What can cause addiction

Drug addiction (substance use disorder) - Symptoms and causes


Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person's brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medicine. Substances such as alcohol, marijuana and nicotine also are considered drugs. When you're addicted, you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes.

Drug addiction can start with experimental use of a recreational drug in social situations, and, for some people, the drug use becomes more frequent. For others, particularly with opioids, drug addiction begins when they take prescribed medicines or receive them from others who have prescriptions.

The risk of addiction and how fast you become addicted varies by drug. Some drugs, such as opioid painkillers, have a higher risk and cause addiction more quickly than others.

As time passes, you may need larger doses of the drug to get high. Soon you may need the drug just to feel good. As your drug use increases, you may find that it's increasingly difficult to go without the drug. Attempts to stop drug use may cause intense cravings and make you feel physically ill. These are called withdrawal symptoms.

Help from your health care provider, family, friends, support groups or an organized treatment program can help you overcome your drug addiction and stay drug-free.

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Drug addiction symptoms or behaviors include, among others:

  • Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — daily or even several times a day
  • Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts
  • Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended
  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug, even though you can't afford it
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
  • Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it's causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm
  • Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn't do, such as stealing
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you're under the influence of the drug
  • Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug

Recognizing unhealthy drug use in family members

Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish normal teenage moodiness or anxiety from signs of drug use. Possible signs that your teenager or other family member is using drugs include:

  • Problems at school or work — frequently missing school or work, a sudden disinterest in school activities or work, or a drop in grades or work performance
  • Physical health issues — lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, or red eyes
  • Neglected appearance — lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks
  • Changes in behavior — major efforts to bar family members from entering the teenager's room or being secretive about going out with friends; or drastic changes in behavior and in relationships with family and friends
  • Money issues — sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation; or your discovery that money is missing or has been stolen or that items have disappeared from your home, indicating maybe they're being sold to support drug use

Recognizing signs of drug use or intoxication

Signs and symptoms of drug use or intoxication may vary, depending on the type of drug. Below you'll find several examples.

Marijuana, hashish and other cannabis-containing substances

People use cannabis by smoking, eating or inhaling a vaporized form of the drug. Cannabis often precedes or is used along with other substances, such as alcohol or illegal drugs, and is often the first drug tried.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • A sense of euphoria or feeling "high"
  • A heightened sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased coordination
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Anxiety or paranoid thinking
  • Cannabis odor on clothes or yellow fingertips
  • Major cravings for certain foods at unusual times

Long-term use is often associated with:

  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Poor performance at school or at work
  • Ongoing cough and frequent lung infections

K2, Spice and bath salts

Two groups of synthetic drugs — synthetic cannabinoids and substituted or synthetic cathinones — are illegal in most states. The effects of these drugs can be dangerous and unpredictable, as there is no quality control and some ingredients may not be known.

Synthetic cannabinoids, also called K2 or Spice, are sprayed on dried herbs and then smoked, but can be prepared as an herbal tea. A liquid form can be vaporized in electronic cigarettes. Despite manufacturer claims, these are chemical compounds rather than "natural" or harmless products. These drugs can produce a "high" similar to marijuana and have become a popular but dangerous alternative.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • A sense of euphoria or feeling "high"
  • Elevated mood
  • An altered sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
  • Extreme anxiety or agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure or heart attack
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Violent behavior

Substituted cathinones, also called "bath salts," are mind-altering (psychoactive) substances similar to amphetamines such as ecstasy (MDMA) and cocaine. Packages are often labeled as other products to avoid detection.

Despite the name, these are not bath products such as Epsom salts. Substituted cathinones can be eaten, snorted, inhaled or injected and are highly addictive. These drugs can cause severe intoxication, which results in dangerous health effects or even death.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • Feeling "high"
  • Increased sociability
  • Increased energy and agitation
  • Increased sex drive
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Problems thinking clearly
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Psychotic and violent behavior

Barbiturates, benzodiazepines and hypnotics

Barbiturates, benzodiazepines and hypnotics are prescription central nervous system depressants. They're often used and misused in search for a sense of relaxation or a desire to "switch off" or forget stress-related thoughts or feelings.

  • Barbiturates. An example is phenobarbital.
  • Benzodiazepines. Examples include sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium).
  • Hypnotics. Examples include prescription sleeping medicines such as zolpidem (Ambien) and zaleplon (Sonata).

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability or changes in mood
  • Problems concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Memory problems
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Slowed breathing and reduced blood pressure
  • Falls or accidents
  • Dizziness

Meth, cocaine and other stimulants

Stimulants include amphetamines, meth (methamphetamine), cocaine, methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others) and amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis). They're often used and misused in search of a "high," or to boost energy, to improve performance at work or school, or to lose weight or control appetite.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • Feeling of happy excitement and too much confidence
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased energy and restlessness
  • Behavior changes or aggression
  • Rapid or rambling speech
  • Larger than usual pupils, the black circles in the middle of the eyes
  • Confusion, delusions and hallucinations
  • Irritability, anxiety or paranoia
  • Changes in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Nausea or vomiting with weight loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose (if snorting drugs)
  • Mouth sores, gum disease and tooth decay from smoking drugs ("meth mouth")
  • Insomnia
  • Depression as the drug wears off

Club drugs

Club drugs are commonly used at clubs, concerts and parties. Examples include methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also called MDMA, ecstasy or molly, and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, known as GHB. Other examples include ketamine and flunitrazepam or Rohypnol ― a brand used outside the U.S. ― also called roofie. These drugs are not all in the same category, but they share some similar effects and dangers, including long-term harmful effects.

Because GHB and flunitrazepam can cause sedation, muscle relaxation, confusion and memory loss, the potential for sexual misconduct or sexual assault is associated with the use of these drugs.

Signs and symptoms of use of club drugs can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Larger than usual pupils
  • Chills and sweating
  • Involuntary shaking (tremors)
  • Behavior changes
  • Muscle cramping and teeth clenching
  • Muscle relaxation, poor coordination or problems moving
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Heightened or altered sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Poor judgment
  • Memory problems or loss of memory
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Increased or decreased heart rate and blood pressure


Use of hallucinogens can produce different signs and symptoms, depending on the drug. The most common hallucinogens are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP).

LSD use may cause:

  • Hallucinations
  • Greatly reduced perception of reality, for example, interpreting input from one of your senses as another, such as hearing colors
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Rapid shifts in emotions
  • Permanent mental changes in perception
  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Flashbacks, a reexperience of the hallucinations — even years later

PCP use may cause:

  • A feeling of being separated from your body and surroundings
  • Hallucinations
  • Problems with coordination and movement
  • Aggressive, possibly violent behavior
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Lack of pain sensation
  • Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Problems with thinking and memory
  • Problems speaking
  • Poor judgment
  • Intolerance to loud noise
  • Sometimes seizures or coma


Signs and symptoms of inhalant use vary, depending on the substance. Some commonly inhaled substances include glue, paint thinners, correction fluid, felt tip marker fluid, gasoline, cleaning fluids and household aerosol products. Due to the toxic nature of these substances, users may develop brain damage or sudden death.

Signs and symptoms of use can include:

  • Possessing an inhalant substance without a reasonable explanation
  • Brief happy excitement
  • Behaving as if drunk
  • Reduced ability to keep impulses under control
  • Aggressive behavior or eagerness to fight
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Appearing under the influence of drugs, with slurred speech, slow movements and poor coordination
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Tremors
  • Lingering odor of inhalant material
  • Rash around the nose and mouth

Opioid painkillers

Opioids are narcotic, painkilling drugs produced from opium or made synthetically. This class of drugs includes, among others, heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, fentanyl and oxycodone.

Sometimes called the "opioid epidemic," addiction to opioid prescription pain medicines has reached an alarming rate across the United States. Some people who've been using opioids over a long period of time may need physician-prescribed temporary or long-term drug substitution during treatment.

