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Addiction is a common struggle for people throughout the world as well as in the United States. 40.3 million Americans aged 12 or older were diagnosed with a substance use disorder, with 18.4 million of those people having an illicit drug use disorder7.

Recognizing the differences between substance abuse, dependence, and addiction can be challenging but finding recovery is vital. Addiction can require treatment and continued care in order to find long-term recovery. Without help, drug or alcohol addiction can begin to affect every area of life and create negative health and mental consequences.

Am I An Addict?: Self-Quiz

This is an online screening and is not a diagnostic tool. Only a trained medical professional can help determine the best treatment for you.

What is Addiction?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is defined as a chronic medical disease2. Viewing addiction not as a personal problem but as a medical issue can help with understanding that addiction is not a problem of self-will. Drug addiction involves compulsive behaviors that are continued despite negative consequences.

Addiction isn’t temporary and can affect daily functioning if it continues to go untreated. Addiction has a complex nature as it can stem from genetic, environmental, and life experience problems.

Addiction, Dependence, & Abuse: What's the Difference?

Although all of these terms are often used to represent the same idea, addiction, dependence, and abuse of substances have different meanings. Understanding the differences between these terms can help with determining what kind of assistance is needed to stop using the substance. 

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can be seen as an act of taking more than the recommended dose of a substance or participating in the use of an illegal substance. Substance abuse can be a one-time occurrence or can lead to dependence and addiction. This kind of abuse is not a physical or mental condition and may not lead to a habit.

A night of binge drinking or participating in the use of an illegal substance can be seen as substance abuse. Most people will experience substance abuse in their lifetime, but it will not always lead to dependence or addiction.

Drug & Alcohol Dependence

Dependence occurs when the body becomes physically reliant and needs the substance. Dependence alone is not an addiction but often accompanies addiction. Physical dependence can occur with many different substances and can even occur with medications that are taken as prescribed.

Being dependent physically on a substance can lead to symptoms of withdrawal when suddenly stopping the substance. Withdrawal symptoms can vary based on the drug being used, the amount of use, and frequency of use.

Addiction

Addiction, often referred to as substance use disorder (SUD) is the most complex of all three. Addiction encompasses substance abuse and dependence along with other factors. In addition to dependence and abuse of substances, there is a mental component to addiction that makes it difficult to stop abusing substances.

Addiction often requires medical help to stop abusing substances and continual assistance due to its chronic nature. Lifelong support may be necessary in order to prevent relapse which is most often not needed with substance abuse or dependence.

Causes of Addiction

The causes of addiction are varied and often are a result of a combination of circumstances. By understanding more about what’s behind addiction, more empathy and compassion can be developed for suffering addicts. Although it’s not entirely clear what causes addiction, there are a lot of factors that scientists believe can increase the risk of developing an addiction.

Genetics

Genetics can also create an increased susceptibility for developing addiction8. Having a blood relative who has struggled with addiction increases the chances of having an addiction.

Environmental Triggers

The environment of childhood and adulthood can directly affect the likelihood of addiction. Risky substance use environments can lead to addiction and abuse. Environmental triggers can also pose a greater risk for relapse after getting sober.

Environmental triggers for addiction can include5:

  • Abusive home environment
  • Growing up around drug use
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy accessibility to drugs

Mental Health

Mental health and addiction tend to be very closely linked. In fact, 17 million U.S. adults struggled with mental health disorders and substance use disorders simultaneously in 20206.

Addictive substances can quickly become coping mechanisms for mental health issues. Mental health issues can also arise after prolonged substance abuse. Once the substance abuse becomes an addiction, a downward spiral begins.

Trauma

Trauma can increase the risk of developing an addiction, especially trauma that has taken place during childhood. Childhood trauma, otherwise known as Adverse childhood experiences (ACE), has been linked to substance abuse and use disorders. Each traumatic experience increases the likelihood of developing an addiction or other mental health disorder.

Traumatic experiences can include3:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Losing a loved one
  • Witnessing violent acts
  • Parental divorce
  • Experiencing intensely stressful events

Signs Of Addiction

Substance use disorder can occur with many different substances and warning signs of addiction can look different for each substance. Changes in behavior tend to be one of the first signs of addiction to outsiders and the addict.  Lying, stealing, missing events, and a general change in behavior are frequent in those suffering from addiction.

