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Substance Abuse Symptoms and Causes. Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, and Treatment.

Updated: Oct 28, 2022


Personal struggles are an inevitable part of anyone’s life. At one point or another, you will face tremendous challenges that will test your belief system, perseverance, and faith in yourself. That’s just a reality of life’s absurdity.

That said, there’s not one person that always makes the right choices and coping mechanisms. Sometimes, in search of immediate remedy or relief from pain, confusion, and grief, we turn to abusive substances. Sadly, the healing they provide is nothing but short-lived.

Today marks the day that you try to deviate from these dangerous substances. As the adage goes, know thy enemy and know yourself; and in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. Let’s dive deep into the world of addiction, how you can defeat it, and proudly say that you’re more than the substance.

The Basic Psychology of Addiction

According to the NSDUH or National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2017, an estimated 19.7 million Americans suffer from substance use disorder.

In the worldwide battle to diminish this, we need to understand what addiction is, what causes it, and how to determine if it’s already a disorder. This chapter will help you understand the basic psychology of addiction.

Substance Use Disorder (Addiction)

Substance use disorder, or SUD, is a condition wherein a person is unable to control or limit their urges to use dangerous substances. These can include alcohol, cannabis, prescription medication, tobacco, or other illegal drugs and inhalants.

These substances will inevitably affect the person’s behavior and brain structure or functionality. The act often leads to the development of other mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, or anxiety.

Some of these drugs or substances are not illegal and can be taken in moderation. It is when the person’s basic functions are affected that it becomes an addiction.

What Causes Substance Abuse Addiction

There are numerous possible causes of substance addiction. They can range from peer pressure, family dynamics, trauma, and many others. All of them can be grouped into three general categories, which we’ll discuss below.


Biology refers to the person’s genetic structure or the genes they were born with. There is no such thing as an “addiction gene” yet. That said, strong evidence suggests that there is about a 30 to 70 percent chance for a person to develop SUD if an immediate family member struggles with the same disorder. Additionally, people with certain mental illnesses are more likely to develop SUD than those who weren’t.


A person’s immediate environment can significantly affect the onset of SUD or addiction. One of the most common examples of this is peer pressure. Those who grow up in areas where illegal drugs are prominent or have access to harmful substances are likely to develop SUD.

Other factors, such as parents’ negligence or lack of guidance, can also lead to SUD. Dysfunctional roles in the family and unhealthy attachment styles may not directly cause SUD, but they are contributors to the disorder.

That said, perhaps the most significant environmental factor that contributes to the development of SUD is trauma. It can range from physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, military combat, or witnessing a traumatic event.


Lastly, it is important to note that all of the factors we’ve mentioned play vital roles in a person’s development. This means that the presence or absence of these factors will reduce or increase a person’s risk of developing SUD.

For example, the teenage years are important in a person’s stages of development. That’s because this is the time when he develops most of his belief system and specific parts of the brain. Ergo, if he is exposed to illegal drugs during these years, the part of the brain responsible for self-control and decision-making might lean to substance use.

Defining Features of Addiction

Just as there are various causes of SUD, there are also numerous symptoms that characterize the disorder. Nonetheless, all of them fall under three major categories. Be sure to take note of the following defining features of addiction:


A person’s physical appearance will significantly change if he suffers from SUD. Sudden gain or loss of weight, often depending on the drug, is one typical example. They might also experience irregular sleeping patterns, unintelligible speech, unusual odors, and bloodshot eyes.

The general and rapid deterioration of a person’s physical appearance is one of the quickest and most noticeable ways to determine if he suffers from SUD. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that this is an inadequate method of diagnosing the disorder.


Because these harmful substances change the brain’s structure, a person’s psychological functioning will also deteriorate. People who suffer from SUD tend to feel paranoid or anxious most of the time. Additionally, they will often space out, lack motivation, or feel tired.

However, this does not mean that a person who shows excessive energy does not have SUD. People who battle addiction also tend to have extreme mood swings, so sudden bursts of energy are not impossible. Agitation or the inability to control one’s anger, combined with the sudden and inexplicable change in one’s personality, are also symptoms of SUD.


Aside from the person’s psychological structure and physical appearance, his behavior can also briefly tell you if he suffers from SUD or is headed down this path. People who begin to act secretively, neglect their duties to their friends and family, suddenly change their friends and hobbies, or experience financial and legal problems are likely to suffer or are already suffering from SUD.

Most Common Types of Addiction

Did you know that the US loses around $740 billion every year because of addiction? This is the total estimate if you combine the costs of workplace productivity reduction, crime-related losses, and healthcare expenses.

