Addiction, clinically referred to as substance use disorder, is a complex, chronic, and potentially fatal brain disease that affects millions of people. Addiction has long been misunderstood and stigmatized in society, with many who believe that addiction is a choice and can be easily fixed. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. More than 23 million adults in the United States have struggled with problematic drug use. Addiction costs the United States $600 billion annually, and evidence based treatment can help to reduce this cost.
Addiction results from many biological, psychological, interpersonal and social factors. What may start as recreational and social drinking or drug use can sometimes lead to misuse or addiction. Like other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental, and biological factors. Genetics likely play an important part in the development of substance use disorders, however they are not the only factor. Many different life experiences can lead to the development of a substance use disorder.
Signs of Addiction
Addiction involves the continued use of substances despite negative consequences. It often includes impairment of functioning that can impact everyday decisions. Some signs of substance use disorder include:
- Strain in family or social relationships
- Decline in physical health
- Failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, home or school
- Legal trouble
- Financial trouble
Depending on the substance, signs of addiction can be different. Learn more about signs of addiction for those using any or a combination of the following:
How Does Addiction Affect The Brain?
Addiction affects the brain on many levels. While basic enjoyable activities release dopamine in the brain, drugs and alcohol can release a surge of dopamine and cause a sense of euphoria. Over time, someone who is in active addiction will develop a tolerance, and therefore need more and more of the substance to achieve the same desired effects. This can lead to the experience of using not only to feel the substance’s euphoric effects but to also feel “normal.”
In active addiction, the brain categorizes substance use as a survival mechanism. When people in active addiction experience cravings, the feeling of “needing” to drink or use comes from the midbrain, which is responsible for survival and rewards.
Prolonged drug and alcohol use can also affect communication between the midbrain and the prefrontal cortex, which allows the ability to problem solve, make decisions, and exert self-control. Prolonged substance use alters the brain and reduces the person’s ability to make sound decisions and diminishes impulse control.
Who Does Addiction Affect?
Addiction affects everyone: all ages, genders, nationalities, professions, races, and ethnicities. Additionally, addiction impacts not only the person using substances, but also people close to them like family, friends and coworkers.
In 2018, nearly 28% of students in grades 8-12 reported having used an illicit drug at some point in their lives.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of active-duty service members partake in binge drinking habits.
37% of college students have used an illicit drug, with marijuana as the most frequently used drug among college students.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who identify as LGBTQ face social stigma and discrimination that significantly increases the risk of behavioral health issues like developing a substance use disorder.
According to Today’s Geriatric Medicine, 8 million older adults exhibit symptoms of substance use disorder.
According to the US Firefighters Association, as many as 10% of firefighters may be misusing substances.