When use turns into a habit that causes problems, it's addiction or abuse.
Addiction creates a stronghold on our brains in several ways.
Addiction is an illness, not a life sentence.
Some people think addiction is about a lack of willpower — that someone with a drug or alcohol problem simply doesn’t want to get better and could easily quit if they really tried. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Addiction is far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize.
"Tweak" author Nic Sheff speaks about how his addiction changed his parents' lives.Close
People use drugs and alcohol for many reasons. They may experiment or use just for fun, to relax, or to cope with emotions such as stress, depression, or anxiety.
When drug or alcohol use turns from an occasional recreational activity into a habit that causes problems in a person’s day-to-day life, it may become a substance use disorder or an addiction.
What kinds of problems? At home, in school, at work, or in relationships with the people we love, addiction may lead to:
To explore the signs that you or someone you care about may have an addiction, click here for a completely anonymous and confidential assessment. This assessment isn’t meant to diagnose or label drug or alcohol use by you or your loved one, but it can indicate if it’s a good idea to seek professional treatment.
Some people think addiction is about a lack of willpower — that someone with a drinking or drug problem simply doesn’t want to get better and could easily quit if they really tried. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Addiction is far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize. Addiction creates a stronghold on our brains in several ways:
We know that trying drugs or drinking alcohol won’t necessarily lead to addiction, but when it does, there are usually reasons that range from seeking pleasure to coping with pain.
While pleasure is a fairly easy concept to understand, pain is more complex. It comes in many forms and affects everyone differently. Whether someone is suffering from a physical injury, dealing with a mental health issue, recovering from a traumatic experience, or just trying to cope with the stresses of daily life, sometimes drugs and alcohol can seem like the easiest way to drown out the pain. But relying on substances to get through tough times offers only temporary relief and often causes additional pain for both users and their loved ones.
It’s important to understand that, whether an addiction to drugs or alcohol is caused by seeking pleasure or masking pain, there are many ways to help overcome it, including therapy, medication, mindfulness, exercise, and other forms of treatment.
Addiction is far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize.
FACT 1: Our pesky brains make it harder to quit. Anyone who says ending an addiction is easy is very mistaken. Long-term use of drugs or alcohol changes how the brain communicates with the body. Eventually the brain begins to convince the body that it needs the substance to continue or produce pleasure or happiness — making it extremely difficult to quit through willpower alone.
FACT 2: Addiction is an illness, not a life sentence. Addiction can be treated and — if it’s addressed early enough — reversed through various forms of therapy including counseling, medication, mindfulness, and exercise.
FACT 3: You don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to get help. There is no magic formula for treating addiction, but the earlier someone can begin the recovery process the better. Addictions only grow stronger with time.
FACT 4: The risk of developing an addiction to alcohol or drugs varies from person to person. Factors such as genetics, mental and physical health, and your environment as a child and in adulthood can increase your risk for addiction and your ability to overcome it.
FACT 5: Recovery is a journey, not a destination. Recovery is a lifelong process that has its challenges. Relapsing doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you may need to adjust your approach to treatment, the people you surround yourself with, or even your physical environment. If a relapse occurs, the best thing you can do is stay positive and move forward, taking steps to get back to a sober, healthy place.
FACT 6: The terms “addict,” “alcoholic,” and “alcoholism” are falling out of favor. It has taken centuries of study to understand the complexities of addiction. As a result, the conversations and classifications around addiction continue to evolve. People who have issues with addiction are now widely referred to as having a substance use disorder, as opposed to being considered an “addict” or “alcoholic” or having issues with “alcoholism” — terms that have been discredited by many researchers and clinicians alike.
Some people are at greater risk of addiction than others because of the following factors: