What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing, brain disease. It is considered a brain disease because of how alcohol and other drugs can change the brain. Drugs can change the brain’s structure and how it works. Addiction is a progressive disease process characterized by loss of control over use, obsession with use, continued use despite adverse consequences, denial that there are problems, and a powerful tendency to relapse.

Myths About Addiction:

  • Addiction is a moral failure
  • All people who use drugs are addicted
  • People who abuse drugs
    • stop using drugs any time they want to
    • cannot be productive members of society
    • are bad people who deserve to be punished
    • are usually homeless and/or have a criminal history
  • Treatment doesn’t work
  • Relapse equals failure

Why do people start using drugs?

People begin taking drugs for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the primary reasons that drugs are initiated:

  • Relationships
  • Stress
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Partner substance use
  • Sensation seeking
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma
  • Mood disorders

Substance Use Spectrum

Not all people who use alcohol or other drugs are addicted

Categories of substances:

  • Opioids (Oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine, heroin)
  • Stimulants (Cocaine, Methamphetamines)
  • Depressants (Alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines)
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms, mescaline)
  • Inhalants (Glues, paint thinner, gasoline, aerosol sprays)
  • Cannabinoids (Marijuana, hashish)

What are behavioral signs of drug use?

Behavioral signs of use that are general and apply to all substances: change in personality, changes in friends and activities, drop in grades and/or tardiness at school, unexplained need for money, difficult paying attention or forgetfulness, stealing money or other items, paranoia, change in physical hygiene, defensive behavior, emotional highs and lows, short-tempered, weight changes.

Treatment Works!

Drug addiction is a treatable disease. With the help of behavioral health treatment, a person can recover. Treatment helps people to change destructive behaviors, avoid relapse, and minimize the medical and social complications of drug use.

What does good treatment look like?

  1. No single treatment is appropriate for everyone. Individualized treatment plans based upon a person’s particular problems and needs is critical to their success.
  2. Treatment addresses multiple needs of the person, not just their drug abuse. This can include addressing a person’s medical, social, legal, and/or vocational problems.
  3. Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical. The length of treatment depends on the type and degree of the person’s problems and needs. Recovery is a long-term process and requires additional treatment episodes.
  4. Behavioral therapies include individual, family and/or group counseling. Behavioral therapies address a person’s motivation to change, provides incentives to stop using, replaces drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding activities, and improves problem-solving and relationship-building skills.
  5. Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, when combined with behavioral therapies. Medications may be useful to stop drug abuse, stay in treatment, and avoid relapse.
  6. A person’s treatment must be continually assessed and modified to ensure it meets their changing needs.

  1. NIDA Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)
  2. NIDA Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask