10 Most Common Addiction Questions

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Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction


Drug and alcohol addiction remains highly stigmatized in society despite the number of people affected increasing significantly every year. Society’s view on addiction means that it’s a topic that is not often discussed, and many people lack a basic understanding of how it works and have many questions to ask about addiction. Avenues Recovery has compiled a list of the most common addiction questions to give you an overview of what addiction is and how it affects our world today.

1. The Most Important Question About Addiction: What is Drug Addiction? 


Drug addiction is a complex brain disease. It is characterized by drug craving, seeking, and use that can persist even in the face of extremely negative consequences. Drug-seeking may become compulsive largely as a result of the effects of prolonged drug use on brain functioning and, thus, on behavior. For many people, relapses are possible even after long periods of abstinence.

2. How common is drug addiction?

Unfortunately, drug addiction is startlingly common in the United States, and is on an upward trend. In 2017, 38% of adults battled an addiction to illegal drugs according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) [1].

3. How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?

This is one of the most common questions about addiction. If a person is compulsively seeking and using a drug despite negative consequences, such as loss of job, debt, physical problems brought on by drug abuse, or family problems, then he or she is probably addicted. Seek professional help to determine if this is the case and, if so, the appropriate treatment.

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4. What is the difference between drug addiction and drug abuse?

The easiest way of defining drug abuse is by observing that a person uses a drug for something other than a medically prescribed purpose. That is, they have a habit of taking a drug to “get high” or “feel better.” They take more than the prescribed amounts. They take the drugs for recreation.

Some “drugs” that are used for recreation may not be prescription meds, over-the-counter medications, or even street drugs. They can be common, everyday chemicals. For example, people inhale glue or solvents to get high. People want to have a mood change, to feel good.

Professional drug counselors will tell you that any use of illegal drugs is drug abuse. Those drugs are illegal because they are potentially very addictive and harmful to a person’s health. That broadens our definition of drug abuse even more. Therefore, any illegal drug use, any use of prescription or non-prescription medication beyond what is prescribed by a medical professional, or any use of a chemical to get high, is drug abuse.

Almost any substance can be abused and addiction is possible. Cigarettes, caffeine, and other common, legal substances are abused by people every day. Sometimes the line between use and abuse is fuzzy.

For example, people might go to the bar after work and have a couple of drinks with their friends. Is that abuse? Some might argue that it becomes abuse when it becomes a regular, daily occurrence. Too many cigarettes, too much coffee, too many diet sodas; the line is determined by the person and also their reactive behavior.

5. Is addiction hereditary?

There is plenty of evidence for a connection between genetic endowment and addiction to alcohol and drugs. By analyzing patterns of inheritance, researchers have learned that heredity accounts for about half of the risk that a person will develop an addiction [2]. Other factors that increase the risk of developing addiction include environmental factors, traumatic experiences, and mental health issues. 

6. What is drug addiction treatment?

There are many addictive drugs, and treatment for each specific drug abused will differ. Treatment also varies depending on the characteristics of the patient.

A variety of scientifically based approaches to drug addiction treatment exists. Treatment can include behavioral therapy (such as counseling, cognitive therapy, or psychotherapy), medications, or their combination. Behavioral therapies offer people strategies for coping with their drug cravings, teach them ways to avoid drugs prevent relapse, and help them deal with relapse if it occurs.

The best programs provide a combination of therapies and other services to meet the needs of the individual patient, which are shaped by such issues as age, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, parenting, housing, and employment, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

Medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or neuroleptics, may be critical for treatment success when patients have co-occurring mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or psychosis.

Treatment can occur in a variety of settings, in many different forms, and for different lengths of time. Because drug addiction is typically a chronic disorder characterized by occasional relapses, a short-term, one-time treatment often is not sufficient. For many, treatment is a long-term process that involves multiple interventions and attempts at abstinence.

7. What is detoxification, or detox?

Detoxification is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of a drug while managing the symptoms of withdrawal. It is often the first step in a drug treatment program and should be followed by treatment with a behavioral-based therapy and/or a medication, if available. Detox alone with no follow-up is not treatment.

8. What is withdrawal? How long does it last?

Withdrawal is the variety of symptoms that occur after the use of some addictive drugs is reduced or stopped. Length of withdrawal and symptoms vary with the type of drug. For example, physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes. These physical symptoms may last for several days, but the general depression or dysphoria (the opposite of euphoria) that often accompanies heroin withdrawal may last for weeks. In many cases withdrawal can be easily treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction.

9. Why can’t drug addicts quit on their own?

Nearly all addicted individuals believe in the beginning that they can stop using drugs on their own, and many try to stop without treatment. However, most of these attempts fail to achieve long-term abstinence.

Research has shown that long-term drug use results in significant changes in brain function that persist long after the individual stops using drugs. These drug-induced changes in brain function may have many behavioral consequences, including the compulsion to use drugs despite adverse consequences — the defining characteristic of addiction.

Understanding that addiction has such an important biological component may help explain an individual’s difficulty in achieving and maintaining abstinence without treatment. Psychological stress from work or family problems, social cues (such as meeting individuals from one’s drug-using past), or the environment (such as encountering streets, objects, or even smells associated with drug use) can interact with biological factors to hinder attainment of sustained abstinence and make relapse more likely.

10. Where do 12-step or self-help programs fit into treatment?

Self-help groups can complement and extend the effects of professional treatment. The most prominent self-help groups are those affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous, all of which are based on the 12-step model, and Smart Recovery and others not based on the 12 steps.

Most drug addiction treatment programs encourage patients to participate in a self-help group during and after formal treatment. 

Get Your Substance Abuse Questions Answered Today!

We hope these addiction FAQs helped to improve your understanding of the addiction challenge, but we know that there will always be more questions. Whether you’re struggling with substance abuse yourself, or are trying to understand someone else battling it, our staff at Avenues Recovery are happy to answer all your questions about addiction. Contact us online, or give us a call now at 603-874-1051.

To learn the answers to other commonly asked addiction questions, including how much is an 8-ball of cocaine, what is fentanyl made of, and what does fentanyl look like on weed, read our online resources.

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  1. www.samhsa.gov
  2. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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