Addiction, Drug Abuse, and Substance Use Disorders

Written By: Facility Staff

Edited By: Editorial Team

Published Date: 02/02/24

Last Updated: 02/02/24

Addiction, drug abuse, and substance use disorders are closely related medical issues faced by millions of Americans every day.

Each of these conditions can bring a great deal of pain and complication to both an individual’s life and the lives of those who love and care about them.

However, with access to vital resources and help that is understanding and compassionate, people living with addiction can start working toward a drug-free lifestyle.

At Otter House Wellness, we offer support, guidance, and targeted treatment options in the southeastern United States to help you recover from addiction.

Addiction: Quick Definition

Addiction is a state of being during which a person engages in compulsive behaviors and actions, most notably involving the continued use of alcohol or a specific drug of choice.

Addiction, also called substance use disorder or SUD, can also be non-substance-related, instead revolving around specific activities or behaviors, like using social media or shopping.

These compulsive behaviors result from strong and intense cravings that the person experiences for a substance once they become mentally and physically reliant on it.

The cravings and desire to use substances can be so strong that a person will continue to use them no matter what health problems, legal problems, or other harmful consequences they face.

Key Facts on Addiction, Drug Abuse, and SUD

  • Around 1 in 10 Americans have an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  • Around 1 in 3 Americans have an addiction of some form, including behavioral addictions.
  • Only around 10% of people who are living with addiction seek or attend a professional treatment program.
  • Opioid overdose is currently one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States.
  • There are roughly 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States each year, with around 70% of those involving opioids .
  • 70% of people who try illicit drugs before the age of 13 will develop an addiction or substance use disorder within 7 years.

How Does Addiction Start?

Once addiction starts, it can be difficult to stop without dedication and hard work. But how does addiction start in the first place?

Reasons People Use Drugs or Alcohol

Everyone who uses drugs or alcohol does so for their own reasons, and rarely does anyone do so with the intention of becoming addicted.

Reasons begin using drugs or alcohol include:

  • For fun
  • To escape their problems
  • To relax
  • To fit in with others who are using drugs or alcohol
  • Because they are curious
  • To feel good or to avoid pain

Perceived Positive Effects vs. the Need to Continue Drug Use

When a person first starts using a substance, they may enjoy their experience and are unlikely to see a problem if they continue using that substance.

In addition, drugs, alcohol, and certain behaviors tend to produce pleasurable feelings at first — like reduced pain, altered moods, joy, feelings of ease, stress relief, and more.

Problems occur when the person loses their ability to control their use of that substance in moderation, and starts needing more and more of the substance in order to feel its positive effects.

How Drugs and Alcohol Affect the Brain

Drugs and alcohol interact with neurotransmitters inside the brain to affect how people experience pleasure and pain.

They also alter the way brain cells process signals, and can thus alter emotions, thought processes, and perceptions, and also cause headaches and seizures.

Is Addiction a Choice?

No, addiction is not a choice and most people who are facing addiction would choose not to be if they had the option.

The initial alcohol or drug use is a choice, however. It stops being a choice once a person has been using a substance long enough that their brain chemistry has changed.

At this point, people may want to change their behavior but will likely feel powerless to do so, depending on the severity of their addiction.

Addiction and Dependence: The Ongoing Cycle

Addiction and dependence are closely related, but are not quite the same health condition.

Addiction is a mental and behavioral reliance on a substance. Someone who is addicted to a substance will seek it out despite being aware that it is harming them.

Dependence is a physical reliance on a drug or alcohol. Someone who is dependent on a substance will have a hard time functioning in their everyday lives or normal activities without it.

Both addiction and dependence can make quitting drugs or alcohol hard, but dependence can make it dangerous, thus creating a repetitive cycle.

What Causes Addiction to Develop?

Addiction results from certain actions that take place in a person’s brain while using substances, and particularly in their brain’s reward center.

When a person uses drugs or alcohol, dopamine is released in their body. This makes them feel good, or “rewarded.”

Because people love feeling good, they may continue to seek more of this feeling by using more of a substance, becoming more desensitized to the reward feelings they receive with each use.

