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Alcohol and Drug Addiction: Symptoms & Treatment Options

Addiction, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic but treatable disease.1, 2 If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug use, addiction rehab can help you safely stop using substances and start the path to recovery.2

This page will help you learn more about addiction, including the causes of addiction, different addiction treatment options, and how to find a rehab near you.

What Is Addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive substance use despite experiencing negative consequences.1

A person struggling with addiction may have an intense focus on a substance to the point where they cannot effectively function in day-to-day life. They may keep using the substance even though they are aware of the negative effects it causes.2

Addiction is considered a brain disorder because chronic substance use can lead to changes that affect areas of the brain responsible for stress, reward, and self-control.1 These changes can cause a person to lose control over their substance use and can persist long after a person stops using the substance.1

Medical professionals diagnose addiction as a substance use disorder (SUD), and there are specific types of SUD depending on the substance used. For example, alcohol addiction is diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder (AUD) while opioid addiction is diagnosed as an opioid use disorder (OUD). In addition to substances, there are also other types of addiction, such as gambling and internet gaming addiction.2

What Causes Addiction?

Addiction doesn’t have a single cause but is instead the result of a complex interaction between biological and environmental factors.1

A person may make the initial decision to use alcohol or drugs, but different risk factors can influence whether they will develop an addiction.1 The more risk factors a person has can increase the risk of developing an addiction. On the other hand, protective factors, such as access to community resources and parental monitoring and support, can reduce a person’s risk.1 Not everyone who uses alcohol or drugs will become addicted to those substances.1

Biological factors that can influence addiction risk are those related to a person’s brain chemistry and genetics, such as having a mental health condition or a family history of addiction.1 Environmental factors that can influence addiction risk are those related to a person’s surroundings, including their community, family, and peers.1

There are many risk factors associated with addiction. Some common risk factors include:1

  • Aggressive behavior in childhood.
  • A lack of parental supervision.
  • Peer pressure.
  • Having access to alcohol or drugs.
  • Experimenting with alcohol or drugs.
  • Using alcohol or drugs at an early age.
  • Exposure to physical or sexual abuse.
  • Growing up in an impoverished community.

The way a drug is used, including injecting or smoking, can also increase the likelihood of addiction development due to the more rapid onset of effects.1

Symptoms of Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Substance use disorder (SUD) can only be diagnosed by a medical or mental health professional using criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).3 While you should not attempt to diagnose yourself or anyone else, it can be helpful to understand the criteria so that you know when it might be time for you, or a loved one, to seek alcohol or drug addiction treatment.

The criteria for SUD include:3

  • Using a substance in larger amounts or for longer than originally intended.
  • Having a desire to but being unable to cut down or stop using the substance.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • Experiencing intense urges or desires to use the substance (cravings).
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work due to substance use.
  • Continuing to use the substance even though it causes or worsens social or interpersonal problems.
  • Giving up social, recreational, or occupational activities due to substance use, and withdrawing from family or social activities and hobbies to use the substance.
  • Using the substance in dangerous situations (such as while driving).
  • Continuing to use the substance despite knowing a physical or psychological problem is caused or worsened by substance use.
  • Tolerance, or needing to use more of the substance to experience previous effects.
  • Withdrawal, or experiencing unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms when substance use is reduced or stopped.

To meet the criteria for SUD, a person must meet at least two of the criteria in a 12-month period.3

Types of Addiction Treatment

The rehab process can look different for everyone and addiction treatment can take place in different settings at varying levels of intensity. The proper treatment setting will be determined by a comprehensive evaluation.4 This involves an assessment where a patient’s medical status, mental health, substance use, and other unique considerations are examined to ensure they are placed in the appropriate treatment program for their needs.4

Medical Detox for Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Some patients may begin the recovery process with medical detox, which involves a set of interventions designed to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal.5 It provides medical supervision and monitoring that can help prevent potentially life-threatening symptoms and complications that may occur due to withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.5 Depending on the specific substance, patients may receive medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and control cravings.5

Medical detox is designed to help patients more comfortably and safely stop using substances and achieve a medically stable state. This can help them better transition to a form of ongoing treatment, such as inpatient or outpatient rehab, once detox has been completed.5

Inpatient Rehab for Addiction

Inpatient addiction rehab is a form of treatment where patients live full-time at an addiction treatment facility. This can help some patients better focus on their recovery without the distractions of the outside world.4 Patients participate in different forms of therapy and other treatments, and many rehabs also offer additional programs, such as GED classes or job skills training courses.4

Inpatient addiction treatment centers offer 24/7 support and monitoring that can address any needs that may arise day or night. This form of treatment may be well-suited for patients with severe addictions or co-occurring disorders (such as anxiety or depression), who lack a safe home environment, have little or no social support, and who lack stable employment.4

Outpatient Rehab for Alcohol and Drug Addiction

With outpatient addiction rehab, patients can continue to live at home but attend treatment on a regular schedule.4 Outpatient substance abuse rehabs can involve different levels of care, ranging from standard outpatient rehab that may involve attending treatment 1–3 times per week or on weekends to more supportive forms of treatment, such as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) that require treatment attendance for several hours per day, most days of the week.4

Aftercare Programs

Aftercare, also referred to as continuing care, is both a form of treatment and a type of post-treatment monitoring.6 It can support a person’s recovery progress, monitor their symptoms, and connect them with rehab services if they should return to substance use. 6 An aftercare program may include:5

  • Living in a sober living
  • Participating in 12-step meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • Attending alumni programs offered by their rehab.
  • Attending individual or group counseling.
  • Participating in family therapy.
  • Engaging in periodic follow-up contact with the counselor at the treatment center.

Finding Alcohol and Drug Rehab Near Me

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, you should know that effective treatment can help you navigate the path to recovery. You might start by consulting your doctor or a mental health practitioner to get an evaluation, discuss treatment options, and get referrals.

You can use our directories tool to find rehabs near you that meet your needs. Easily filter results by accepted insurance providers, location, and type of care. You can also call our free helpline at to speak with a caring admissions navigator to learn about different types of addiction treatment and discuss your alcohol or drug rehabilitation options.

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