Addiction has been a problem since humans started using psychoactive substances. But today, the United States is facing one of the worst addiction epidemics in its history. As opioids continue to cause addiction and overdose in record numbers, other drugs like cocaine, alcohol, and meth are still causing issues in communities all over the country.

Addiction treatment is a decisive tool in the fight against addiction, and increasing the accessibility of effective treatment options can help stop the epidemic. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use issue, it’s imperative to learn more about addiction and how it can be treated. Understanding addiction and the options that are available to you may be the first step towards lasting recovery.

What Is Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a serious disease that primarily affects the reward center of the brain. According to the DSM-5, drug and alcohol addiction is officially diagnosed as a severe substance use disorder (SUD) that’s marked by compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences. Drug abuse and chemical dependence are related to addiction, but they are usually considered mild or moderate substance use disorders on their own. If they are left untreated, they can lead to addiction.

Substance abuse is using a psychoactive substance (a chemical that affects the brain’s chemical functions) in a way that goes beyond legal, medicinal purposes. People usually abuse drugs for recreation, but they may also use them to self-medicate, or as a physical or cognitive performance enhancer. Depending on the drug, it’s possible to go through a period of abuse without developing a more severe substance use disorder. For instance, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 26.9 percent of people over the age of 18 reported binge drinking in the month prior but only 6.2 percent of that age group met the qualifications for an alcohol use disorder that year. Still, substance abuse and mild substance use disorders increase your risk of dependence and addiction. Plus, heavy drug and alcohol use can cause health problems, including deadly overdoses.

Chemical dependence refers to your brain’s reliance on psychoactive chemicals to maintain normal functions. Dependence occurs after a period of heavy or frequent drug use that causes changes in your brain chemistry. Psychoactive chemicals disrupt your brain’s neurochemical communications. After a while, your brain will start to adapt to these new chemicals and may even integrate them into your balanced brain chemistry. If you stop using after becoming chemically dependent, you will feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening, depending on the type of substance. If you continue to use drugs after becoming physically dependent, you risk developing a severe substance use disorder.

Addiction is characterized by compulsive use that gets out of control. You can be chemically dependent, but when you notice a problem, you are able to cut back or stop. For instance, if you are taking a medication and you notify your doctor that you feel withdrawal symptoms, you may be able to stop using or cut back without feeling cravings. If you are addicted to a drug, you will feel intense cravings and compulsions to use that are difficult to control. Addiction is often identified by compulsive use despite serious consequences like legal issues, health problems, or strained relationships that are a direct result of drug use. Overcoming addiction is difficult to do on your own, and often needs professional help through treatment.

What Causes Drug Addiction?

The physical causes of addiction in the brain have to do with the reward center. However, we don’t know exactly how addiction affects these systems, and there’s still a lot to learn about this chronic disease. Yet, we do know that addiction plays on the parts of the brain that deal with reward, motivation, memory, and other related systems. It seems that the development of addiction has to do with the way psychoactive substances affect feel-good chemicals in the brain, like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Those chemicals are also released by normal, healthy activities like eating, drinking, and warm hugs. Your reward center is designed to respond to those chemicals by causing you to seek out those life-sustaining activities again. Since drugs can mimic those chemical responses, your reward center learns to teach you to seek out drugs again.

However, some people use drugs and drink alcohol without ever becoming addicted while others develop a substance use disorder after a few uses of a drug. It’s difficult to pinpoint any one definitive cause for a substance use disorder, even when it comes to individual cases. In most cases, addiction is likely caused by multiple factors working together. These factors can include:


Genetics and biological factors play a significant role in the development of substance use disorders. Researchers have looked at how parents and grandparents can pass tendencies toward addiction on to their offspring, and studying twins and adopted children help to separate genetics from upbringing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), genetics may account for half of a person’s total risk of experiencing addiction. Genetic factors are a challenge to people who have them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that addiction is inevitable if your grandfather struggled with it. However, if you do have a family history of addiction, it would be wise to avoid drugs and alcohol as much as possible.


Environmental factors are significant in the development of substance use issues. A person’s environment can include their family life, neighborhood, friend groups, economic backgrounds, school, and drug availability. Environmental factors also include things like peer pressure, witnessing family members abuse drugs, and early exposure to drugs. Research suggests that early exposure to drugs and alcohol can lead to negative consequences later in life, including addiction. Again, the presence of environmental factors doesn’t guarantee a problem with addiction, but it can raise your risks.


Development is where genetics and environment combine in early life. In childhood through young adulthood, people go through critical developmental stages that can have lasting impressions through the rest of their life. Taking drugs at any age can lead to substance use disorders, but taking them during a developmental stage seems to have more significant results. Developmental factors can include your parent’s stance on drugs and alcohol, exposure to childhood trauma, depression, and other mental and physical health problems. Protective factors can help lower a person’s risk of developing an addiction while risk factors can increase them Protective factors include parental monitoring, academic competence, anti-drug use policies at school, and a sense of community. Risk factors can include a lack of parental supervision, academic struggles, high drug availability, and isolation.