Signs and symptoms of narcotic use and dependence can include:

  • A sense of feeling "high"
  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Agitation, drowsiness or sedation
  • Slurred speech
  • Problems with attention and memory
  • Pupils that are smaller than usual
  • Lack of awareness or inattention to surrounding people and things
  • Problems with coordination
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Runny nose or nose sores (if snorting drugs)
  • Needle marks (if injecting drugs)

When to see a doctor

If your drug use is out of control or causing problems, get help. The sooner you seek help, the greater your chances for a long-term recovery. Talk with your health care provider or see a mental health provider, such as a doctor who specializes in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.

Make an appointment to see a provider if:

  • You can't stop using a drug
  • You continue using the drug despite the harm it causes
  • Your drug use has led to unsafe behavior, such as sharing needles or unprotected sex
  • You think you may be having withdrawal symptoms after stopping drug use

If you're not ready to approach a health care provider or mental health professional, help lines or hotlines may be a good place to learn about treatment. You can find these lines listed on the internet or in the phone book.

When to seek emergency help

Seek emergency help if you or someone you know has taken a drug and:

  • May have overdosed
  • Shows changes in consciousness
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has seizures or convulsions
  • Has signs of a possible heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure
  • Has any other troublesome physical or psychological reaction to use of the drug

Staging an intervention

People struggling with addiction usually deny they have a problem and hesitate to seek treatment. An intervention presents a loved one with a structured opportunity to make changes before things get even worse and can motivate someone to seek or accept help.

It's important to plan an intervention carefully. It may be done by family and friends in consultation with a health care provider or mental health professional such as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, or directed by an intervention professional. It involves family and friends and sometimes co-workers, clergy or others who care about the person struggling with addiction.

During the intervention, these people gather together to have a direct, heart-to-heart conversation with the person about the consequences of addiction. Then they ask the person to accept treatment.

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Like many mental health disorders, several factors may contribute to development of drug addiction. The main factors are:

  • Environment. Environmental factors, including your family's beliefs and attitudes and exposure to a peer group that encourages drug use, seem to play a role in initial drug use.
  • Genetics. Once you've started using a drug, the development into addiction may be influenced by inherited (genetic) traits, which may delay or speed up the disease progression.

Changes in the brain

Physical addiction appears to occur when repeated use of a drug changes the way your brain feels pleasure. The addicting drug causes physical changes to some nerve cells (neurons) in your brain. Neurons use chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate. These changes can remain long after you stop using the drug.

Risk factors

People of any age, sex or economic status can become addicted to a drug. Certain factors can affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction:

  • Family history of addiction. Drug addiction is more common in some families and likely involves an increased risk based on genes. If you have a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with alcohol or drug addiction, you're at greater risk of developing a drug addiction.
  • Mental health disorder. If you have a mental health disorder such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder, you're more likely to become addicted to drugs. Using drugs can become a way of coping with painful feelings, such as anxiety, depression and loneliness, and can make these problems even worse.
  • Peer pressure. Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and misuse drugs, particularly for young people.
  • Lack of family involvement. Difficult family situations or lack of a bond with your parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can a lack of parental supervision.
  • Early use. Using drugs at an early age can cause changes in the developing brain and increase the likelihood of progressing to drug addiction.
  • Taking a highly addictive drug. Some drugs, such as stimulants, cocaine or opioid painkillers, may result in faster development of addiction than other drugs. Smoking or injecting drugs can increase the potential for addiction. Taking drugs considered less addicting — so-called "light drugs" — can start you on a pathway of drug use and addiction.


Drug use can have significant and damaging short-term and long-term effects. Taking some drugs can be particularly risky, especially if you take high doses or combine them with other drugs or alcohol. Here are some examples.

  • Methamphetamine, opiates and cocaine are highly addictive and cause multiple short-term and long-term health consequences, including psychotic behavior, seizures or death due to overdose. Opioid drugs affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, and overdose can result in death. Taking opioids with alcohol increases this risk.
  • GHB and flunitrazepam may cause sedation, confusion and memory loss. These so-called "date rape drugs" are known to impair the ability to resist unwanted contact and recollection of the event. At high doses, they can cause seizures, coma and death. The danger increases when these drugs are taken with alcohol.
  • MDMA ― also known as molly or ecstasy ― can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature. A severe spike in body temperature can result in liver, kidney or heart failure and death. Other complications can include severe dehydration, leading to seizures. Long-term, MDMA can damage the brain.
  • One particular danger of club drugs is that the liquid, pill or powder forms of these drugs available on the street often contain unknown substances that can be harmful, including other illegally manufactured or pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Due to the toxic nature of inhalants, users may develop brain damage of different levels of severity. Sudden death can occur even after a single exposure.