Over time, they will find themselves needing to take more of the substance in order to feel the same reward, making it difficult for them to stop altogether or even slow down.

Risk Factors for Addiction

While no one is completely safe or immune from the effects of substance abuse and addiction, people may be more likely to face addiction if certain risk factors are present in their lives.

Risk factors for addiction include:

  • A family history of addiction: genetics has been shown to play a role in the presence of addiction.
  • Family life and environmental factors: having family members who were abusive or neglectful during childhood can also lead to substance abuse later in life.
  • Easy access to drugs or alcohol: people who are easily able to obtain substances are more likely to build and maintain an addiction.
  • Co-occuring mental health disorders: such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or behavioral health conditions like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Early drug or alcohol use: studies show that the earlier a person starts using drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to become addicted later.
  • Drug and method of choice: some drugs are more naturally addictive than others, with some methods of ingestion providing a stronger and faster high.

Who Experiences Addiction?

The hard truth of the matter is that all demographic groups experience addiction. No group of people is untouched by the effects of substance use disorder.

Here are some quick facts on the groups of people most affected by substance abuse:

  • Addiction is more common in males than in females.
  • Substance use disorder is most common between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Illegal drug use is more than four times as common in large metropolitan cities as it is in smaller rural areas.
  • Illicit drug use is more common in certain demographic groups like veterans and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Types of Addiction

Addiction is a broad term that can refer to either addiction to drugs or alcohol or addiction to a certain behavior.

Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can generally be classified into two groups: addiction to illicit drugs (illegal drugs) or addiction to prescription drugs.

Both are equally as dangerous, can completely disrupt a person’s life and relationships, and may turn life-threatening if left unaddressed. 

Types of illicit/street drug addictions include:

  • Heroin
  • Marijuana/cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • PCP
  • Hallucinogens

It is important to note that certain substances, like inhalants, cannot be classified as a street drug because they can be obtained legally, while it is their misuse that is considered dangerous.

Types of prescription drug/medication addictions include:

  • Benzodiazepines, like Xanax
  • Amphetamines, like Adderall or Vyvanse
  • Opioids, like fentanyl or Vicodin

Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction occurs when a person has trouble controlling the amount and frequency with which they consume alcohol, even when it is causing problems to multiple areas of their lives.

Addiction to alcohol is the most common type of addiction in America, largely due to it being legal and easily accessible in places as common as gas stations and grocery stores.

Behavioral Addiction

Addiction can also be non-substance-related, and can instead be a compulsion to engage in a specific behavior or action.

Types of behavioral addiction include:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Pornography addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Self-harm addiction
  • Internet/social media addiction

Side Effects & Complications of Addiction

Over time, the effects of addiction can be far-reaching — affecting a person’s work, school, family life and relationships, and even their ability to function and take care of themselves.

Just a few side effects and complications of addiction include:

  • Addiction to stimulants, like cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause insomnia, weight loss, increased heart rate, and an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Addiction to depressants, like alcohol or opioids, can cause sleep problems and sedation, irritability, damage to internal organs, and an increased risk for overdose.
  • Behavioral addictions can cause both physical complications, as in the case of an eating disorder or self-harm addiction, as well as emotional complications, like embarrassment or shame.

Addiction Treatment Options by Type

While all types of addiction treatment options share some characteristics, there are types of treatment that are more specific for either drugs, alcohol, or behavioral addictions.

Top Treatments for Drug Addictions

Treatments used for drug addiction should be highly individualized and targeted, as each person has their own needs and co-occurring mental health disorders or trauma that must be addressed.

The specific treatments used with drug addiction can also depend heavily on the drug that a person is addicted to, as they can have vastly different effects and withdrawal symptoms.

Top treatments for drug addictions include:

  • Inpatient treatment for severe addictions
  • Outpatient treatment for less severe addictions or step down treatment
  • Medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders
  • Medically monitored detox
  • Dual diagnosis care for co-occurring disorders
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Alternative therapy
  • Aftercare and relapse prevention support

Top Treatments for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is treated in many of the same ways as drug addiction, with an emphasis on detox as the withdrawal period of alcohol addiction can be life-threatening in severe cases.

