Substance Abuse

Overview

Why do people use alcohol and other drugs?

People use substances such as alcohol and other drugs because they like the way these substances make them feel. Pleasure is a powerful force. Your brain is wired so that if you do something that feels good, you will probably want to do it again. All drugs that are addicting can activate and affect the brain’s pleasure circuit.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a disease that affects your brain and your behavior. You have control over your choice to start using drugs, but once you start, their pleasurable effect makes you want to keep using them. When you become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, your brain actually changes in certain ways so that a powerful urge to use drugs controls your behavior. Someone who is addicted uses drugs without thinking of the consequences, such as problems with health, money, relationships, and performance at work or at school.

What drugs can cause addiction?

People can become addicted to illegal drugs and to drugs that doctors prescribe. People can also become addicted to things they may not think of as drugs, such as alcohol and the nicotine in cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. Some drugs may cause addiction more easily than others.

Are prescription drugs safe?

When prescription drugs are taken the right way, there is much less chance that you will become addicted to them. But prescription drugs can be dangerous if they are abused (for example, taking more than your doctor prescribes, taking them when they’re not needed or mixing drugs).

Symptoms

How do I know if I have a problem?

You have a problem with drugs or alcohol if you continue to use them even when they cause problems with your health, money, work or school, or relationships. You may have a problem if you have developed a tolerance to drugs or alcohol. This means you need to use more and more to get the same effect.Listen to loved ones who express concern over your drug use. They may help you recognize that you have a problem.

Treatment

Can addiction be treated?

Yes, but addiction is a chronic (goes on for a long time), relapsing disease. It may take a number of attempts before you can remain free of drugs or alcohol.

What treatments are available?

Treatment can include counseling, medication or both. Your doctor will help you find the treatment that is right for you.

How can I quit abusing drugs or alcohol?

The first step in breaking addiction is to understand that you can take control of what you do. You can’t control all the things that happen in your life or most of what other people do, but you do have control over how you react. So use that control. The following are the next steps to breaking your addiction:

  • Commit to quitting. Once you decide to quit, make a plan to be sure that you really do it.

  • Get help from your doctor. Your doctor can give you support and help you find a treatment program that meets your needs. Your doctor can also treat withdrawal symptoms and other problems that you may have as you recover from your addiction.

  • Get support. Ask your family and friends for support. You can also contact one of the organizations listed under "Other Organizations. "These groups can give you the tools and support you need to break your addiction and move on with your life.

Other Organizations

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • How do I know if I have a problem?

  • How can I quit abusing drugs and alcohol?

  • What treatments are there for addiction?

  • Could I become addicted to prescription drugs?

  • Can you recommend some organizations to help me stop abusing drugs and alcohol?