Other life-changing complications

Dependence on drugs can create a number of dangerous and damaging complications, including:

  • Getting an infectious disease. People who are addicted to a drug are more likely to get an infectious disease, such as HIV, either through unsafe sex or by sharing needles with others.
  • Other health problems. Drug addiction can lead to a range of both short-term and long-term mental and physical health problems. These depend on what drug is taken.
  • Accidents. People who are addicted to drugs are more likely to drive or do other dangerous activities while under the influence.
  • Suicide. People who are addicted to drugs die by suicide more often than people who aren't addicted.
  • Family problems. Behavioral changes may cause relationship or family conflict and custody issues.
  • Work issues. Drug use can cause declining performance at work, absenteeism and eventual loss of employment.
  • Problems at school. Drug use can negatively affect academic performance and motivation to excel in school.
  • Legal issues. Legal problems are common for drug users and can stem from buying or possessing illegal drugs, stealing to support the drug addiction, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or disputes over child custody.
  • Financial problems. Spending money to support drug use takes away money from other needs, could lead to debt, and can lead to illegal or unethical behaviors.


The best way to prevent an addiction to a drug is not to take the drug at all. If your health care provider prescribes a drug with the potential for addiction, use care when taking the drug and follow instructions.

Health care providers should prescribe these medicines at safe doses and amounts and monitor their use so that you're not given too great a dose or for too long a time. If you feel you need to take more than the prescribed dose of a medicine, talk to your health care provider.

Preventing drug misuse in children and teenagers

Take these steps to help prevent drug misuse in your children and teenagers:

  • Communicate. Talk to your children about the risks of drug use and misuse.
  • Listen. Be a good listener when your children talk about peer pressure and be supportive of their efforts to resist it.
  • Set a good example. Don't misuse alcohol or addictive drugs. Children of parents who misuse drugs are at greater risk of drug addiction.
  • Strengthen the bond. Work on your relationship with your children. A strong, stable bond between you and your child will reduce your child's risk of using or misusing drugs.

Preventing a relapse

Once you've been addicted to a drug, you're at high risk of falling back into a pattern of addiction. If you do start using the drug, it's likely you'll lose control over its use again — even if you've had treatment and you haven't used the drug for some time.

  • Follow your treatment plan. Monitor your cravings. It may seem like you've recovered and you don't need to keep taking steps to stay drug-free. But your chances of staying drug-free will be much higher if you continue seeing your therapist or counselor, going to support group meetings and taking prescribed medicine.
  • Avoid high-risk situations. Don't go back to the neighborhood where you used to get your drugs. And stay away from your old drug crowd.
  • Get help immediately if you use the drug again. If you start using the drug again, talk to your health care provider, your mental health provider or someone else who can help you right away.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

What Causes Addiction: Genetics & Environmental Factors

Reviewed by: Kristen Fuller

Written by: Lauren Brande

Edited by: Kelly Doran

Last updated on November 15, 2022

Addiction is a complex, chronic disease that affects the brain and occurs due to many different underlying causes.1 Scientific research around the world continues to identify various risk factors such as genetics and environment, which contribute to the development of an addiction. However, the causes of addiction are still not fully understood.15

Understanding more about what causes addiction may help you or a loved one prevent the development of an addiction. To help you better understand the nature of addiction, this article will look at:

  • How genes affect the development of addiction.
  • How environmental factors affect addiction.
  • Ways to help prevent addiction.
  • Types of addiction treatment.

