What You Need to Know about Drug Addiction

Despite the fact that the U.S. Surgeon General released a report in 2016 that stated 21 million Americans are struggling with addiction, stigma still remains. This often makes people reluctant to get the help they need. Here are some important things you should know about drug addiction, clinically known as substance use disorder.

1. Addiction is a Disease

One of the biggest misconceptions about addiction is that it is a choice. In reality, addiction is a disease. People living with this condition do not choose to be addicted. Someone who is struggling cannot simply stop taking drugs on their own. They must seek professional treatment.

How Does Addiction Work?

Although individuals make the voluntary choice to start using, the effects of the drug soon trigger chemical changes in the brain that can lead to addiction. Substance use releases dopamine in the brain, a chemical associated with pleasurable experiences such as eating a good meal. Drugs have a more powerful effect than the average pleasurable experience; they may release up to ten times the amount of dopamine than other experiences.

The excess amount of dopamine overwhelms the brain and rewires it to crave that substance. Normal activities individuals once enjoyed start to have no appeal. They begin to crave the drug instead. Eventually, the brain builds up a tolerance to the drug so that individuals must use more of the substance to get the same effect.

In other words, people living with addiction are compelled to use substances because of changes in the brain that they have no control over.

2. You Can Become Addicted to Any Drugs

Drug addiction is often associated with illegal substances, but the truth is that any type of drug can pose a risk for addiction. Even legal prescription drugs can be addictive.

Why Do People Start Using Drugs?

People may turn to drugs for a variety of reasons.

  • Peer pressure: Many people are first exposed to drugs in the teenage years, when many of their peers are experimenting with substance use.
  • Stressful life events: A stressful event like job loss, a death in the family, overwhelming debt, or broken relationships can drive an individual to use drugs for temporary relief.
  • Trauma: Past traumatic experiences can leave an individual with severe emotional pain. The individual may use drugs to find relief from the trauma, but the effects of substance abuse often make them feel even more pain.
  • Mental health: Individuals with a mental health condition may turn to drugs as a way to cope with their symptoms. A 2014 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 9 million adults in the United States had both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder.
  • Chronic pain or illness: People suffering from chronic pain are often prescribed painkillers. They may become addicted to the drugs and seek out more of the substance, or even illegal substances.

Many people take drugs without realizing the serious risk of addiction. Whatever the reason someone starts using drugs, they are opening themselves up to a potential addiction every time they abuse substances.

3. There Are Recognizable Signs of Drug Addiction

Often, other people will be able to recognize if an individual is addicted. Here are the signs of drug addiction:


Someone who is addicted to drugs will exhibit these behaviors:

  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, and/or home
  • Isolating from family and friends; increased conflicts with loved ones
  • Devoting less time to hobbies and other interests
  • Reckless, dangerous behavior, including driving under the influence of drugs and using unclean needles
  • Legal troubles such as DUI or arrests for drug possession
  • Trouble at work or school (i.e. getting fired or suspended)
  • Increasing frequency and/or amount of drug use
  • Using more of a drug to get the same effect
  • Using a drug to get through the day or function normally
  • Trying to cut back on use but unable to do so 


The physical signs of an addiction include:

  • Weight loss or gain, changes in appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or small pupils
  • Incoherent or slurred speech
  • Nosebleeds
  • Lack of personal hygiene or messy appearance
  • Strange odors on the person’s clothes or breath
  • Shakiness
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using


Psychological warning signs include:

  • Changes in personality
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Fearfulness
  • Paranoid attitude
  • Seeming disconnected from reality
  • Experiencing hallucinations or sensory perceptions that aren’t real

4. There Are Serious Health Consequences from Drug Use

Drugs have a powerful and often adverse effect on physical health. Someone who regularly uses substances will experience a variety of short-term and long-term health effects.

Short-term health effects include:

  • Changes in mood, blood pressure, heart rate, and appetite
  • Psychosis
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Overdose
  • Death

Long-term drug use can lead to:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Cancer
  • Hepatitis

Substance use can also lead to a mental health disorder or worsen an existing mental health condition. Sometimes an underlying mental health condition can cause individuals to turn to substances to cope. This is known as a dual diagnosis and the individual is said to have co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.

5. Teenagers Are at Greater Risk

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 70 percent of teens will have tried alcohol and half will have taken an illegal drug by their senior year of high school. The adolescent brain is still developing, and this puts teens at increased risk of repeat drug and alcohol use. Substance abuse often leads to addiction and can cause serious health issues. Additionally, as age of first use decreases, addiction risk increases.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Although the causes of drug addiction are complex, there are known risk factors that make some individuals more susceptible to addiction. These include genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Conversely, there are protective factors that decrease an individual’s chances of developing an addiction, including high self-esteem, reliable support from parents or caregivers in childhood, and positive peer groups.

6. There is Help for Drug Addiction

You may have heard that addiction is a lifelong condition. While individuals need to actively work on recovery, that doesn’t mean recovery is impossible. There are effective treatments available for addiction.

If you or a loved one is living with a drug addiction, know that there are treatment options that work, including:

Finding a program that is right for you will help you sustain long-term recovery.

7. Recovery Is Possible

If you or someone you know is living with addiction, remember that recovery is a real possibility. At Rehab After Work/Rehab After School, we help individuals who are affected by the disease of addiction. With locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania, we offer a variety of programs for adults and teens. Get in touch with us to start your recovery today.

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