Effective Drug Addiction Treatment

Because of the current addiction epidemic, there are a wide variety of addiction treatment options all over the country. However, not every treatment option is equally effective for every person. Each case is unique and may require specific therapy options. Addiction research has revealed several factors that make treatment more effective. And since relapse is a significant threat in addiction recovery, it’s vital to seek out the most effective treatment options for your needs. NIDA has identified 13 principles of effective treatment that you can use to identify solid treatment programs. Many of these 13 principles have become industry standards and foundational to many treatment programs. Here are a few of the most important principles that NIDA has listed.

Addiction is a chronic disease. Addiction was not always treated as a chronic disease that affects the brain. Instead, it was treated as a bad habit or a moral failing. Of course, people who are struggling with addiction have made choices and mistakes that started them on the path to addiction, and a big part of many treatment programs is accepting and making amends for those mistakes. However, just like people can get diabetes after poor dietary choices, addiction is a very real disease of the brain that can be treated. A treatment program that understands this is more likely to lead to positive outcomes than one that sees addiction as a bad habit.

Treatment Should Be Personalized. There are so many problems that can be a cause or consequence of addiction. Each person that seeks treatment has their own unique set of issues that need to be addressed. Plus, people are different and respond to different approaches. To be effective, treatment needs to be tailored to your personal needs. When you enter treatment, you and your therapist will work together to make a treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and concerns. Two treatment plans that look exactly alike should be very rare.

Treatment should address multiple needs. Addiction treatment needs to be about more than just treating substance use disorders. It should also address problems that might be directly or indirectly related to substance abuse like mental health disorders. Trauma, anxiety, shame, and depression are common co-occurring issues when it comes to addiction. Addiction treatment should address all aspects of a person’s like that may be affected by addiction like physical health, mental health, social problems, legal issues, and financial instability. Otherwise, unaddressed issues may trigger a relapse.

Treatment needs to last long enough. Addiction treatment usually starts with about a week of medical detox, but it usually takes more than a week to facilitate long-lasting abstinence effectively. Addressing substance use and its underlying causes takes time. According to NIDA, studies show that treatment is most effective when it lasts for at least 90 days from detox to outpatient treatment. After that, it’s essential to continue your commitment to recovery through things like community programs, 12-step groups, and sober living housing. Staying connected to the recovery community can help maintain long-term sobriety.

Behavioral therapies are recommended. Addiction treatment can take you through many different therapy options, but behavioral therapies are among the most commonly recommended. Behavioral therapies are designed to help people address behavioral issues that can be difficult to control. They are useful in addiction treatment because they help clients engage in their plan, protect their sobriety, modify their attitudes toward treatment, and stay motivated. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common behavioral therapies for treating addiction. CBT helps identify and cope with high-risk situations that may cause a relapse of drug or alcohol use. It’s instrumental in forming relapse prevention programs.

How Treatment Works

Addiction treatment is a process that seeks to treat multiple aspects of a person and their needs from your physical health to your psychological well-being. Through addiction treatment, you will explore physical and psychological health, social skills and relationships, legal problems, and financial issues. Any of these areas may have contributed to your initial substance use problem, and they may threaten your ongoing sobriety.

Addiction treatment is a multidisciplinary approach to treating substance use disorders with multiple levels of care. The highest level of care involves 24 hours of medical treatment, and the lowest level may only involve a few hours of clinical therapy each week. Through treatment, you will move through the four main levels of care as you progress in your recovery. As you see success in treatment, you will move on to lower levels of care. Here are the four main levels of care in addiction treatment:

Medical Detoxification. Detox refers to 24-hour medically managed care every day for between five and ten days. Through this level of care, you will be treated with medications and monitoring to help avoid any potential complications caused by drug withdrawal or other medical issues. Your symptoms will also be mitigated as much as possible. Medical detox centers should also have clinicians on site to help connect you to the next level of care for your needs after you complete medical detox. Detox is a crucial step in recovery, but severe substance use disorders require more in-depth treatment to address effectively.

Inpatient Services. If you have medical needs or high-level mental health needs, you may need inpatient treatment, which requires 24-hour medically monitored or clinically managed treatment. Residential services fall under the inpatient level of care and involve 24-hour access to treatment services while you live in on-site housing. This level is designed for people that don’t need the highest level of medical care but do need consistent monitoring to avoid potentially serious complications.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) is the highest level of care in which you can live at home independently. IOP involves more than nine hours of treatment services each day. However, partial hospitalization falls under this category and can include more than 20 hours of treatment each week. The highest levels of IOP can involve as many as 12 hours of treatment per day. This level is designed for people that need high-level therapies, but don’t have urgent medical or psychological needs.

Outpatient Services. Outpatient services are the lowest level of formal addiction treatment and involve fewer than nine hours of addiction treatment services each week. Though outpatient is a low-intensity level of care, it’s an necessary step in treatment. It gives you more time to pursue goals in your independent life, but as you encounter new challenges, you will have access to therapies each week. In individual and group therapy, you will be able to process new issues in your everyday life.

Finding the Right Addiction Drug Addiction Treatment Center

Addiction may be a chronic disease that’s difficult to get over on your own, but with the right help and professional services, it can be effectively treated.  To learn more about addiction treatment, and how it can help you escape active addiction, speak to an addiction treatment specialist at Desert View Recovery. Call [phone_number] anytime to hear about the therapy options that may be available to you based on your needs. The first step on the road to recovery may be just a call away.

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