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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 different 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. Addiction occurs due to many factors, including 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 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 SUD, which includes alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens; inhalants; opioids; sedatives, hypnotics, and anxiolytics; stimulants (amphetamine-type substances, cocaine, and other stimulants); tobacco; and other (or unknown) substances.3

Some of the 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 2019 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:3

  • 14.5 million people had an alcohol use disorder.
  • 4.8 million people had a marijuana use disorder.
  • 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder.
  • 681,000 people had a prescription tranquilizer or sedative use disorder (known as sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic disorder in the DSM-5).

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

  • 1 million people had a cocaine use disorder.
  • 438,000 people had a heroin use disorder.
  • 1 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder.
  • 558,000 people had a prescription stimulant use disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

The DSM-5 explains that SUDs involve a combination of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms that indicate that a person is misusing a substance despite having drug- or alcohol-related problems. A diagnosis is based on the presence of behavioral problems that an individual shows due to their use of the substance. 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 a greater severity of 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 Dangers of Substance Use

People can experience a wide range of health effects associated with drug addiction. These effects can vary by substance and can affect people in different ways. Health effects of addiction can also vary in duration and severity. Some of the potential short-term health effects of substance abuse 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.
  • Hepatitis (liver disease).
  • Addiction.

Using substances at any point can pose a risk of overdose, accidental injury, and attempted suicide, according to a study in the journal, “Public Health Reviews.”6

Certain social and behavioral drug addiction symptoms, effects, and hazards can also occur with specific types of SUDs. Many of these signs and symptoms can be present with many different SUDs, but the DSM-5 specifically highlights the following effects that are known to occur more commonly in 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, you may wish to take certain factors into account, such as:7, 8

  • Affordability.
  • How soon you can start the program.
  • The length of the program.
  • Your insurance coverage.
  • The program’s location.
  • Specific program outcomes.
  • Their treatment approaches.
  • Whether they offer medication.
  • The program’s accreditation.
  • The presence of qualified, experienced staff.
  • The availability of childcare options.
  • The type of post-treatment services (aftercare) they offer.
  • Any other specific needs you may have.

Types of Addiction Recovery Programs

Depending on your specific needs, you can enter different types of addiction treatment programs; each program may offer different types of therapies and interventions. Some of the common forms of treatment include:9, 10, 11, 12

Detox. This is not technically a form of treatment, but it is often the first step in the recovery process. Detox is designed to help clear your body of the abused substance, help you stop using the substance and help you become medically stable so you can enter long-term treatment. Medical detox offers medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent potential complications. Detox can take place in hospital or inpatient settings, where you receive 24/7 monitoring and supervision, or outpatient settings, where you live at home and 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. You live at home but travel to rehab on a regular basis. You may participate in treatment on various levels of intensity, including intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), which involves 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.

Many drug addiction treatment centers offer different types of therapies and interventions. Some of the common types of treatment include:10, 11, 13, 14 man in therapy for addiction

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 diagnosis. 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 incorporate the guidelines and tenets of 12-Step programs. They may offer 12-Step facilitation therapy to help individuals become affiliated 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 with certain types of SUDs 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 12-Step or other self-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, 15

  • Receiving medication and continued monitoring to help you stop using substances, prevent cravings, help you stay comfortable during withdrawal, and remain sober.
  • Receiving support from professional, trained staff who understand what you are going through.
  • Providing assistance and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues.
  • Providing you with 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

Addiction can be painful, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, call our helpline at to talk with an admissions navigator who can assist you in finding a treatment center.

Paying for Treatment

You can pay for addiction treatment in a variety of ways. Some health insurance companies may cover all or at least part of the costs. Through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mental and behavioral health services are considered essential health benefits.16

You can pay out-of-pocket by using savings, asking family or friends for assistance, taking out a loan, or using credit cards. You could also consider facilities that receive public funding, as they may offer less costly forms of treatment. Some rehabs offer sliding scale plans, grants, or payment plans that can vary based on your income and personal circumstances.

Using Health Insurance

Every health insurance plan is different and offers different levels of coverage. HMOs may require physician referrals, while 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.

Treatment doesn’t have to be expensive; to better understand if your insurance will cover most or all of the treatment, check your insurance coverage today.