To understand more about addiction, let’s look into the three major types of substances that people consume. These are alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and drugs.

Alcohol Addiction

Around 74 percent of people who suffer from SUD have alcohol-related disorders. It’s one of the most prominent types of addiction, probably because it’s legal. Alcoholism is described as the person’s dependency on liquor and his inability to limit its consumption.

Risk Factors of Alcoholism

The development of alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, may be affected by a number of risk factors. These factors do not determine whether or not you will suffer from a drinking problem. However, they do point out that you are at risk of it, and you must take preventive measures.

People who have a family history of alcoholism are likely to develop the same disorder. Additionally, if they are exposed to alcohol at an early age, they are also expected to suffer the same results. Peer pressure, high levels of stress, and the frequent consumption of the substance are also contributing factors to the development of alcohol addiction.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

It is difficult to come up with a certified list of alcoholism symptoms because some people may appear sober even when they’re not. Nonetheless, signs of alcohol addiction may include a lack of interest in usual activities, restlessness, irritability, and even the presence of other mental health conditions.

Why Alcoholism Develops

The problem with alcohol, aside from the fact that it’s legal, is that it unbinds our personal limitations or inhibitions, allowing us to act more freely and carefree. This sudden burst of “feeling good” and “loosening up” is one of the reasons why we drink alcohol.

However, as we consume this stimulant more frequently, we also tend to increase our alcohol tolerance. For example, if it takes you one bottle of alcohol to feel better and good about yourself, after a while, you will need to drink two bottles to reach the desired effect.

Eventually, you will end up multiplying the amount of alcohol you need to consume to maintain its effects. Continuous consumption of alcohol in high doses will reduce the body’s ability to handle the stimulant. This is where the “depressant” part of the substance comes in.

In simpler words, the higher you go with alcohol, the further you’ll fall. Unfortunately, not all people can handle the “depressant” part. This is why they try to consume more of it and keep the “feel good” effect, which is then what leads to alcohol dependency or alcoholism.

Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a brain disorder that affects the brain’s circuits responsible for self-control, stress, and reward. It is characterized by the continuous use of dangerous drugs despite the negative effects on the person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. What’s worse is that these negative changes may still be present in the person even after withholding drug use.

Common Reasons Why People Take Drugs

There are numerous reasons why people take drugs, and the most common one is to feel good. Different types of drugs also have different effects. However, most of them, if not all, induce euphoria or intense pleasure.

Some drugs also make people feel better and bring them to a more relaxed state. That’s why people who suffer from stress, depression, and anxiety also take drugs to ease their minds.

Because of its effects on the mind and body, athletes and people who need to focus more on their studies or work also tend to take drugs. It allows them to enhance their cognitive and physical functioning and take on highly demanding activities or multiple tasks at once.

If It Brings About Positive Changes, Why Is It Bad?

At first glance, taking these drugs does seem to bring about positive changes. Focus improvement, enhancement of physical and mental functioning, as well as the immense feeling of pressure are all beneficial.

However, people who experience these changes tend to continually seek them. Ergo, they would continue to use these drugs to induce these effects. Over time, the person’s perception of his normal state is altered.

The person begins to think that his normal well-being is when he is under the influence of these drugs. They then become dependent on the substance, which leads to various health concerns.

Drug use will eventually lead to certain conditions like cancer, organ failure, or even brain damage. Additionally, they may also experience hallucinations or just the general decline of cognitive functioning. Any of these may lead to health deterioration, accidents, or even death.

Smoking Addiction

Smoking addiction is otherwise known as nicotine dependence. Nicotine is the main component of tobacco that’s primarily responsible for addiction. Aside from making it harder to quit, nicotine also provides the person with temporary pleasing effects on the brain.

Who Is at a Higher Risk of Being Addicted?

People who have early experiences or exposure to tobacco are more likely to be addicted to it. In fact, around 90 percent of all smokers started with the inhalant before reaching the age of 18. The younger you start smoking, the higher the likelihood of nicotine dependence.

How Nicotine Affects the Body

Nicotine provides the user with temporary but immediate relief from unpleasant emotions. It occurs when the chemical floods the brain’s circuits with dopamine, inducing immediate gratification or satisfaction.

Additionally, nicotine triggers an adrenaline rush by speeding up the person’s heart rate and raising his blood pressure.

These effects will gradually wear off after a few minutes. While it may not immediately lead to withdrawal symptoms, it does make the person feel a bit uncomfortable. This drives them to light another stick to reduce the unpleasant feeling of the chemical wearing down. As you can imagine, this practice can quickly develop into a cycle known as nicotine dependence.