About Addiction

Addiction, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), is a relapsing disorder that involves compulsive drug or alcohol use, meaning the individual is unable to cut back or quit, even when it negatively impacts a person’s life.16 Like other chronic diseases, addiction is treatable with a tailored combination of medication and behavioral therapies that meets a person’s needs.16

Diagnosing an addiction is best done by a medical professional. However, the criteria for substance use disorders in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) may be useful in recognizing the signs of addiction in yourself or someone you love.

If you or a loved one have experienced 2 or more of the following in the past 12 months, you may want to contact an addiction treatment professional to go over treatment options:2

  • A large amount of time is spent in activities to help you obtain alcohol or drugs.
  • You have tried many times to cut down or control substance use without success.
  • You experience a strong desire or craving to use drugs or alcohol.
  • Your substance use makes it difficult to fulfill major obligations at home, work and school.
  • You continue to use substances despite how they have contributed to personal or social problems.
  • Social, recreational and occupational activities are neglected when you use drugs or alcohol.
  • You repeatedly use substances in dangerous situations like driving a car.
  • You continue to use substances even though they may contribute to or cause physical and/or psychological problems.
  • You develop a tolerance to substances, which means you need to take higher doses or take it more often to achieve the same effects; or you experience a lessened effect with continued use from the same amount.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using a substance or significantly reduce the dose you take.

Causes of Addiction

It is still unclear what specifically causes addiction, as risk factors vary between each individual.16 Scientific research, shows that if a person has more risk factors for addiction, they may have a greater chance of misusing substances or developing an addiction.16

The following are known risk factors for addiction:3

  • Aggressive behavior in childhood.
  • Neglect from parents or guardians.
  • Experimenting with drugs or other substances.
  • Having access to drugs at school.
  • Poverty in the community.
  • Peer pressure.

Genetics and Substance Addiction

Genetics looks at how and why certain traits are passed from parents to children.4, 6 Although genes play a role in defining a person’s traits, environmental factors can also impact traits; environmental influences can even alter a trait.5

Addiction is considered moderately to highly heritable, meaning that genes can play a significant role in addiction especially the closer the genetic relationship. 6 In other words, people who have first-degree relatives (parents, children, siblings) who struggle with addiction may have an increased risk of developing an addiction themselves.

Drug addiction causes, like genetics, vary from drug to drug. While there is still no definitive link between genes and drugs, scientists have made some interesting discoveries. One found that risks for cannabis use disorder may have a strong genetic component.6

Additionally, scientists have found over 400 locations in the human genome that may influence activities like smoking or alcohol use.6 This means that scientists may be getting closer to identifying certain clusters of genes that contribute to a person developing an addiction.6

A history of mental health disorders in a family or a person may also play a role in addiction.3

Environmental Causes of Addiction

A person’s environment, or the people, places and things that they are exposed to may also influence whether they develop an addiction. Aspects of a person’s environment that may play a role in the development of alcohol and drug addiction include:3

  • Peer pressure: Friends are significant in adolescents’ lives. Peers may expose adolescents to drugs and influence their beliefs on what is right and wrong.
  • Unstable home environment: A person may experience various types of abuse at home and other chaotic events.
  • Parental drug use and criminal activity: Children of parents who use drugs and alcohol and are involved in criminal activity are at risk of abusing substances. Parents may introduce children to drugs, model negative behaviors and create environments that increase stress.
  • Presence of drugs at home and/or school: Exposure to drugs and alcohol can provide additional opportunities for children to experiment and possibly go on to develop an addiction.
  • Community attitudes and influence: If a community accepts substance use it may affect whether an individual develops an addiction.
  • Poor academic achievement: If a person isn’t performing well in school, they may turn to using substances.

Although environmental factors can put children at risk of addiction, protective factors can minimize the risk of addiction.7 Children who grow up with good parental support, positive relationships, a sense of community and anti-drug policies at school, and are able to develop self-control may be protected from some of the risk factors for addiction.3

Trauma and Addiction

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, may have a significant impact on a person’s physical and emotional health. Adverse childhood experiences can be stressful, traumatic events that may lead to physical and emotional difficulties, and even substance use disorder.8 Examples of traumatic childhood experiences include:9

  • Physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Verbal abuse.
  • Physical or emotional neglect.
  • Witnessing violence.
  • Having a family member with a mental illness.
  • Having an incarcerated family member.
  • Having a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Parental separation or divorce.
  • Stress related to military-family life such as deployment.

