One in seven Americans live with addiction, but only 10% receive drug and alcohol addiction treatment. The rate of drug overdose deaths caused has more than tripled since 1990, and between 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from an overdose. In addition, around 20% of Americans with mental health disorders also have a substance use disorder. 

These drug addiction statistics show that addiction is a struggle that many people face. Understanding addiction and how to identify it is often the first step in finding addiction treatment for yourself or those you love. Addiction treatment requires comprehensive treatment, where patients attend therapy and learn coping mechanisms that help them maintain long-term sobriety.

What is Drug Addiction

Understanding drug addiction can help you identify whether someone is struggling with a substance use disorder. Addiction is defined as a disease by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The science behind addiction is complex and involves interactions among a person’s brain circuits, genetics, environments and experiences. Addiction is a chronic disease and a condition that people live with for their entire lives.

Abuse vs. Addiction

The terms “abuse” and “addiction” are often used interchangeably, but these terms do not mean the same thing. According to the Recovery Research Institute, substance abuse refers to behavioral patterns of drug use that involve impairment and physical and mental harm. Drug abuse usually describes when someone uses substances improperly, but it does not mean that someone has an addiction.

Addiction is defined by the National Institute of Drug Abuse as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. Addiction is often more complex than abuse and can be the result of genetics, family background, social influences, neurological factors and environmental issues. Substance abuse may influence an addiction, but this is not always the case. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria for addiction include:

  • Criteria for Addiction

    Substances are frequently used at higher doses

    Efforts to quit are unsuccessful

    A lot of time spent obtaining, using and recovering from the substance

    Strong urges to regularly use the substance

    Use interferes with home, school or work

    Use continues despite negative social consequences

    Social activities are abandoned or reduced in favor of drug use

    Using the substance during dangerous situations

    Use continues despite medical or physical consequences

    Tolerance develops

Commonly Abused Drugs

There are several categories of substances that people commonly misuse and become addicted to, including both legal and illegal drugs. Each substance has varying effects, and people may experience different reactions to certain substances. 

What all of these popular drugs have in common is that they are highly addictive. Some of the most commonly abused drugs include: 

  • Alcohol

    According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3 million deaths occur each year due to alcohol misuse. Alcohol is not an illegal or controlled substance, so many people may feel like it is a safer option. However, alcohol can be dangerous if someone continues using it even when it has detrimental effects on their physical or mental health. 

    Alcohol abuse can cause people to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. It can also cause financial and legal issues as well as affect work, school and relationships. Alcohol abuse may also cause alcohol poisoning, memory loss or blackouts. Living with an alcohol use disorder can result in liver damage, brain damage and the development of mental health disorders.

  • Opioids

    On average, 130 Americans die each day because of opioid overdose. Opioids are most commonly prescribed to reduce pain over a short period, such as after surgery. Opioid abuse occurs often because opioids are highly addictive, and people can develop dependence even if they take the drug as prescribed.

    When someone can no longer get prescription opioids from a doctor, they may purchase them off the streets or use illegal opioids like heroin. The use of illicit opioids can be particularly dangerous because they are often cut with substances like fentanyl. Some opioid effects may include: 



    Decreased breathing 

    Low respiratory rates 

    Dependence or addiction 


  • Marijuana

    According to a Gallup poll, one in eight adults smoke marijuana, and 30% of people who smoke marijuana reportedly have a marijuana use disorder. Marijuana addiction occurs when a person can’t stop themselves from using the substance, even if it is negatively interfering with their life. The effects of marijuana use can include: 

    Impaired cognitive abilities 

    Deficits in motor coordination

    Increased heart rates 

    Psychosis and paranoia

    Reduced short-term memory 

    Increased risk of mental health disorders


  • Stimulants

    Approximately 5 million adults reported that they are misusing prescription stimulants, according to NIDA. Stimulant abuse can also occur with illicit stimulants like cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine. Stimulants that are commonly abused include amphetamines like Adderall, methylphenidate, ephedrine and caffeine. 

    The effects of stimulant abuse include: 





    Excessive weight loss 


    Memory loss

  • Benzodiazepines

    From 1999 to 2017, the death rate from drug overdose among women aged 30 to 64 increased by 260%. Benzodiazepine abuse occurs most often with prescription medications like Xanax, Valium and Ambien. In addition to these medications, some of the most commonly abused benzodiazepines are Lexotan, Librium, Klonopin, Ativan and Rohypnol. 

    The effects of benzodiazepines include: 


    Physical weakness 



    Generalized pain

    Impaired motor coordination 

    Mental confusion 

    Slurred speech 


  • Hallucinogens

    Approximately 17% of Americans reported that they had used hallucinogens in their lifetime, and nearly 7% said they had used a hallucinogen within the past year. Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that can cause distortions in a person’s perception of reality. Hallucinogens can be derived from plants like mushrooms, but they can also be made synthetically.

    Some common hallucinogen effects include: 


    Increased heart rate 

    Excessive sweating 

    Dry mouth 

    Loss of appetite 

    Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there 


    Weight loss 

    Speech problems

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Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction

Addiction typically takes over someone’s entire life. While they may be able to hide their addiction for a while, some signs and symptoms can be visible. Each drug may have different symptoms, but there are several common physical, mental and emotional signs of drug addiction. These include:

  • Physical Signs of Drug Addiction

    Unintentional weight loss 

    Loss of sleep

    Cool, pale skin

    Bloodshot eyes

    Tremors or loss of motor coordination 

    Slurred speech 

    Frequent nausea 

    Irregular heart rate 

    Shallow breathing

In addition to physical signs of drug abuse, substances can affect neurological processes and brain structures. Some common psychological symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction




    Memory loss and blackouts 

    Irregular sleep patterns


    Mood swings 

    Increased secrecy or self-isolation

Causes of Drug Abuse and Addiction

Because addiction is a complex, chronic illness that is unique for each person, it can be challenging to define the causes of substance abuse clearly. However, researchers have found that several factors can cause addiction, including: 

  • Causes of Addiction


    Family background

    Social influences

    Neurological factors 

    Environmental issues

If someone related to you had a substance use disorder or you grew up in an environment where someone had an addiction, your chances of developing addiction increase. Additionally, if a person has a mental health disorder, there is a higher likelihood of a substance use disorder.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, help is available at The Recovery Village Palm Beach. Contact us today to find out more about treatment programs that can work well for your situation. Q8m4o1Hn

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.