Towards a Brighter Future

Substance use disorder is a disease, just like other illnesses we encounter. As such, you will find cures or treatment plans to overcome it. In this final chapter, we’ll show you how people living with SUD can head towards a brighter future.

Treatment Plans for Substance Use Disorder

Most treatment plans for SUD begin with detoxification and withdrawal. In a nutshell, the toxic substance will be released from the system under a controlled process while assisting the body cope with the gradual termination of drug dependence.

These two steps alone are not enough to completely eradicate SUD in an individual, which is why it’s important for the person to undergo a treatment plan. Some of the most common types of SUD treatment programs are listed below.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment refers to the provision of care and a treatment program to a patient in a controlled facility. There are two major types of residential treatment: long-term and short-term. Long-term residential treatment may last anywhere from six to 12 months. On the other hand, short-term residential treatment usually only takes three to six weeks.

Long-term treatment often includes a reexamination of a person’s beliefs, behavioral patterns, and self-concepts that lead to destructive actions, not just of the individual but also of his environment.

Short-term treatment often follows a 12-step approach. It was initially used to treat alcoholism but was later found to be effective on other substances as well. While the treatment requires the patient to stay in the facility, the follow-up therapy and self-help group participation may be done as an outpatient.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is often less expensive than residential. It refers to treatment programs that don’t require the patient to stay in a facility 24/7. Outpatient treatment programs are great options for individuals who need to attend to other responsibilities, like their jobs or families.

However, some programs are less effective than residential treatment. On the other hand, some practices of this treatment, like intensive group or individual counseling, can significantly reduce the possibility of relapsing.

Individualized Counseling

Individualized counseling can be characterized as a personal intensive drug treatment program covering the major aspects of the patient’s life. Aside from eliminating the urges to use drugs and various substances, individualized counseling also addresses areas that have been affected by drug use. This includes familial relationships, social skills, and even employment status.

Group Counseling

Some cases of substance use disorder began with peer pressure. In that case, it might also be an efficient method of diminishing it.

Group counseling refers to the method of undergoing therapy with other SUD patients. It offers a safe space for individuals to talk about their struggles without being judged, considering that the people he talks to are somehow in the same predicament. Additionally, it also allows individuals to learn from each other on how to cope with addiction and the withdrawal from it.

How To Live with Addiction

Addiction can significantly impair various aspects of a person’s life. However, through discipline, therapy, and various treatment techniques, a person can reverse its effects and live a normal life again. For that to be possible, the individual must try to practice the following tips:

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness are good practices not just for people with SUD but for everyone from all walks of life. These allow us to gain more control over our thoughts, emotions, and cognitive processes. Through this, a person with SUD can be better adept at handling triggers and urges that lead to drug use.


Some underlying causes of SUD include depression, anxiety, and stress. Exercising does not only improve our physical health but our mental capacity as well. Through exercise, we encourage our brains to release chemicals that help battle drug abuse. Additionally, exercising also releases toxins from harmful substances that damage the body.

Drink and Eat Healthy

As the adage goes, you are what you eat. Surviving addiction means living a healthier lifestyle and having a healthy body. For that to happen, you need to drink and eat healthy as well. Refrain from consuming unhealthy foods, as this can significantly affect your cognitive structure.

Determine Your Triggers

This goes back to what we said from the beginning; you have to know your enemy. You need to pay attention to the patterns around you and determine what events or occurrences drive you to seek illegal or harmful substances. By doing so, you can start avoiding these triggers, therefore preventing you from using drugs.

Talk to Someone

People who tend to repress their emotions and not process their thoughts are more at risk of developing SUD. That’s how important it is to talk to someone. While having a family member or friend listen to you might help, it’s very important that you seek professional help. It’s one of the few guarantees that a person with addiction wouldn’t relapse.

Why Therapy Is Essential to Treat Addiction

Some people are quick to assume that once all the toxins are flushed out of the body, they are cured of addiction. However, SUD is more of a mental disorder than it is a physical one.

Despite freeing your body from the substance, your brain might still be wired to seek these harmful substances, leading you to relapse. In some cases, the relapse is worse than when the person first became addicted.

So, to lessen the risk of relapsing, those who suffer from SUD must undergo therapy. This guarantees a continuous motivation that drives the person to stray away from illicit substances.

Additionally, therapy helps the person address various factors that have been impaired by drugs. It can range from social relations to personal beliefs. Through therapy, a person is better able to restore relationships and address triggers like stress and anxiety.


Addiction is an illness, and the moment we realize that the quicker we can address it. People who suffer from SUD just need the right support system and treatment plan to regain control over their lives. This is hope. There is a solution.

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