Each adverse childhood experience increases the risk of earlier drug use among adolescents and future problems with addiction.8

Mental Health

There is a strong link between a person’s mental health and the development of a substance use disorder.11 People may use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate or cope with mental health issues. Those who suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, are twice as likely to also have a substance use disorder.11 Those with conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder also have an increased risk of alcohol or drug addiction.11

A person is said to have a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis when more than one disorder or illness presents in the same person, for example, the presence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. 11

Both the cause of addiction and development of mental health disorders may be impacted by factors such as genetics, history of trauma and the environment.11 

In the United States, 7.7 million people have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.13 It’s difficult to determine if or how one lead to the other or which came first, but there does appear to be a relationship between co-occurring disorders.13

Neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, are impacted by substance use, but they also play a role in various other mental health conditions.11 Brain changes resulting from mental health disorders may impact or lead to substance use and vice versa. Also, changes in the brain due to a mental health disorder may impact how a person experiences the effects of substances.

Treatment of mental health disorders may reduce the likelihood of future drug use.11 In some cases, treating substance use disorders may also decrease the severity of mental health disorders. 11 Treatment for co-occurring disorders among adults and adolescents may include medication, family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and group therapy approaches.

Preventing Addiction

Addiction is a serious but preventable and treatable condition. Early intervention and preventive measures may decrease the risk of substance use and addiction in children and adolescents. Prevention includes affecting how people think, feel and act regarding substances and substance use.14

The following methods may be helpful at reducing and/or preventing substance use:7, 14

  • Increase the sharing of valuable information about mental health and SUDs.
  • Education that’s specifically about prevention
  • Presenting alternatives to substance use, such as fun activities and hobbies
  • Strategies to affect policy changes that impact social and home environments
  • Improve resources for communities to prevent substance misuse.
  • Access to addiction and mental health services and providing education about referrals

Promoting protective factors among children and adolescents may also prevent addiction. Protective factors include:7

  • Impulse control: The ability to manage urges or delay gratification.
  • Parental monitoring: Monitoring children’s behaviors, supporting their physical and emotional needs, setting limits and enforcing discipline.
  • Academic achievement: Encouraging and promoting success in school, as well as involvement in extracurricular activities outside of school.
  • Antidrug use policies: Advocating for drug-free schools and enforcing policies and laws.
  • Strong neighborhood attachment: Developing meaningful connections outside of the home with members of the community.

Preventive strategies may be less effective if a person has an existing addiction. People struggling with addiction may benefit from substance addiction recovery programs to help reduce their use.

American Addiction Centers has helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you or your loved one too. Check your insurance to find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies. You can also sign up 24/7 text support for addiction questions at your convenience, contact AAC at .

Types of Addiction Treatment

Several different types of treatment exist to help people struggling with addiction. Treatment can be beneficial at any point during a person’s substance use or recovery and should be tailored to a person’s needs. Treatment options include:

  • Detox: An important first step in the treatment process to help a person safely and comfortably withdrawal from substances. Detoxification is available at both inpatient and outpatient facilities at varying levels of intensity.
  • Inpatient or residential treatment: A type of treatment that involves staying at a facility and participating in several recovery services for a set period. Inpatient treatment can be helpful for people who prefer to be in a structured, drug-free environment, void of temptations or triggers.
  • Outpatient treatment: A type of recovery program that allows people to visit the facility to receive treatment services, but still live at home. People may come anywhere from a few hours a week to 20 hours a week, depending on their level of care. Outpatient programs may include detox, therapy, 12-Step groups, medication and drug counseling.
  • 12-Step programs: These include 12-Step based groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and are free to join. The only requirement is that you have a desire to stop using substances. The meetings provide individuals with a supportive and encouraging environment. Non-12-Step programs, such as SMART Recovery, are also available.
  • Dual diagnosis: Dual diagnosis programs specialize in helping people who struggle with both addiction and mental health issues. Treatment may involve group, individual and family therapy and medication management.

