A Handbook to Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Substance use disorder or addiction is prominent among a wide range of individuals. The impact of behaviors related to addiction may cause severe problems in different areas of a person’s life. Examples may include marital, career, and friendship issues.

According to a study[1], factors that increase the likelihood of addiction or substance use may include noncustodial parenthood and unemployment. This article provides information about the basics of addiction, including the types, causes, genetic disposition, and signs and symptoms.

What is Addiction – Is it a Moral Failing?

Addiction is not a moral failing, but a disease or dysfunction of the brain system that affects behavior. It defines how the brain craves a specific substance. Hence, an individual that is addicted to a certain drug may have challenges resisting the constant urge to use them no matter the consequences.

Substance use disorder has various social, psychological, and physical effects that may reduce an individual’s quality of living. A person experiencing addiction may have an increased craving for the substance, may lack an emotional response, and may also display a lack of self-control.

Psychological problems of addiction may also worsen due to relationship issues or problems with social gatherings. According to research[2], strong and repeated associations with certain drugs may cause psychological and behavioral problems.

Addiction by Substances

There are different types of addiction, depending on the drug that the individual uses. Note that the substances may also be prescription medicines. Most individuals typically experience substance use disorder from a prescription drug acquired from a licensed physician. For this reason, it’s essential to know the different types of addiction, based on the substance.


Narcotics is a term from the Greek word, “Narko,” which means benumb. In medicine, it describes a type of drug addiction that provides pain-killing properties and induces sleep. Narcotics are associated with Opiates, which include substances like Heroin and Morphine.

According to the National Institutes of Health[3], narcotics work by binding themselves with the body’s pain receptors. For this reason, drugs like this are prescribed to treat severe pain should an individual not respond to other forms of pain relief.

Side effects of narcotics range from mild to severe. It can cause drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, constipation, respiratory depression, and a sense of apathy.


Amphetamine addiction is also prevalent in the United States. When people use them recreationally, they become highly disruptive and addictive. Amphetamines are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. Signs of abuse include aggression, paranoia, anxiety, and insomnia.


Common substances under the drug class benzodiazepines are alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide, clonazepam, clorazepate, and diazepam. These drugs are highly addictive and cause certain behavioral symptoms of abuse, like blurred vision, drowsiness, and weakness.

Club Drugs

Club drugs generally describe a group of psychoactive drugs that act on the nervous system. They are addictive substances that can cause changes in behavior, mood, and awareness. Examples of these drugs are Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, Ketamine, Rohypnol, Methamphetamine, and LSD.


Constant use of hallucinogens may cause psychological dependence. The symptoms of dependence occur when the individual feels the need for constant use of the drugs or goes through extremes to purchase the substance. Try to consult a doctor if you feel any of the symptoms of dependence.

What Causes Addiction?

There are different possible causes of addiction. Individuals develop a tolerance for substances, which require more intake of the drugs to achieve a feeling similar to the initial effects. Here are some factors that may contribute to addiction:

  • Environment: An individual’s environment may increase the risk of addiction. Studies[4] have shown that familial environmental factors were crucial in substance use during early adolescence. Factors in the environment that influence addiction include home, friends, and culture.
  • Brain: The brain’s reward circuits may change over time due to drug use. Parts of the brain that are influenced by substance use include the basal, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. The change in the reward mechanism of the brain may significantly influence drug use.
  • Frequency of Drug Use: One of the most common factors that develop addiction is the frequency of substance use. Constant use of drugs without the necessary prescription may result in side effects like seizures, mental confusion, and memory loss.

Genetics and Addiction

According to research[5], genetics increases the possibility of developing an addiction. For instance, the “alcoholic gene” may play a role in amplifying the risk of developing alcohol addiction. Behavioral genes have a tendency of influencing substance abuse.

The term “genetics” is broad. It includes the inherited genes from parent to child over different generations. One of the contributing factors of addiction may be mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia, which can also be genetic in certain cases.

Due to the nature of mental illnesses, individuals may resolve to use substances to alleviate depression. Due to the use of these drugs in different generations, addiction may also be indirectly genetic.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

One of the major signs of addiction is a poor pattern of use, which results in distress or impairment. Most individuals experiencing substance use disorder keep engaging in the addictive behavior, even when aware of the harm it causes.

