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What is substance use / addiction?

Substance use / addiction isn't easily defined. Behavior is an important clue to a possible problem with alcohol or drugs. Answering "yes" to any one of these questions may be a sign of a problem:

  • Are drugs or alcohol affecting your work or health?
  • Do you feel like you need alcohol or drugs to get through the day?
  • Are your friends or family members telling you there's a problem?[1]

 

Substance use includes addiction. Addiction is a lasting brain disease that gets worse over time. One sign of addiction is compulsive drug seeking and use, even if faced with harmful results. It is called a brain disease because drugs change the brain - they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs[2].

 

What causes substance use / addiction?

No single factor can predict whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Risk for addiction is influenced by a person's biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to abuse and addiction. For example:

  • Biology -
    The genes that people are born with -in combination with environmental influences- account for about half of their risk of addiction. Additionally, gender, ethnicity, and the presence of mental disorders may influence risk for drug abuse and addiction.

  • Environment -
    A person's environment includes many different influences - from family and friends to social and financial status and quality of life in general. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, stress, and parental involvement can greatly influence the course of alcohol or drug abuse and addiction in a person's life.

  • Development -
    Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person's life to affect addiction risks, and teens experience a double challenge. Although using alcohol or drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that use begins, the more likely it is to progress to more serious abuse. And because teens' brains are still developing in the areas that govern decision-making, judgment, and self-control, they are especially prone to risk-taking behaviors, including alcohol abuse and trying drugs of abuse[3], [4].

 

What can you do if you think you have a problem with alcohol or drugs?

If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, use our confidential screening tool to help you decide if you should consult with a professional.

Visit our "How to get help" page for more information on getting started.

Several treatment options are available. An effective treatment program will include a careful assessment of your health and will help you learn and practice skills for recovery[5]. Your primary physician, other healthcare providers or your behavioral health care plan can help you decide where to get started.

 

References

  1. Faces of Change: Do I have a problem with alcohol or drugs? DHHS Publication No. [SMA] 05-4109. Printed 2005.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. NIH Pub No. 10-5605, Printed April 2007, Revised February 2008 and August 2010.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA InfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. June 2008.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000944.htm. Viewed 2/2/2011.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA InfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. September 2009.

 

In an emergency, go to the nearest Emergency Room or call 911.