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Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment

Addiction, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), can have a range of signs, symptoms, and effects that may have a harmful impact on your overall health and well-being. Different types of SUDs can have various diagnostic signs and symptoms, as well as a range of associated, substance-specific health effects. Developing awareness of these signs and symptoms can help you or a loved one recognize when substance use becomes a problem and when it’s time to seek help.

While it’s never easy to cope with addiction, you don’t have to cope with the challenges and struggles on your own; addiction treatment centers can help you take back control of your life and recover from the effects of addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that professional drug addiction treatment that combines behavioral therapy and medication is one of the most successful ways of treating a SUD.1

What is Addiction?

According to the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM), drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing, and treatable brain disease characterized by an inability to control substance use despite knowing the negative effects it has on your health and well-being.

The causes of addiction are still unclear; however, research shows that people who have certain risk factors for addiction may be more likely to misuse substances or develop an addiction.16 Addiction risk factors may include your environment, genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences.2

Addiction is also known by the diagnostic term substance use disorder (SUD). Medical and mental health professionals rely on the criteria outlined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose a person with a SUD.3

What are the Different Types of Substance Addiction?

Addiction can occur due to the compulsive use of many different substances. According to the DSM-5, there are 10 categories of SUDs, which include:3

  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Cannabis.
  • Hallucinogens.
  • Inhalants.
  • Opioids.
  • Sedatives.
  • Hypnotics and anxiolytics.
  • Stimulants (amphetamine-type substances, cocaine, and other stimulants).
  • Tobacco.
  • Other (or unknown) substances.

More common addictions include alcohol use disorder, marijuana use disorder, opioid use disorder, sedative-hypnotic (tranquilizer) use disorder, and stimulant use disorder. Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) highlight the prevalence of these addictive disorders in Americans aged 12 and older during the previous year:4

  • 28.3 million people had a past-year alcohol use disorder.
  • 14.2 million people had a past-year marijuana use disorder.
  • 2.7 million people had a past-year opioid use disorder.
  • 1.2 million people had a  past-year prescription tranquilizer or sedative use disorder (known as a sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic disorder in the DSM-5).

The NSDUH classifies stimulant use disorders by their respective substances:4

  • 1.3 million people had a cocaine use disorder.
  • 691,000 people had a heroin use disorder.
  • 1.5 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder.
  • 758,000 people had a prescription stimulant use disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Substance use disorders can involve a combination of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms, which indicate a person is misusing a substance despite having drug- or alcohol-related problems. A diagnosis is based on the presence of behavioral problems, which a person shows as a result of their substance misuse. The DSM-5 groups diagnostic criteria into categories that include impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and specific drug criteria.3

Every SUD has specific diagnostic criteria and the exact set of criteria that a person displays can vary. SUDs can range in severity from mild to severe; meeting more diagnostic criteria indicates greater severity of the addiction.3 The general signs of drug addiction and diagnostic criteria for SUDs include:3

  • Taking the substance in larger quantities or more frequently than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut back or stop using the substance despite expressing a desire to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • Experiencing cravings, or intense desires to use the substance, especially in an environment where you previously obtained or used the substance.
  • Being unable to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to substance use.
  • Continuing to use the substance despite having social or interpersonal problems that are caused or worsened by the effects of the substance.
  • Continuing substance use despite knowing that you have a persistent or ongoing physical or mental health problem that is likely due to substance use.
  • Experiencing tolerance, which means you need more of the substance to experience previous effects.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the substance, which can lead to relapse.

Potential Health Effects of Substance Misuse

People can experience a wide range of potentially adverse health effects associated with drug addiction. These effects can vary by substance and affect people in different ways. Health effects of addiction can also vary in duration and severity. Some short-term health effects can occur after just one use and may include:5, 6

  • Appetite changes.
  • Changes to your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Psychosis (impairment of thoughts and emotions resulting in a distorted reality).
  • Death.

Potential long-term effects of substance use can include:5, 6

  • Heart disease.
  • Lung disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or antisocial personality disorder.
  • HIV/AIDS.
  • Hepatitis (liver disease).
  • Addiction.

Using too much of a substance or in combination with other substances can also put you at risk of an overdose. An overdose can cause physical discomfort, dangerous health effects, or even death.6, 17 Suddenly stopping the use of certain substances can pose the risk of withdrawal symptoms, which may lead to potentially dangerous physical effects.9

Certain social and behavioral drug addiction symptoms, effects, and hazards can occur with specific types of SUDs. These signs and symptoms can be present with many different SUDs; however, the DSM-5 specifically highlights the following effects, which are known to be more common with certain SUDs.

For alcohol and cannabis use disorders:3

  • Poor job performance.
  • Neglecting household responsibilities or childcare.
  • Driving or operating machinery while under the influence of the substance.
  • Increased interpersonal violence (such as partner abuse).

For opioid use disorders:3

  • Drug-related crimes like possession or distribution of drugs, theft, fraud, etc.
  • Marital difficulties.
  • Unemployment or irregular employment.

For sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic use disorders (a type of drug addiction to substances like benzodiazepines):3

  • Poor work performance.
  • Frequent absence from school or work.
  • Frequent fights with partners.
  • Other substance abuse (such as alcohol, cannabis, or stimulants).