Top treatments for alcohol addiction include:

  • Medical detox
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Residential treatment
  • Aftercare
  • 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Support groups
  • Having a sober sponsor while in recovery

Top Treatments for Behavioral Addiction

Treatments for behavioral addiction focus on the person’s mental health and behavioral health, and depend on the severity of the person’s behavioral addiction.

Top treatments for behavioral addiction include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Individual, family, or relationship counseling
  • Support groups
  • Medications

Addiction Recovery Resources

You can use the following resources if you need additional information or help in locating addiction treatment in your area.

Drug Addiction Resources

These informational and advocacy resources are available to both adults and adolescents who are living with an alcohol or drug misuse disorder.

Drug addiction resources include:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders Administration (SAMHSA)— an important resource for all topics substance abuse and mental health related, this government website also provides a comprehensive treatment locator.
  • Narcotics Anonymous— an organization that provides resources and 12-step meetings for individuals living with addiction, they also offer a meeting locator that allows you to search by both meeting type and location.
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety— a resource for people looking to recover from drugs or alcohol without incorporating a religious or spiritual aspect, this organization offers support group meetings both online and in person.

Alcohol Addiction Resources

There are also resources targeted for people who have an alcohol use disorder specifically.

Alcohol addiction resources include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous— an organization that provides information and education on the 12-step program and local meetings in most cities around the United States.
  • Al-Anon Family Groups— this organization offers supportive resources and meetings for the family members and loved ones of alcoholics.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism— as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this helpful resource offers information on alcoholism for individuals and professionals, and a treatment locator specific to alcohol treatment.

Behavioral Addiction Resources

Behavioral addiction resources are also available but will most likely be directed toward a specific behavioral addiction, like gambling disorders or sex addiction disorders.

Behavioral addiction resources include:

  • National Problem Gambling Helpline— this organization connects people to local support for gambling addictions as well as offers a helpline that is available 24/7/365 and in all 50 states.
  • American Psychiatric Association— this organization provides an abundance of helpful resources to individuals, families, and professional health care providers that can help them better understand mental health and addictive behaviors.  
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness— an organization that provides information, advocacy, and a national helpline to provide help to adults and teens struggling with their mental or behavioral health.  

Find Hope and Support in Addiction Recovery

If you or a loved one is currently living with a substance use disorder or addiction, you do not have to face the struggles alone.

Help is available as soon as you are ready for it.

At Otter House Wellness, we offer comprehensive recovery care, tailored treatment programs, treatment advocates, and much more to help you seek a sober future.

For more information on how you can get started on your own path to recovery and wellness, contact us at Otter House Wellness today.

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   Heroin Addiction

What are the causes of addiction?

Addiction has many possible causes, and there is no singular cause or reason why some people are more prone to addiction than others.

Possible causes of addiction include:

  • A family history of drug or alcohol addiction
  • Having easy access to drugs or alcohol
  • Beginning drug or alcohol use at a young age
  • Having a drug of choice that is highly addictive

What is the most common form of treatment for addictions?

Some of the most common and effective forms of treatment for addiction are inpatient treatment, medication-assisted treatment, and counseling and therapy.

More specific types of therapy that are often used when treating addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.

What percentage of addicts recover?

According to a 2021 national survey by SAMHSA, approximately 72.2% of adults who have ever had a substance use disorder considered themselves to be either recovered or in the process of recovery.


Cleveland Clinic. “Addiction.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 17, 2024.

Mayo Clinic. “Drug addiction (substance use disorder).” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 17, 2024.

National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. “Drug Abuse Statistics.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 17, 2024.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Treatment and Recovery.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 17, 2024.

SAMHSA. “SAMHSA Announces National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Results Detailing Mental Illness and Substance Use Levels in 2021.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 17, 2024.

Addiction, drug abuse, and substance use disorders are closely related medical issues faced by millions of Americans every day.

Each of these conditions can bring a great deal of pain and complication to both an individual’s life and the lives of those who love and care about them.

However, with access to vital resources and help that is understanding and compassionate, people living with addiction can start working toward a drug-free lifestyle.

At Otter House Wellness, we offer support, guidance, and targeted treatment options in the southeastern United States to help you recover from addiction.

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