Causes & Effects of Addiction

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about substance addiction and abuse

Substance abuse refers to the chronic and excessive consumption of drugs and/or alcohol that leads to the onset of functional disturbances. Individuals who become stuck in a pattern of ongoing drug or alcohol abuse begin to experience significant difficulty adhering to daily responsibilities, which causes immense distress for not only them, but for those around them as well.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists the following criteria as being indicative of the presence of a substance use disorder:

  • The substance is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • There is an ongoing desire to reduce, eliminate, or control the use of the substance, but attempts at doing so have been unsuccessful
  • A significant amount of time is spent in activities that are necessary in order to obtain, use, or recover from the use of the substance
  • Cravings or a strong desire to use the substance are experienced
  • Recurrent use of the substance has resulted in a failure to fulfill major obligations
  • Use of the substance continues despite the development of persistent interpersonal or social problems that are either directly caused or exacerbated by the effects of that use
  • Important occupational, social, or recreational activities are given up or significantly reduced as a direct result of the substance use
  • The substance is used in situations where it is physically hazardous
  • The substance continues to be used despite the onset or exacerbation of persistent or recurrent physical and/or psychological problems
  • Tolerance develops
  • Withdrawal manifests

Depending on the specific substance that is being abused, different criteria will be met. But the presence of any of the aforementioned criteria will inevitably lead to significant impairment and distress in an individual’s daily life. As a result, it is imperative that treatment be received when a person is struggling with the abuse of, or an addiction to, any type of substance.


Drug addiction statistics

The statistics regarding the prevalence of substance abuse throughout the United States is troublesome. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 80% and 90% of adults over the age of 18 have abused a substance or substances at some point in their lives. Of that substance use, alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications are said to be the most commonly abused. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that over 20 million people are struggling with a substance use disorder, but less than 15% of that estimated 20 million seek and receive the treatment that they need in order to overcome their addictions.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alcohol & drug addiction

The causes and risk factors that may make an individual more susceptible to suffering from a substance use disorder are explained briefly in the following:

Genetic: Substance use and addiction has long been known to have a genetic link to its onset. In fact, research has suggested that as much as 60% of one’s susceptibility to struggling with a substance use disorder can be found in his or her genetic makeup. In other words, individuals who have family members who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are more likely to suffer from the same concerns than they would be if they did not have that type of familial background.

Environmental: Various environmental factors can have an impact on an individual’s vulnerability to beginning to experiment with drugs or alcohol, and subsequently developing an addiction. Coming from a low socioeconomic background, being exposed to crime and violence, and having peers who engage in the abuse of substances can all increase the likelihood that someone will begin using drugs and/or alcohol. Additionally, being subjected to abuse or neglect, experiencing another type of trauma, or suffering from symptoms of a mental health disorder can cause an individual to turn to the use of substances.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Possessing an impulsive personality
  • Possessing a novelty-seeking temperament
  • Suffering from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and/or neglect
  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Poverty
  • Witnessing violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of substance addiction

The particular substance that an individual is abusing will determine the type of symptoms that he or she may experience. Yet, even if individuals are abusing the same type of substance, the type, severity, and duration of symptoms may vary. That being said, examples of different signs and symptoms that may be exhibited by someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inability to stop using one’s substance of choice, despite having the desire to do so
  • No longer engaging in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed
  • Using substances more excessively or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Using substances even when it is hazardous to do so (such as while operating a vehicle)
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Frequent absenteeism from one’s place of employment
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities at home or within relationships

Physical symptoms:

  • Periods of excessive hyperactivity or excessive lethargy
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia)
  • Slurred speech
  • Frequent headaches
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Presence of abscesses, scars, or track marks if a substance is being consumed intravenously

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hindered decision-making capabilities
  • Impaired judgment
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to reason
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Changes in overall temperament
  • No longer demonstrating an interest in things that were once enjoyed


Effects of drug addiction

When individuals develop a habitual pattern of consistent drug and/or alcohol abuse, they are susceptible to experiencing a wide range of negative effects. Whether it be on their health, within their relationships, or regarding their careers, the presence of an addiction can wreak havoc on every facet of their lives. Examples of specific effects that can result from prolonged substance use can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Loss of memory
  • Malnutrition
  • Compromised immune system
  • Heart failure
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Exposure to viruses like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Overdose and the complications that arise as the result of an overdose
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of friendships
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Job loss
  • Financial strife

Dual Diagnosis

Substance addiction and dual diagnosis

Substance use disorders often co-exist alongside symptoms of other mental health conditions. The clinical term for this is dual diagnosis. If you’ve developed an addiction, you may have an elevated risk for the following disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder

Many people do not realize they’re struggling with dual diagnosis until they get professional help for addiction. This is one of the reason’s why it’s so important to seek care from a provider who can fully assess your needs and provide dual diagnosis programming if necessary. Effective dual diagnosis care can significantly enhance your ability to achieve long-term recovery from addiction.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal: In the event that a person has been abusing drugs or alcohol and then abruptly stops that consumption, he or she is likely to go through a period of withdrawal. This period can be extremely uncomfortable and, at times, even life-threatening. The type of symptoms that arise during the withdrawal period will vary depending on the specific substance or substances being used, but may include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Elevated feelings of anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Powerful cravings
  • Seizures
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of overdose: While there are many negative ramifications that arise as the result of chronic drug or alcohol abuse, an overdose can be one of the most dangerous. Occurring when someone ingests more of a substance than his or her body is capable of metabolizing, an overdose can be a life-threatening experience and should be deemed medical emergency, with treatment being sought immediately. As is true for the symptoms of withdrawal, the signs of overdose will vary depending on the substance being consumed. Examples of possible overdose symptoms may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Labored breathing
  • Severe confusion
  • Changes in the color of one’s skin tone
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Chest pains
  • Heart failure
  • Psychosis
  • Losing consciousness


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My drug addiction was controlling my life, and I was in a free fall heading towards rock bottom. The only path I could see was to keep using and hope for the best. That’s when I learned of another path, getting help and starting treatment. I’m now 3 years sober and have never been happier. The light is at the end of the tunnel, reach for it.

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