Addiction: Five Things You Should Know

Addiction: Five Things You Should Know

Addiction: Five Things You Should Know

If you are wondering what causes addiction or how you can help someone who struggles with alcohol or drug misuse, here are five things you should know.

1. There is no such thing as a typical addict.
The most recent findings from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reveals more than 37 million Americans over the age of 12 said they were misusing drugs in 2020. Millions more reported they misuse prescription medications. Another 139 million Americans 12 and older said they use alcohol.

The staggering numbers reflect a sobering fact: Addiction affects people of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

2. Addiction is a brain disease.
Over the past few decades, scientists have gained a better understanding of how addiction works. We now know it develops when pleasure centers in the brain get overwhelmed. If the brain is overwhelmed often enough, it begins to change and no longer functions like it should.

These permanent changes can cause problems with focus, memory, learning, decision-making and judgement. Seeking drugs isn’t a conscious, rational decision. It’s a habit engrained in a rewired brain. An addict craves drugs even though they know it’s bad for them.

Key to helping a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is remembering addiction as a brain disease, not a sign of weakness or poor character.

3. Addiction is treatable.
While addiction is treatable, most addicts can’t get sober without help. Treatment for drug misuse or alcoholism can occur in a variety of settings. It may include medication, psychotherapy and family therapy. In certain circumstances, addiction treatment requires admission to a hospital. In all settings, the goal is to remove drugs or alcohol from a person’s life, and address the physical, psychological, emotional and social issues that contributed to drug misuse.

4. Teen ‘users’ are more likely to become grown-up addicts.
The younger a person starts misusing drugs or alcohol, the more likely he or she is to become an addict. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 70% of users who try an illegal drug before age 13 develop a substance use disorder within the next 7 years.

Think your kids are immune? Stats reveal nearly half of all young people – 47% – use an illegal drug by the time they graduate from high school. It’s important for parents to take all teen drinking and drug misuse seriously. Don’t dismiss it as normal experimentation.

5. Recovery is hard.
It’s important that both family members and addicts understand that treatment is not the same as a cure. Relapse can be discouraging to family members and devastating to the addict. Remember, relapse is not the same as failure. Family members shouldn’t give up on their loved one if relapse occurs. If you are supporting a loved one through treatment and into recovery, know that he or she will likely need your support for a long time.

Sources: Drug Abuse Statistics, leaving site icon National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 2022; How an Addicted Brain Works, leaving site icon Yale Medicine, 2022; Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction Treatment and Recovery, leaving site icon National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020; High Risk Substance Use Among Young, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022

Originally published 12/32015; Revised 2022