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Alcohol and Drug Addiction: Signs, Complications and Rehab

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex and chronic condition characterized by an inability to control or consistently abstain from substance use in spite of all the harm it causes.1,2,3 Addiction is the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol despite any negative consequences.13 Addiction is when drug or alcohol use does not stop and the individual fails to meet school, work, social, and family commitments.13 It may also involve tolerance and withdrawal.13

In some cases, the road to addiction may start with intentional use of drugs and alcohol but, at some point, the person’s decision to continue using becomes increasingly out of their control.2,3,4 Eventually, seeking and consuming the drug/alcohol becomes a compulsion.2,3

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Signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug addiction

While there can be signs that someone is struggling with addiction, it can also be difficult to identify that someone has a problem because they will often be secretive and attempt to hide the issue from their loved ones. The secrecy can make it more difficult to recognize that someone is struggling with addiction.

Once an individual recognizes that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, a diagnosis can be made. Diagnosis of an addiction requires an evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.15

Individuals who are dealing with addiction may display addictive behaviors. Those signs and symptoms may include the following:15-17

  • specific signs and symptoms of drug addictionBloodshot eyes.
  • Rapid weight changes.
  • Changes in hygiene and appearance.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Increased irritability or aggression.
  • Changes in a social network.
  • Needing to use drugs regularly (every day or more than once a day).
  • Having intense urges for the substance.
  • Problems at school or work.
  • Lack of energy and motivation.
  • Issues with money (missing money, borrowing it without explanation).
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence.
  • Continuing drug or alcohol use despite negative consequences.

What causes addiction?

Addiction is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and makes them unable to control their use of drugs or alcohol.17 There are also various factors that may contribute to an individual developing an addiction. Some of these factors include genetics, mental health disorders, memory disorders, and gender.


Both genetics and lifestyle factors may play a role in addiction. In fact, studies have shown that addictions are moderately to highly inherited.9 While addiction can be shaped by genetics, addiction initially occurs based on the choices of the individual. So, while genetics may make someone more likely to become addicted to a substance, it is not the sole factor that influences an individual’s likelihood to become addicted.9 Environment and exposure also play a role in helping genetics shape a person’s inclination toward addiction.

Mental Health Disorders

People who are struggling with addiction may also be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, or vice versa.10 Studies have found that around half of the people who experience a mental illness during their lifetime will also experience a substance use disorder (SUD).10 There are strong links shown between drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues. When an individual is dealing with substance abuse and a co-occurring disorder (including anxiety, depression, or PTSD) that is recognized as a dual diagnosis, and both disorders should be treated to provide the individual with the best chance at recovery.


Studies have shown that men and women may use drugs and alcohol differently as well as responding to it in unique ways. Men are more likely to use most types of illegal drugs and are also more likely to end up in the emergency department due to that illegal drug use.11 In most age groups, men use or are dependent on illegal drugs and alcohol at a higher rate than women. While women may be more likely than men to suffer from cravings and relapse, both genders share a similar likelihood to develop an SUD.1

Addiction and the brain

Addiction affects areas of the brain involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and control over behavior.1,2,3 Substance addiction does not develop as a function of choice; it is instead born from a complex interplay of many different factors, including genes, trauma, drug access, and community influences.1

In addition, different groups have unique issues that surround their individual addictions, and these people may benefit from different types of tailored  addiction treatment that take into account culture, gender, age, and socioeconomic factors.6

The withdrawal syndromes associated with certain types of physical substance dependence can be markedly unpleasant and/or dangerous.

People at risk of a severe or complicated withdrawal stand to benefit from the added supervision, monitoring, and, when required, medications able to be administered in a medical detox setting.2,7,8 Professional detoxification services are available to help you through distressing withdrawal symptoms, helping provide comfort and safety throughout the process.2

Addiction statistics

In 2019, 60.1% of people 12 and older used a substance in the past month.

  • 7 million people (50.8%) drank alcohol.
  • 1 million people (21.1%) used a form of tobacco.
  • 8 million people (13%) used an illicit drug.

Drug and alcohol addiction and SUDs are not uncommon. If you are struggling with addiction, you are not alone. In 2019, there were 20.4 million people 12 and older dealing with a SUD.12

  • 5 million people (71.1%) had an alcohol use disorder.
  • 3 million people (40.7%) had an illicit drug use disorder.
  • 4 million people (11.8%) had both an AUD and an illicit drug use disorder.

Of the people struggling with a SUD, only 4.2 million people (1.5%) obtained any type of substance use treatment in 2019.12

Common Addictions

People struggle with addiction to various substances, both legal and illicit. Learn more about the addictions and treatment below:

Finding rehab treatment for alcohol and drug addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation involves various steps, but the first step is the acknowledgment that you or your loved one has a SUD. Once you determine that you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, the next step is to pursue treatment. To learn more about treatment for addiction, click here.

The journey from a substance use disorder (SUD) to a healthy, sober life is not a quick and easy one. Overcoming addiction is often very challenging and, for many, it takes a lifelong commitment of dedication and hard work. The road toward sobriety may be difficult, but professional treatment helps many people start that endeavor.

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Treatment doesn’t have to be expensive; to better understand if your insurance will cover most or all of the treatment, check your insurance coverage today.

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