For stimulant use disorders:3

  • Aggressive or violent behaviors.
  • Paranoia (irrational suspicion or false beliefs).
  • Psychotic episodes.
  • Dramatic behavioral changes.
  • Social isolation.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Rambling speech.
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Getting Treatment and Starting Recovery

Researching and identifying the addiction treatment programs that best fit your needs is a crucial step toward bettering your chances of recovery. It is usually recommended to ask your doctor or another treatment professional to help make the best treatment decision for your needs. When considering treatment programs, consider the following factors:7, 8

  • Cost
  • How soon you can start the program
  • The length of the program
  • Your insurance coverage
  • The program’s location
  • Treatment approaches
  • Medication for withdrawal and/or co-occurring disorders
  • The program’s accreditation
  • The presence of qualified, experienced staff
  • Childcare options.
  • Continuing care or aftercare planning
  • Special amenities like fitness, art therapy, or massage

Types of Addiction Recovery Programs

Depending on your specific needs, you can enter different types of addiction treatment programs that meets your level of care. Common forms of treatment include:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

  • Detox. This is an important first step in the recovery process. Detox is designed to help safely clear your body of a substance and become medically stable. Some facilities offer detox as a part of their program while others are designed just for detox. Detox can take place in hospital or inpatient settings, or outpatient settings. Depending on the level of care you receive, you may have24/7 monitoring and supervision, or travel to a detox facility. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises hospitalization or some form of inpatient detox for people undergoing withdrawal from alcohol, sedative-­hypnotics, and opioids due to humanitarian and safety concerns.
  • Inpatient addiction treatment. Geared toward those with severe addictions or who require a high level of care and support, inpatient or residential rehab programs can be beneficial for providing structure and removing the distractions of daily life so you can focus on recovery. You live onsite for the duration of treatment, often 30, 60, or 90 days depending on the level of care you require.
  • Outpatient treatment is when you live at home but travel to rehab on a regular basis. You may participate in treatment at various levels of intensity. These levels include intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), which involve a minimum of 9 hours of treatment per week, or standard outpatient treatment, which could involve attending treatment just one or two days per week depending on your needs. Throughout the course of treatment, you may step down or up in intensity levels as your needs change.
  • Co-occurring disorder treatment. People who have a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder are said to have co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnoses. For addiction treatment to be effective, it’s necessary to treat the mental health disorder as well as the addiction, as each problem can worsen the other if left untreated.
  • 12-Step programs. Many treatment facilities offer mutual support groups like 12-step programs. They may offer 12-step facilitation therapy to help familiarize people with 12-step programs and/or offer the option to participate in 12-step support groups onsite. These programs encourage relying on a higher power and working through the 12 steps of recovery with the support of a sponsor and group.
  • Medication. This is useful for helping people withdraw from certain types of SUDs and remain sober and committed to recovery, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.
  • Behavioral therapies. A variety of behavioral therapies have been proven to be effective for treating addiction. They all have somewhat different approaches but are designed to promote lasting cognitive and behavioral changes so you can stay sober. Behavioral therapies can include modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), or contingency management (CM).
  • Aftercare planning. Recovery is a lifelong process, so most individuals continue to participate in some form of treatment on an ongoing basis. This can include participation in mutual-help groups, individual counseling, sober living homes, or other forms of treatment. Rehabs typically offer aftercare planning as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Your treatment team will help you develop a treatment plan during your initial evaluation and should be tailored to your specific needs, including any medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems. Your treatment plan should be adjusted throughout the course of treatment as your needs change and as you progress through the program.11

Benefits of Rehab Centers

You can experience numerous benefits from attending treatment at a rehab center. Some of these benefits can include:14

  • Receiving medication and continued monitoring to help you stop using substances, prevent cravings, help you stay comfortable during withdrawal, and remain sober.
  • Supervision and support from professional, trained staff who understand what you are going through.
  • Providing assistance and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues.
  • Relapse prevention skills and other tools you’ll need to establish and maintain a substance-free life.
  • Receiving the support from others during group therapy who know what it’s like to be in your shoes.
  • Confronting and dealing with the reasons you may have developed an addiction in the first place.
  • Healing from the physical, social, and psychological effects of addiction.
  • Developing improved relationships through family or couples‘ counseling.
  • Experiencing better chances of obtaining and maintaining employment.
  • Reduced likelihood of substance-related legal problems.

Finding a Rehab Center

Getting help for an addiction can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you or a loved one are experiencing addiction, call our helpline for free at to talk with a compassionate admissions navigator who can help you understand treatment options with American Addiction Centers. There are also free alcohol abuse and drug addiction hotline numbers you can call.

Paying for Treatment

You can pay for addiction treatment in a variety of ways. Some health insurance companies may cover all or some of the costs. Many insurance companies cover substance abuse and mental health services in alignment with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) essential health benefits.15 

You could also consider facilities that receive public funding, as they may offer less costly forms of treatment. Some drug and alcohol rehabs offer sliding scale plans, grants, or payment plans that can vary based on your income and personal circumstances.

People also have the option of paying out-of-pocket for addiction treatment.

Using Health Insurance for Addiction Treatment

Every health insurance plan is different and offers different levels of coverage. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) may require physician referrals, while Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) typically allow people to see providers without a referral. You may also have to consider co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket costs, and whether you select a provider that is considered in- or out-of-network.