Health Insurance Providers and Coverage Levels

Visit the links below to find out more about insurance coverage levels for drug and alcohol rehab.

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance
  • Humana Insurance
  • Aetna Insurance
  • Kaiser Permanente Insurance
  • Cigna Insurance
  • Ambetter Insurance
  • UnitedHealthcare Insurance

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Articles Related to Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Treatment

5 most addictive substances and their effect on our brain



This rating was compiled by British psychiatrist, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology David Nutt and his research team.

1. Heroin

Heroin is an opioid drug that causes severe mental and physical dependence. This is due to the fact that when injected, the substance quickly penetrates the brain, easily overcoming the blood-brain barrier between the circulatory and central nervous systems. In the brain, it causes an increased production of dopamine. Experiments on experimental animals have shown an increase in the level of this pleasure hormone by 200%.

Heroin mimics natural brain chemicals that nature has created to control pain and increase pleasure.

An additional addictive mechanism is increased production of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Combined with the severe withdrawal symptoms—pain, anxiety, cramps, insomnia—it leads to a severe addiction. Withdrawal begins 4-24 hours after taking the last dose, and the addict is in dire need of another portion of the drug. In addition, the body quickly develops tolerance to heroin - a person needs more and more dose each time.

Heroin addicts often die of heart attacks, strokes, as the drug affects the state of the cardiovascular system. Another cause of death is exhaustion, which leads to constant stimulation of the central nervous system. Experts assigned this drug three points out of three possible according to the degree of dependence formation.

2. Cocaine

Cocaine is an alkaloid found in plants of the genus Erythroxylum. In nature, it acts as an insecticide and protects the leaves of shrubs from being eaten by insects. Cocaine has a powerful stimulating effect on the central nervous system, causing a feeling of euphoria.

Normally, the reward system in the brain works according to certain rules. A neurotransmitter – in this case, dopamine – enters the space between neurons called the synapse. Specialized receptors transmit a signal to respond to its appearance, then remove the neurotransmitter from the synapse to stop its effect.

Cocaine blocks dopamine reuptake systems, causing it to work again and again, leading to a whirlwind of pleasure.

However, cocaine euphoria does not last forever, and after the end of the drug, a phase of depression begins. Other side effects include fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia.

Cocaine is dangerous for the cardiovascular system. It causes powerful spasms that can lead to cerebral hemorrhage, disrupt the heart or other organs. Another negative effect is the state of acute psychosis, in which a person has little control over himself. In addition, there is a myth that cocaine is not addictive, but this is not true.

3. Nicotine

Nicotine, like cocaine, is an alkaloid that naturally performs the function of fighting insects. This is the main component of tobacco, which is addictive. Nicotine is quickly absorbed by the lungs and transported to the brain. It increases the activity of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which leads to the release of adrenaline. This temporarily stimulates various systems of the body, and the person feels more alert and active. And the release of dopamine accompanies smoking with a feeling of pleasure.

Nicotine is toxic, long-term use contributes to the development of cancer, ischemia, angina pectoris, and so on. WHO claims that up to 50% of smokers die from smoking-related causes.

4. Barbiturates

Sedatives and hypnotics based on barbituric acid have a depressant effect on the central nervous system. Depending on the dosage, the drugs may have a mild relaxing effect or lead to coma.

Barbiturates stimulate receptors for the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, resulting in slower transmission of impulses to the CNS. This leads to muscle relaxation, calming, eliminates anxiety. The problem of drug dependence was hushed up for a long time, but subsequently recognized and abandoned barbiturates in favor of benzodiazepines.

However, if cocaine and heroin are illegal, these drugs have been relatively available for a long time, which increases their danger.

5. Alcohol

Absolutely legal in most countries, alcoholic beverages are named the most dangerous drug in the world. They also become addictive fairly quickly. Animal studies have shown that alcohol increases dopamine levels by 40-360%.

