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Drugs and Alcohol

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Heroin
  • Benzos
  • Stimulants
  • Sedatives
  • Marijuana
  • Hallucinogens
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Opioids are often used to treat pain. And though many forms of opioids have legal medical uses, regular use (even when used as told by a doctor) can lead to dependence, meaning you'll have withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug. Opioid misuse (taking it for longer or in a different way than your doctor told you or using it without a prescription) can increase your chances of addiction, overdose, and even death.3

Understanding Addiction

Addiction in America

Alcohol and substance use disorders take an enormous toll on American families each year. Close to 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-related overdoses in 2019.11 The addiction to and misuse of opioids (prescription painkillers included) is a nationwide crisis that impacts economic and social welfare and public health. And the challenge isn’t just with opioid use.11

In 2019, 57.2 million people in the United States reported illicit drug use of some kind (whether illegal drugs or non-medical misuse of prescription drugs) in the last year, while nearly 66 million people admitted to binge drinking within the last month.21 That said, the number of people with most types of substance use disorders decreased in 2019, while the percentage of people getting treatment increased slightly.11,21

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease where a person can’t stop taking drugs or drinking alcohol, despite the harm they cause.1 Addiction is also commonly referred to as “substance use disorder,” or SUD. When someone is dealing with an SUD, they may feel a constant need to seek out and use drugs, regardless of any negative consequences.1 Like many other chronic health issues, SUDs are both preventable and treatable. But if left untreated, both can be progressive (get worse), long-lasting and, in some cases, can lead to death.1 Even though many people start using drugs by choice, continued substance use may change their self-control. And this lack of self-control is an important feature of addiction.1

Common Addiction Symptoms

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association outlines 11 common signs and symptoms of substance use disorder (SUD):20

  • Using more of a substance than intended.
  • Wanting but being unable to cut back or quit using substances.
  • Spending a lot of time looking for substances, using them, or recovering from using them.
  • Cravings.
  • Having problems at work, home, or school due to substance use.
  • Increased social conflict due to substance use.
  • Using substances instead of doing things you used to enjoy, such as hobbies or recreational activities.
  • Using substances in dangerous situations (such as while driving or operating machinery).
  • Using substances even when you know it makes mental or physical issues worse.
  • Needing to use more and more of a substance to get the same effect (tolerance).
  • Going through withdrawal when you try to stop using substances (dependence).

Doctors and other healthcare professionals may make an SUD diagnosis if you have 2 or more of these symptoms in a 12-month period.

Addiction Demographics

Addiction impacts different groups of people based upon their unique life experiences. For example, men are more likely to use illegal substances than women are.16 Men have higher rates of dependence when it comes to both alcohol and illicit drugs.16 But women are just as likely to develop a substance use disorder as men are, and they are also more likely to relapse and have cravings.16

As teenagers mature from adolescence to adulthood, their brains are still developing.1 One such part is known as the prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain that helps people make good decisions, controls desires and emotions, and assesses situations.1 Taking substances while the prefrontal cortex is still maturing could change the brain in ways that have significant and long-lasting consequences.1

Roughly 3 in 10 first responders develop behavioral health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.18 Career firefighters reported higher levels of PTSD and problematic drinking compared to those who volunteer.18 Roughly half of male firefighters and 4 in 10 women firefighters said they binge drank or drank heavily in the last month.18

Many veterans also deal with alcohol or drug misuse. Some studies show slightly more than 1 in 10 veterans have an SUD.22 War veterans with alcohol problems and PTSD tend to binge drink. And more than 2 out of 10 veterans who have PTSD also have an SUD.18

People who identify as LGBTQIA+ community often face discrimination and homophobia, not to mention social stigma and a greater risk of violence and harassment.19 For some, these challenges are channeled into misusing drugs and alcohol. LGBTQIA+ adults tend to use substances at a higher rate and have more severe substance use disorders than the general population.19

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020).   What is drug addiction ?
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.   Overview of alcohol consumption.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse.   Opioids.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021).   Heroin research report.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020).   Commonly used drugs charts: Central nervous system depressants.
  6. Weaver, M.F. (2015). Prescription sedative misuse and abuse. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 247–256.  
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021).   Misuse of prescription drugs research report.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018).   Prescription stimulants drug facts.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019).   Hallucinogens drug facts.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019).   Marijuana drug facts.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021).   Opioid overdose crisis.
  12. Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.   Executive Summary.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020).   Principles of drug addiction treatment: A researched-based guide (Third edition).
  14. Hasin, D. S., O'Brien, C. P., Auriacombe, M., Borges, G., Bucholz, K., Budney, A… & Grant, B. F. (2013). DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: Recommendations and rationale. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(8), 834–851.  
  15. McLellan A. T. (2017). Substance misuse and substance use disorders: Why do they matter in healthcare? Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, 128, 112–130  
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2021).   Substance use in women research report: Sex and gender differences in substance use.
  17. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018).   First responders: Behavioral health concerns, emergency response, and trauma.
  18. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019).   PTSD and substance abuse in veterans.
  19. National Institute on Drug Abuse.   Substance use and SUDs in LGBTQ* populations.
  20. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.  
  21. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020).   Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 national survey on drug use and health.
  22. Teeters, J. B., Lancaster, C. L., Brown, D. G., & Back, S. E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: Prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 8, 69–77.  
  23. MedlinePlus. (2014).   Alcohol.
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