. Addiction Rehab Treatment has Treatment Navigators that will help guide those seeking help through the entire recovery process.

Treatment Navigators know what those suffering from addiction are going through. They have the expertise and knowledge to assist with finding the right treatment center for any situation. They also can verify insurance coverage and post-rehab care options. Aftercare options include support groups, halfway houses, and one-on-one therapy.

If you or a loved one is suffering, reach out today.

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