Alcohol enhances the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) - the main inhibitory mediator of the nervous system. Therefore, the movements and speech of drunk people slow down, and a dose of alcohol relaxes. GABA gradually adapts to changes, reducing the activity of the corresponding receptors, which makes the brain dependent on alcohol.

If a person stops drinking alcohol, reduced activity of GABA receptors leads to a weakening of the nervous inhibition function, and the brain becomes more excitable.

At the same time, ethanol reduces the ability of another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to act on NMDA receptors. With prolonged use of alcohol, the number of these receptors increases. The brain becomes less receptive to alcohol and more receptive to glutamate. This increases excitability, leading to withdrawal symptoms: seizures, anxiety.

Another reason for the formation of addiction is the ability to quickly get energy to feed the brain. This requires acetate, an intermediate product of ethanol metabolism. The brain sits down on a simple source of energy. In the body of a regular drinking person, alcohol replaces the usual source of energy - glucose.

According to the World Health Organization, 3.3 million people die every year due to alcohol consumption. The statistics include diseases and injuries associated with drunkenness.

Dr. Nutt himself noted that the legal status of a drug is not necessarily associated with dependence or harm from it. Tobacco and alcohol occupy high positions in the ranking, but remain legal.

However, the existence of this list does not mean at all that substances that are not included in it do not cause addiction. Therefore, the rating should not be taken as a tool for dividing drugs into harmful and harmless. The use of any psychoactive substance has consequences.

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Drug addiction - signs of addiction

Drug addiction is a social problem. It is a mistake to think that homeless people or people with an unsuccessful life are becoming drug addicts. This can affect anyone. Someone in our environment who we don’t suspect at all can have drug problems, and despite this, have a great job, a great family or good grades in school and many friends.

Drug addiction is a disease, and how most diseases can affect anyone. There are many subtle signs of addiction that are very easy to miss. A person addicted to drugs rarely admits to being ill and almost always denies their addiction. You need to be able to see the details in order to react and help in time.

Signs of drug addiction

A drug addict often has behavioral changes. Suddenly completely changes interests. There are fluctuations in mood and activity - from excessive excitement and excess energy to apathy. Friendships with old friends are terminated and new acquaintances appear from nowhere in a short time. The style of clothing, a new hairstyle, earrings, tattoos may change. At the same time, launches in the field of personal care may take place.

There are attacks of aggression and anger, which disappear in a minute. More often such a person can be caught lying, cheating. The face, which up to this time was close to us, moves away, closes itself in itself, lives in its own world. These symptoms are so common that one can only assume problems. In addition, this behavior can cause depression. Changes in behavior are not always noticeable. Our life has acquired a fast pace, so there is not enough time to be attentive even to those who are close to us. But sometimes it pays to stop.

It is also worth paying attention to the appearance. The consequence of drug abuse is a sharp decrease in weight. Changes in the color of the skin of the face are also striking - it becomes earthy and pale, in addition, skin changes may appear on the face. The pupils are dilated or constricted. Another obvious sign of drug use is injection marks and bruising.

Symptoms of drug use

The effect after drug use depends on the type of drug, composition, dosage, and whether it is the first use or not. The following are common manifestations of the use of specific drugs:

  • marijuana and hashish cause increased appetite, relaxation, increased sense of smell and taste, euphoria, unreasonable laughter, disorientation, drowsiness, increased sweating, rapid pulse;
  • ecstasy - jaw clenching, eye twitching, sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, restlessness, agitation;
  • LSD - loss of sense of direction, distance and time, hallucinations, increased blood pressure, sweating, paranoia, agitation, dilated pupils;
  • hallucinogenic mushrooms - dilated pupils, sudden changes in mood, hallucinations caused by a sense of fear, a feeling of isolation, detachment from reality;
  • amphetamine - great excess of energy, good mood, insomnia, lack of appetite, dilated pupils, restlessness;
  • cocaine - dilated pupils, euphoria, increased sensory perception, increased hearing;
  • heroin - pupillary constriction, drowsiness, vomiting, itching;

Manifestation of addiction

Every narcotic drug is addictive, some to a lesser extent, others to a greater extent.

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