Understanding Alcohol & Drug Addiction
One of the potential dangers of substance misuse is the risk of developing an addiction (substance use disorder). Addiction is a treatable chronic condition that impacts every aspect of a person’s life, their loved ones, and the community. This article will discuss what addiction is, risk factors for substance use disorders, and effective treatment.
What is Drug or Alcohol Addiction?
Addiction is a progressive and chronic disorder characterized by the compulsive seeking and using of drugs or alcohol, despite the negative (sometimes extremely detrimental) consequences.1,2.
Addiction affects how the brain functions; it impacts the areas responsible for reward, pleasure, motivation, behavior, and impulse control.2 Once these brain changes occur, the person’s capacity to choose not to use substances becomes extremely compromised. This is why the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other major organizations on addiction call this disorder a brain disease and reject the idea that it results from a lack of self-control or moral failing.3
How Does Addiction Start?
When someone misuses drugs and alcohol, over time they may eventually lose their ability to control their use even when it causes problems in their relationships, their health or other areas of their life.2 However, this does not happen to everyone. Certain factors may increase a person’s vulnerability to developing a substance use disorder.3
Specific risk factors for the development of substance use disorders include:3,4,5
- Early exposure to drugs (such as witnessing parental drug use).
- Exposure to trauma, abuse, or neglect — especially during childhood.
- Poor parental monitoring.
- Family history of substance use.
- Use of drugs or alcohol in youth (the earlier drug use begins, the more likely addiction will develop at some point).
- Acceptance of drug or alcohol use by family or friends.
- Lack of engagement in school/poor academic performance.
- High levels of stress at home, work, or school.
- Mental health issues (such as anxiety disorders or depression).
- Rejection of one’s sexual identity or gender expression by family.
- Exposure to racism.
- Lack of economic opportunity.
Commonly Used Addictive Drugs
Many drugs have the potential for misuse and addiction. A number of factors, including ease of access and social acceptability may increase the likelihood that someone may try a substance for the first time – or continue using it.6,7 Some of the most commonly used addictive drugs include:
- Alcohol. Due to its widespread availability and the fact that is legal for those 21 and over, alcohol is one of the more commonly used addictive substances. Between 2015 and 2019, alcohol-related deaths accounted for over 140,000 deaths annually.8
- Marijuana. With more and more states legalizing the use of cannabis products for medical and recreational purposes, marijuana use has been steadily increasing. Alarmingly, the potency of marijuana products is increasing as well. According to NIDA, the concentration of the active component of marijuana, THC, is over 11% higher today than it was in the 1990s. The increasing potency of cannabis products raises concerns that marijuana may be more harmful than it was in the past—especially for young people, as their brains are still developing.9
- Opioids. Opioid drugs can include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin and illicitly-manufactured fentanyl (IMF).10 Opioid misuse and overdose has grown to epidemic proportions in the last decade, with more than 107,00 opioid overdoses occurring in the U.S. between December 2020 and December 2021 alone.11 The addition of IMF into many street drugs, including heroin and cocaine, has driven rapidly rising overdose numbers in the U.S.11
- Stimulants. Stimulant drugs include illegal substances such as crystal meth and cocaine, as well as prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulant drugs may be misused for their ability to produce effects like increased wakefulness and sociability; however, they can also cause rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and hyperthermia.12
- Depressants. Depressant drugs include prescription medications like benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax), barbiturates (e.g., Luminal), and sleep aids (e.g., Ambien). Depressant drugs may be misused for their calming and relaxing effects; however, they slow brain activity and breathing, cause problems with movement and memory, lower blood pressure, and can cause a range of other side effects that can have negative consequences. Depressants are especially dangerous when used in combination with opioids or alcohol.13
How Common is Drug or Alcohol Addiction?
Addiction is a significant health and socioeconomic issue in the United States. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that almost 15% of the population — just over 40 million people — struggled with a substance use disorder in the previous year.14 The NSDUH also showed that in 2020, among those 12 years old and older: 14
- More than 28 million people had an alcohol use disorder, and more than 18 million people had a past-year illicit drug use disorder.
- About 6.5 million people were addicted to both alcohol and one or more illegal drugs in previous year.
- An estimated 2.7 million people had a past-year opioid use disorder.
- More than 14 million people had a past-year marijuana use disorder.
- More than 3 million people struggled with a past-year addiction to either illegal or legal stimulants.
How to Get Help for a Substance Use Disorder
Addiction is a complicated disorder that can affect your mental and physical health and other areas of your life,3 and getting specialized treatment from qualified professionals can save your life. If you or someone you love is showing , the team at River Oaks is here for you.
There are many options for getting help with drug addiction. River Oaks Treatment Center offers a full spectrum of evidence-based care at our to get you on the road to recovery. These options range from to a full continuum of care that includes , and . We also offer robust so that you have a plan and a community you can lean on when you leave our program.
With effective treatment and support, you can achieve and maintain recovery over the long term. We are available 24/7 to help you or your loved one begin your journey toward recovery. When you’re ready, we’re here to help.