Common signs of addiction include4:

  • Inability to stop using drugs despite consequences
  • Cravings for the substance that is being abused
  • Increasing the usage of the substance
  • Increasing the dosage of the substance
  • Prioritizing substances over activities once enjoyed
  • Going to extreme lengths to acquire the substance

Weight loss, dark bags under the eyes, and pale skin can be common with drug addiction. Due to a weakened immune system from drug use, frequent illness may begin occurring. Erratic changes in energy are a sign of substance use disorder.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Drug Addiction

Withdrawal symptoms are a common part of addiction and are often one of the reasons that getting sober can be challenging. Withdrawal occurs when the body stops getting the substance it has come to depend upon and a physical, chemical process begins. Withdrawal symptoms can vary greatly from person to person.

The symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever

 

The intensity of withdrawal can depend upon the type of substance abused, how long the drug was abused, and the process used to aid withdrawal. The age, genetics, and psychological character of the individual can also cause different variations of withdrawal.

How Addiction Affects Health

Addiction can affect physical and emotional health and wellbeing. As substance use disorders continue in the long term, mental and physical health can worsen. Addiction type and frequency can directly relate to how severe the health consequences appear.

Effects on Physical Health

Addiction to drugs and alcohol can be devastating to physical health. Substance use disorders can lead to liver damage, high blood pressure, and an increase in the risk of stroke.

The chance of developing cancer increases, either at the time of addiction or later in life. Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the likelihood of oxidative stress in cells which can cause them to become cancerous, including in the mouth and throat1.

Health issues from addiction can include:

  • Seizures
  • Heart problems
  • Memory issues
  • Brain damage
  • Collapsed veins
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lung disease

Effects on Mental Health

Addiction can also affect mental health negatively. SUDs can lead to mental illnesses, including paranoia, depression, and anxiety. Insomnia is another common mental symptom of addiction, and if lack of sleep continues for a sustained period it can lead to a wide range of other health effects.

Treating Addiction

Treatment for substance use disorders can take place in a residential or outpatient setting. If withdrawal symptoms are present after stopping the drug, a residential and detox setting may be the best and safest option. A treatment plan can be customized based on individual needs and drugs being abused.

Common treatments for drug addiction include:

  • Detox – medication management to clear out the body of any substances with licensed medical professionals’ supervision
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – evidence-based psychotherapy considered the golden standard for mental health treatment. CBT is based on the theory that thinking, behaviors, and emotions are all connected and can be changed.
  • Psychotherapy – otherwise known as talk therapy, is essential to helping treat addiction and providing education about addiction
  • Holistic Therapy – alternative methods used in addition to evidence-based therapies to help find recovery like yoga, art, and meditation
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – evidence-based psychotherapy used to teach how to be in the present moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships

Get Help for Addiction

Addiction is a challenging medical disorder that can affect daily functioning. If you have taken our addiction quiz and found that you may be at risk for addiction, treatment is available. Treatment can be customized based on individual needs and typically includes therapy, medication management, and holistic methods. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, reach out to Inland Detox today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our detox and inpatient program.

Sources
  1. American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. (2020, June 9). Alcohol use and cancer. American Cancer Society. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html
  2. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019). Definition of addiction. ASAM. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.asam.org/quality-care/definition-of-addiction
  3. Khoury, L., Tang, Y. L., Bradley, B., Cubells, J. F., & Ressler, K. J. (2010, December). Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and posttraumatic stress disorder in an urban civilian population. Depression and anxiety. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
  4. McLellan, A. T. (2017). Substance misuse and substance use disorders: Why do they matter in healthcare? Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5525418/
  5. Mennis, J., Stahler, G. J., & Mason, M. J. (2016, June 18). Risky substance use environments and addiction: A new frontier for environmental justice research. International journal of environmental research and public health. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924064/
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Highlights for the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and health. SAMSHA. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2021-10/2020_NSDUH_Highlights.pdf
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf
  8. University of Utah. (2021). Genes and Addiction. Learn.Genetics Genetic Science Learning Center. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/genes