Chronic alcohol and drug misuse can lead to substance addictions.1 This is true for recreational use as well, especially during adolescence.1 Addictions are complex, relapsing conditions that the American Psychiatric Association refers to as substance use disorders (SUDs).2

What is Addiction?

Addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is a condition characterized by a pattern of compulsive substance use despite the negative consequences.2 Drug addictions and alcohol addictions cause significant impairment and distress in a person’s life. Everyone’s addiction presents differently, and because addiction is a progressive condition, its severity can vary. Generally, the longer you continue using substances once you’re addicted the worse your addiction will become—this is why the sooner you seek addiction treatment, the better your outcome is likely to be.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Physical symptoms of substance misuse include:2,3

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Changes in appetite, such as eating more or less than usual
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Negative changes in appearance or hygiene
  • Runny nose
  • Sudden weight gain or loss, without another explanation
  • Slurred speech
  • Shakiness
  • Coordination issues
  • Unusual body odor or breath
  • Withdrawal symptoms, like flu-like symptoms, tremors, fatigue, and more

Behavioral symptoms of addictions may include:2,3

  • Using substances despite interpersonal or relationship problems caused by use
  • Demonstrating secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Exhibiting a pattern of getting into legal trouble, such as fights, car accidents, or driving under the influence
  • Failing to complete responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use
  • Neglecting previously enjoyed hobbies or activities in favor of substance use
  • Using drugs in dangerous conditions, such as while driving or with unsterile needles
  • Experiencing increased tolerance for alcohol or drugs
  • Failing to control substance use, despite efforts to do so
  • Increasing amount of time is spent using or trying to get alcohol or drugs

You may also experience psychological symptoms of addiction, including:2,3

  • Lack of motivation to complete tasks, even tasks or hobbies that you used to enjoy
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Increased irritability or angry outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Unusual increased amounts of energy
  • Changes in personality or attitude that other factors can’t explain

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Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance and alcohol addictions are the most common substance use disorder in the United States.4,5 Approximately 14.5 million people in the U.S. ages 12 and older experience alcohol addiction.5

Risk Factors

Risk factors that increase the chances for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:6

  • Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder
  • Memory deficits
  • Personality features like impulsivity
  • Negative emotionality

Harmful Effects of Alcohol Misuse

Alcohol misuse and addiction can lead to harmful consequences. Some potential consequences include:7

  • Injuries, such as car accidents
  • Violence, such as homicide or sexual assault. While alcohol does not cause someone to become violent, there is a correlation between alcohol and violence due to alcohol’s ability to lower inhibitions.
  • Alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency caused by dangerously high blood alcohol levels

Long-term health risks include:7

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression

Common Drug Addictions

A wide variety of addictive substances can be misused. The most commonly misused drugs are marijuana, opioids, stimulants, and depressants.8


Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in the United States. Even though it is legal for recreational use in some states, it is an illicit substance because it is still federally illegal. Marijuana can be inhaled through smoking or taken as an edible in food or tea.9 About 30% of people who use marijuana develop an addiction to it.8


Opioids like heroin and prescription opioids, such as fentanyl, morphine, Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin, are extremely addictive and are widely misused. Even though opioid painkillers are prescribed for moderate to severe pain, many people misuse them to get high or to self-treat chronic pain. Prescription drug misuse occurs when someone takes someone else’s prescription, takes higher or more frequent doses than prescribed, mixes opioids with another substance, or injects or snorts them.8,9,10

Meanwhile, heroin is an illicit opioid that individuals commonly inject. It’s extremely dangerous and is often cut with harmful substances like fentanyl, which is highly potent and can cause an overdose. Heroin and prescription opioids are chemically similar and many people who are addicted to painkillers may switch to heroin since it is typically easier to access.8


Stimulants, such as Adderall, are another type of prescription medication. These medications are typically prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but may be misused due to the desirable effects of stimulant use. Stimulants can increase attention, energy, and can cause feelings of euphoria; however, they can also cause dangerously high body temperature, seizures, psychosis, and heart failure.8


People commonly misuse depressants like Xanax and Ambien, which cause relaxation, a feeling of well-being, and sedation. They are highly addictive and can cause dizziness, slurred speech, memory and coordination problems, and confusion when misused.8 Many people who misuse these medications struggle with anxiety or panic disorders and may benefit from dual diagnosis treatment.

Risk Factors for Drug Addictions

Certain risk factors increase the possibility that you will develop a drug addiction. These risk factors include:1

  • Aggressive behavior in childhood
  • Minimal or lack of supervision from parents
  • Inability to say no to peers
  • Experimenting with drugs
  • Having access to drugs at school
  • Experiencing poverty

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Treatment for Addiction

Fortunately, addictions are treatable. Treatment options vary depending on how severe the addiction is. The amount of support provided is determined by how much your addiction is impacting your life. Different treatment options include:

  • Inpatient rehab: Inpatient addiction treatment is a rehab center that provides 24/7 care. Treatment typically lasts anywhere from 30-90 days. Inpatient centers may also treat co-occurring mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety. Some inpatient centers may offer luxury accommodations like private suites and other amenities like a pool and gym.
  • Outpatient rehab: Outpatient treatment allows you to live at home or in transitional housing while going to treatment. Outpatient treatment can include day programs, like intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization. Outpatient treatment can also include seeing a therapist weekly or biweekly.
  • Holistic care: The treatment team integrates holistic approaches into inpatient or outpatient treatment. Holistic approaches are often done in conjunction with more conventional treatment methods like therapy. Holistic methods include yoga, art, or music therapy.
  • Executive treatment: Some treatment centers offer treatment accommodations specifically for people who are professionals and aren’t able to leave their jobs for residential treatment.
  • Faith-based: Faith-based treatment integrates spiritual or religious beliefs and principles into their treatment approach.

Treatment centers, regardless of whether they are inpatient or outpatient, tend to use evidence-based approaches for treating addictions. An evidence-based approach means research shows these techniques are helpful and effective. Evidence-based treatment methods for addiction are:11

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that aims to help you change your behavior by changing the way you think.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a therapy approach that helps you build coping skills. DBT can help you learn to cope with intense emotions and tolerate urges to use substances.

If you feel that you are showing signs of addiction, call 888-647-0051 (Who Answers?) to speak with a treatment specialist.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What is drug addiction?
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (pp. 481-590). American Psychiatric Publishing.
  3. Indian Health Service. (n.d.). Warning Signs of Substance and Alcohol Use Disorder
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Alcohol.
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol Use in the United States.
  6. Yang, P., Tao, R., He, C., Liu, S., Wang, Y., & Zhang, X. (2018). The risk factors of the alcohol use disorders-Through review of its comorbidities. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 303.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Alcohol Use and Your Health
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.) Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.) Marijuana
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts
  11. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders


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