About Substance Abuse

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex, chronic brain disease characterized by drug craving, seeking, and use that persists even in the face of devastating life consequences. Addiction results largely from brain changes that stem from prolonged drug use—changes that involve multiple brain circuits, including those responsible for governing self-control and other behaviors. Drug addiction is treatable, often with medications (for some addictions) combined with behavioral therapies. However, relapse is common and can happen even after long periods of abstinence, underscoring the need for long-term support and care. Relapse does not signify treatment failure, but rather should prompt treatment re-engagement or modification. For more info, click here.

How is addiction diagnosed?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), no longer uses the terms substance abuse and substance dependence, rather it refers to substance use disorders, which are defined as mild, moderate, or severe to indicate the level of severity, which is determined by the number of diagnostic criteria met by an individual. Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of substance use disorder is based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria. For more info, click here.

What is withdrawal?

Withdrawal describes the various symptoms that occur after a person abruptly reduces or stops long-term use of a drug. 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 (opposite of euphoria), that often accompanies heroin withdrawal may last for weeks. In many cases, withdrawal can easily be treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction. For more info, click here.

What are signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse?

Look for any unexplained signs of change in your loved one or friend. It's important to remember that there can be many reasons for changes in your loved one, but some of the signs of significant change can be found here.

What's the best way to talk to a loved one about his/her alcohol or drug use?

It's important to let them know you are concerned about them. Be sure to approach them in a way that is non-confrontational at first. It is normal for those who abuse alcohol or drugs to deny their use or to react angrily when they are approached even if in a gentle, caring manner. If your initial approach to them does not seem to help, seek out the assistance of close friends and family to help you speak to the person about their use. After your initial approach, seek the advice of a qualified professional counselor.

How is alcohol and drug addiction considered a "disease"?

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain - they change its structure and how it works. Addiction is similar to other diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure:

  • It disrupts the normal, healthy functioning of the underlying organ;
  • It has serious harmful consequences;
  • It is preventable and treatable;
  • If left untreated, it can last a lifetime and can even ultimately result in death.

What is detox and what do I do if a loved one needs detoxification services?

Detoxification, or detox, is the clearing of toxins from the body of the patient who is intoxicated and/or dependent on substances of abuse. Detox seeks to minimize the physical harm caused by the abuse of substances. Attempting to detox on your own from some drugs, including alcohol, can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. Detoxification, withdrawal, and treatment should be completed at a licensed treatment center. Find a detox facility here.

What is an intervention?

An intervention is a deliberate process by which change is introduced into peoples' thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The overall objective of an intervention is to confront a person in a non-threatening way and allow them to see their self-destructive behavior, and how it affects themselves, family and friends.