The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that drug use in the United States has cost the country a staggering $740 billion dollars annually. The costs are associated with crime, lost work productivity, and health care that are attributed to the use of drugs, alcohol and/or tobacco.

With the rise of addiction popping up at rates that have never been seen in developed nations, health communities are scrambling to create new measures and implement effective addiction treatment methods.

Addiction is commonly known as a substance use disorder that is categorized as a mental health disorder. There have been specific criteria set in place by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) that officially diagnose people suffering from substance use disorder (SUD).

With this added research and criteria being set in place, it has made for a more effective and quick diagnosis of the condition which in turn allows for quicker treatment.

However, there is still room for misinterpretation between the recreational use of a drug, dependence, and full-blown addiction. Different parts of the brain are affected by dependence and addiction and are physiologically different – this means that each experience is unique between individuals.

  • Recreational drug use is a classification of using drugs and alcohol without the repetition that leads to self-destruction. This is marked by the ability to consume the substance in a controlled manner.
  • Dependence is most often associated with the brain needing the substance to just maintain a chemical balance. This process affects an entirely different area of the brain than addiction does. Overcoming a physical dependence can be difficult, as the chemical imbalance that results from stopping substance use can lead to uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Addiction adds a different element to the mix. While some can consume substances and not rely on an uptake the next day, addiction interferes with dopamine receptors in the brain. While this is common for anyone who consumes drugs, addiction replaces the natural reward process with substance abuse. A person suffering from addiction will reward themselves with drug use to a point where it becomes unstoppable. This is what contributes to drug use making cessation nearly impossible. When a doctor is creating a formal diagnosis, he/she looks for differences in symptoms that imitate these behaviors. There are very noticeable differences between recreational users and those suffering from a deep-rooted drug addiction.

The information above is a starting point, and the DSM-V released criteria they determined to be useful in identifying a proper diagnosis. These go as follows:

  • Taking larger amounts of a drug longer than you’re meant to
  • Wanting to cut down or stop but being unable to
  • Spending a lot of time getting/using/recovering from drug
  • Cravings and urges to use the substance
  • Performance at school, work, or home suffering
  • Continuing to use despite negative consequences
  • Not fulfilling obligations
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Using despite worsening physical or psychological problems
  • Building a tolerance
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms

If two of the problems listed above relate to you or someone you know, there is a mild substance diagnosis given. If you or a loved one should possess four to five of these qualities, a moderate substance use diagnosis will be given. Lastly, meeting six or more is considered to be a severe substance use disorder. While there may be levels assigned to someone suffering, the fact is that despite severity, addiction has the ability to blossom and become an even deeper problem. It is imperative that treatment is sought out to begin managing this chronic disease.

Addiction Causes

The cause of addiction will vary based on the professional being asked, and it remains uncertain about what the actual cause is. There is plenty of speculation in the medical community as to underlying factors in direct correlation with users, but much of it is up for debate.


A link possessing strong evidence found in the medical community has shown a distinguishable relationship between environment and addiction. Those who experience certain external issues as they progress through life may be more prone to becoming drug users. While just about anything can play a significant role in a person’s addiction, it’s safe to say that prior to someone’s drug use, they had witnessed someone using themselves. There are also other factors such as the community they were brought up in, their peer group, family, and school atmospheres that can influence a person’s environment.


On another note, many in the science community lean strictly toward a biological inheritance of addiction. If a parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, there is a higher likelihood that the addictive tendencies will be passed on to his or her children. A study released claims that there is a biological trigger that causes drug users to switch over from occasional use to compulsive acts of addiction. Not all who abuse substances will suffer from this switch, but some of those pre-genetically disposed may have a higher risk factor.

Risk Factors

It’s evident that both sides of this argument have valid points to offer on the topic of addiction, but there are the select few who believe that addiction is stemmed from both of these factors. The experience of traumatic events, as well as a genetic predisposition, are largely in part a more definitive answer to the argument. With that said, it isn’t as much as the why as it is formulating a solution that gets to the root of stopping this. There are steps parents can take such as monitoring who a child spends their time with, how they’re doing in school, and communicate with them about their lives. This could help reduce the chances that they experiment with drugs or alcohol.

Signs of Addiction

Identifying addiction in either yourself or a loved one is no easy feat, but there are warning signs associated with the disease to be looking out for. Before checking into treatment, a proper diagnosis must be made to know the severity of the problem that exists. Without this information, the person in question could be placed somewhere that does not adequately treat their needs.

As each human has a set of unique needs, addiction is often the same and varies from one person to another. With that, symptoms also vary due to the types of drugs being consumed.

There are symptoms across the board used to identify addiction, but knowing the warning signs will help narrow down the search.

Each category presents similar but different symptoms because different drugs have different effects on the brain and body. Found below will be the main categories of drugs abused that contain symptoms attributed to their usage.


  • Drinking to forget about problems
  • Lying to justify drinking habits
  • Losing memories or time frames when drinking; blacking out
  • Continuing use despite legal, social, or medical consequences
  • DUI’s or arrested in relation to alcohol use
  • Isolation
  • Drinking outside of social setting; regularly drinking alone
  • Irritability when not having a drink
  • Decrease in performance at work or school
  • Mood swings; changes in personality
  • Engaging in risky behaviors (driving a motor vehicle when intoxicated)


  • Strong urges to use stimulants
  • Constant thoughts of using stimulants
  • Doing “whatever it takes” to obtain stimulants
  • Isolation
  • Consumption in doses higher than prescribed
  • Experiencing withdrawal within 24-48 hours of stopping the drug
  • Taking stimulants to avoid withdrawal
  • Hiding use from family or friends
  • Feeling unable to stop drug use despite attempts to quit
  • Unable to function without the drug
  • Mixing stimulants and alcohol
  • Using the drug despite negative consequences
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia


  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Dysphoria
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Motor impairment
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Numbness sensations
  • Hallucinations
  • Smell sensitivity
  • Muscle pain
  • Mood swings
  • Drowsiness


  • Change in weight
  • Withdrawing from social activities/obligations
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Changes in social circles
  • Insomnia
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lying and/or stealing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red eyes
  • Pinned pupils
  • Sweating
  • Cravings for opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Inability to stop in the face of consequences

The symptoms attributed to opioid addiction are similar across the board. However, it’s important to point out that not everyone is affected in the same way. Being aware of changes in you or a loved one is important in identifying symptoms of addiction before they spiral out of control.

With the rise in opioid overdoses across the country, there is no commodity more precious than time when treating an addiction. Being able to identify these warning signs quickly is valuable in saving someone’s life who needs help. If you or someone you know is caught in the grips of an opioid addiction, don’t delay in reaching out for help. Time is of the essence.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment is the best available method to treat this disorder. Due to the fact that addiction is a chronic disease that continually progresses without treatment, delaying the treatment process diminishes a users quality of life by denying the help they need. There is no cure-all when it comes to addiction, but due to the advancement of modern medicine, there has been a creation of more suitable forms of treatment.

The two formal methods are drug and alcohol treatment, where most patients will go through the entire continuum of care from detox to outpatient. While treatment during the process is relatively standard, the therapies that the client will partake in will vary from treatment center to treatment center. It will also be heavily dependent on your level of need and how much treatment is covered by your insurance.

The “full continuum of care,” refers to every level of the addiction treatment available from detox to outpatient. However, clients begin at the highest level of care that their addiction requires.

Throughout the process, the client will work his or her way down the levels of treatment. This is geared toward giving the individual a chance to earn more responsibilities. It is an extremely effective tool for treating this illness since it is working in correlation with the reward pathways that drugs destroyed, and the purpose is designed for building foundations toward the road to recovery.

In the first stages, medical intervention may be necessary, but as the client begins transitioning further and further into sobriety, they will require a less hands-on approach.

In order to achieve sobriety, clients are encouraged to spend as much time in treatment as possible.

Medical Detox

Depending on the type and severity of the addiction, detox is often the first and most crucial stage of the treatment process. For some, it can be the most difficult stage due to the withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced, but the goal is to provide medical stabilization and transition the individual comfortably. While all drugs hold the potential for withdrawal, there are some in particular that have more severe symptoms.

This is why ceasing use on your own, something known as “cold turkey”, can be so risky. Drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol present immediate dangers from withdrawal symptoms up to and including seizures. Dealing with a traumatic medical complication could result in dangerous situations and even risk death.

Additionally, there are other risks associated with detoxing alone such as a diminished success rate. The side effects can prove to be too much for some, causing the user to turn immediately back to the substance to alleviate the symptoms. In a protected environment such as a medical detox, those urges may be present, but the substance will not be available. Instead, there may be medication provided to ease withdrawal discomfort.

Upon arrival to detox, there will be a full medical assessment conducted by a team of trained doctors, nurses, and medical support staff to ensure the client receives exactly what they need for comfort. This will in addition increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Once completed, the client will be stable enough to move onto the next level of addiction treatment.