The signs and symptoms of substance use disorder vary from person to person. Here are some of them:


These symptoms relate to the individual’s thought process and method of reasoning. Here are the significant psychological symptoms of addiction:

  • Inability to stop using: One of the major symptoms of addiction is an attempt by individuals to stop substance usage. The inability to stop substance use may be physiological. Drugs like heroin are chemically addictive and result in withdrawal symptoms.
  • Continuous use of a substance despite health conditions: If an individual continues substance use, even when diagnosed with certain health conditions, it may indicate addiction. An example is an individual that smokes, even after diagnosis of lung or heart conditions.
  • Solving problems: A significant sign of addiction to a substance is when an individual feels obligated to take the drug to solve problems. Note that this symptom may follow other major ones, including the inability to stop using.
  • Taking risks: Individuals experiencing substance use disorder may decide to take certain risks or engage in deadly behaviors. Examples include trading a valuable for substances, and fast or dangerous driving
  • Using an initial large dose: An individual may consume large amounts of the substance due to the feel-good effects that it offers. Note that this symptom is prominent in alcohol use disorder.


Substance use disorder may influence an individual’s social interaction. Here are the major social signs of addiction:

  • Sacrifices: Individuals with substance use disorder often give up on certain activities that they previously enjoyed. In most cases, it may be more preferable to engage in substance abuse rather than go out with friends or engage in any event.
  • Secrecy: Due to the lack of confidence in substance use, individuals often decide to use them behind closed doors to avoid judgment. Secrecy may be one of the major signs of addiction.
  • Denial: A high number of individuals that experience substance use disorder may be unaware of their state of addiction. There may be an awareness of the physical dependence on a specific drug, but a denial of the degree of addiction.
  • Maintenance of good supply: Most individuals with substance use disorders ensure that there’s a constant and steady supply. This may be independent of the current financial status of the individual.
  • Financial difficulties: Constant purchase of a substance due to addiction may lead to financial difficulties, especially when they are beyond the individual’s budget.


Substance use disorder may influence certain bodily functions, which results in certain visible signs. Here are the significant physical symptoms to note:

  • Change in appetite: A substance use disorder may result in an alteration in the individual’s typical diet pattern[6]. For example, the consumption of marijuana may increase appetite, while intake of cocaine may cause a reduction in appetite.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Physical withdrawal symptoms may occur when an individual with substance use disorder attempts to stop. These signs may range from mild to severe. Examples include seizures, sweat, and sudden violence.
  • Medical condition due to substance use: Consistent use of certain drugs may result in damages to the body system. Injecting substances may result in limb damage, issues with the arteries, and veins.
  • Secondary Insomnia: This condition describes the inability to sleep. Individuals may experience fatigue, grumpiness, and problems concentrating. Apart from addiction, other possible causes of secondary insomnia include depression, anxiety, and pain.
  • Change in appearance: Due to the other symptoms of addiction, individuals may appear tired or less clean. The substance use disorder replaces major parts of the individual’s day, which may include hygiene and appearance.


Substance use disorder or addiction is not a moral failing, but a medical condition. It can absolutely be treated and a rehabilitation facility of integrity can do wonders. There are various factors that may influence drug abuse and addiction. Some individuals may experience it due to certain environmental factors or genes. There’s still research about the causes of substance use disorder or addiction.


  1. Merline, A. C., O’Malley, P. M., Schulenberg, J. E., Bachman, J. G., & Johnston, L. D. (2004). Substance use among adults 35 years of age: prevalence, adulthood predictors, and impact of adolescent substance use. American journal of public health, 94(1), 96–102. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.94.1.96
  2. Swendsen, J., Conway, K. P., Degenhardt, L., Glantz, M., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., Sampson, N., & Kessler, R. C. (2010). Mental disorders as risk factors for substance use, abuse, and dependence: results from the 10-year follow-up of the National Comorbidity Survey. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 105(6), 1117–1128. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02902.x
  3. Reviewed 2019, U.S National Library of Medicine, “Pain medications – narcotics”, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007489.htm
  4. Kendler, K. S., Schmitt, E., Aggen, S. H., & Prescott, C. A. (2008). Genetic and environmental influences on alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, and nicotine use from early adolescence to middle adulthood. Archives of general psychiatry, 65(6), 674–682. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.65.6.674
  5. Ducci, F., & Goldman, D. (2012). The genetic basis of addictive disorders. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 35(2), 495–519. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2012.03.010
  6. Cowan J, Devine C. Food, eating, and weight concerns of men in recovery from substance addiction. Appetite. 2008 Jan;50(1):33-42. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2007.05.006. Epub 2007 May 31. PMID: 17602790

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