Residential treatment is the level of treatment that usually follows medical detox. During this stage, a client will be required to live onsite in a facility while undergoing intense addiction therapy. The length of time the individual is required to stay depends on their treatment plan, but on average this lasts about 30 to 90 days.

During residential, the individual will be involved in a full-time schedule of multiple addiction therapies and treatments. It’s advised to research the programs prior to entry, ensuring the right type of therapies are being offered. The client must make sure the program is tailored to their needs as therapy varies from one center to the next.

During this part of the process, the client will learn new coping mechanisms that help identify relapse triggers. Additionally, life-skills will be taught along with relapse prevention techniques that will satisfy needs long after treatment concludes. The primary objective of these therapies is to create a foundation for recovery that lasts a lifetime. Addiction is a lifelong disease that requires regular maintenance to prevent relapse.

The goal of residential treatment is to identify and work through the root of addiction in a secure and substance-free environment. This is one of the most important parts of treatment and allows a person to rediscover who they are in sobriety.


The outpatient program can be characterized as the next phase in the continuum of addiction treatment. With there being two different levels, each is considered as important as the next. This level of care will continue to address any physical or psychological issues experienced during treatment while the client lives offsite.

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) is the program that usually follows residential treatment. The level of care changes dramatically because the person is not living onsite anymore. The individual will be required to find alternate housing and their own means of transportation to show up to sessions throughout the program.

Many who opt into this treatment live in sober living or halfway houses that allow them to maintain the structure set in place by the recovery program. Early portions of recovery can be challenging as clients begin to adjust to the reality of sobriety. Relapse is most prevalent in the first few months, but these programs offer the support needed.

Returning home is another option, but no matter where the person lives they are required to maintain complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. These sessions will use similar intensive therapy techniques seen in residential, but they will just occur throughout the week for several hours at a time. Random drug tests are required during off hours.

With great freedom comes great responsibility, and during this time, the client will have a lot of time to deal with triggers on the outside. Many people at this point return to work and family obligations, and this usually last about six to eight weeks before moving onto the next phase.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial Hospitalization (PHP) is another form of outpatient care. It shares similarities with IOP in that it also requires the client to seek housing and viable transportation to the sessions each week.

The primary difference between PHP and IOP is the fact that PHP requires the client to attend treatment for more than 20 hours per week while IOP involves between 9 and 20 hours per week.

PHP is similarly structured in that consistent attendance is a requirement along with continued sobriety. Group and individual therapies are set in place to aid in ongoing clinical attention.


Once treatment is over, recovery doesn’t simply disappear. Through the life of the individual, they will require maintenance to ensure they’re on the continued path of sobriety. While it is a life-long journey, it does not need to be overwhelming. There are many options once treatment ends.

Some facilities offer alumni programs to allow clients to stay connected to treatment. The alumni programs will schedule activities with other former clients in the hopes of building long-lasting sober relationships. This allows a point of contact where the person can reach out if they feel their sobriety is in jeopardy.

There are other options if the facility does not offer alumni programs, including the 12-step program and SMART recovery. These are different approaches to the same outcomes. These provide the individual with a link to networks of sober support which are vital in maintaining sobriety.


Withdrawal is one of the main reasons why it can be difficult to escape addiction. The uncomfortable symptoms prove to be too much for some long-term users to adequately function. Withdrawal is defined as the negative effects felt from stopping the use of a substance after a dependence has developed.

Withdrawal is made up of a variety of different symptoms that the brain and body will endure as a result of ceasing substance use. Any time a substance is being removed, the body must go through an adjustment period to resume normal functions. While it can be very uncomfortable, it can also be very dangerous.

Different substances will translate into different types of withdrawal symptoms with some being worse than others. A host of other factors that could change the trajectory of withdrawal for you or a loved one.

There are also other considerations such as client health, the substance consumed, frequency of use, and length of use. This background will decide the severity of the symptoms and make detox a more effective tool for the individual. Taking control of this process will help immensely.


This is sometimes referred to as a part of recovery due to the frequency, but it doesn’t have to be. If relapse is part of the journey, don’t let it be something that you feel guilty about or blame yourself for. Addiction is a disease that is difficult to beat, but entirely possible with the right course of treatment. The best way to respond to a relapse goes as follows:

  • Seek help immediately
  • Identify what went wrong and curb that behavior
  • Seek out relapse prevention therapy
  • Reach out to others in recovery
  • Be honest about relapse
  • Take measures to avoid relapsing
  • Approach relapse as a learning experience
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