Understanding Addiction and Asking for Help
Addiction is a chronic medical disorder that affects some people who use alcohol or drugs.1 People who develop an addiction often don’t know how to get the help they need. Or, they may tell themselves that they can stop using on their own, even though they have not been successful when they tried to quit before. Understanding addiction and knowing when, and how, to ask for help can lead you to a more fulfilling life, one that is free from addiction to alcohol or drugs.
Many people in the United States are struggling with substance abuse, but most don’t talk about the problem because they are afraid of what others may think of them. In 2019, more than 20 million people age 12 and older were estimated to have a substance use disorder or addiction.2 Fortunately, addiction is treatable. Unfortunately, most people who need treatment don’t get help for various reasons, including fear of stigma or feelings of shame or guilt.
This article will provide answers to common questions such as what addiction is, how it happens, and what to do if you think you or someone you love may be addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Addiction treatment works and there are many addiction treatment program options in Nevada and throughout the country to fit your needs.
Is Addiction a Disease?
Scientists have studied how alcohol and drugs affect the body, brain function, and behavior for many years. It has become clear that addiction is not a weakness, it is a chronic brain disease.1 Addiction is a medical condition that involves changes in the brain’s reward system where feelings of pleasure and reward are processed.
You may be asking yourself how brain function can be changed just from using alcohol or drugs. Studies have shown that there are complex interactions between a person’s genetics, behavior, and environment that lead to an addictive brain.1
Genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that a person will develop an addiction.3 (p 2) Environmental factors include what happens to a person in their life, from childhood experiences through to adulthood. What you experience in your life can either help you become resilient to avoid becoming addicted or foster the development of addiction through vulnerable exposures.3
Environmental stressors, learned behaviors, and disruptions in brain functioning all have a role in the development of addiction to alcohol or drugs.1 Known as a family disease, addiction knows no boundaries, and there are no limits to who it can affect. Even those with the highest education or financial status are not immune to addiction; addiction can happen to anyone at any age. Addiction is not only drugs and alcohol, but a person can also be addicted to an activity or behavior.
Fortunately, targeted therapeutic interventions have been proven to be effective in treating the disease of addiction.1
What Causes Addiction?
Addiction does not happen overnight, it is progressive. When substances are used over time, the body begins to build up a tolerance. Although “tolerance” may be a good quality in some situations, when it comes to drugs or alcohol, tolerance is not a good thing—it’s a warning sign. Tolerance occurs when a person needs more alcohol or more of the drug to get “high” or to experience the effect they had before.4
Addiction can then progress further to the point a person becomes physically dependent on the substance. How long this takes varies from person to person. However, once a person is dependent there are outward signs that indicate dependence on drugs or alcohol. The person will become sick without the substance (e.g., alcohol or drug) circulating in the body so they have to continue to use the substance just to be able to function.
If a person is dependent on a substance, they will begin to show signs or symptoms of withdrawal when they stop or reduce their intake.4 Look for these withdrawal signs and symptoms that start to occur several hours to a few days after stopping alcohol or drug use:4
- Rapid heartbeat (>100 beats per minute)
- Increased hand tremor
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)
Tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal all play a part in the cycle of addiction as the disease progresses. A person may experience all or some withdrawal symptoms to varying degrees. Some people become very good at concealing their discomfort from withdrawal symptoms, but you may still notice that they seem uneasy or may say things like they “feel trapped,” or “hopeless.” Addiction and fear of withdrawal add to the difficulties of coping with everyday life responsibilities and cause increased stress.
The physical and mental strain of addiction may cause behavioral changes. These changes may include secretive behaviors such as isolating themselves or making up excuses to leave the house or work, or, avoiding scheduled events in order to obtain and use the substance. If a person seems anxious, irritable, or has any of the symptoms described above, then leaves the room and comes back in a noticeably different mood (e.g., relaxed, euphoric), there is a good chance they used a substance to stop the discomfort of withdrawal.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Addiction?
There are common symptoms of addiction that include, “the inability to consistently abstain (not use addictive substances), impairment in behavioral control, unable to recognize the significant problems with one’s behaviors and their relationships, along with a dysfunctional emotional response.”3
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and depend on factors such as the person’s drug of choice (e.g., alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, methamphetamine), how much the persons uses daily, the frequency of use, and the duration or period of time the substance has been used. It’s important to be aware that some people may be using more than one substance (e.g., mixing alcohol and pain medication).
Physical symptoms of addiction include intoxication (being “high”). Intoxication is when the body is under the influence of the substance and is physically affected. Intoxication affects judgment, motor skills, memory, motivation, impulses, and decision making.3
Behavioral signs of addiction can include:4
- Drinking more over time to feel normal.
- Trying to cut down or stop substance use unsuccessfully.
- Spending a great deal of time obtaining or using the substance.
- Experiencing cravings, or strong desires or urges to drink or use drugs.
- Knowingly continuing to use alcohol or drugs even though it is causing health problems.
- Continuing to drink or use drugs even though it is causing relationship problems.
- Isolating from previous social circles.
- Drinking or using drugs in hazardous situations (e.g., while driving, operating equipment, or by taking other risks).
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What Are My Options for Addiction Treatment?
Addiction is treated in different settings with various levels of service. The goal of treatment is to help the person abstain (stop) the use of an addictive substance(s) and gain coping techniques, tools, and support networks they can rely on to regain their life free from substance use.
For some, a step-down treatment approach may be indicated that includes medication therapy.
Step-down treatment includes a period of safe medication therapy that is strictly monitored by a provider over time. A structured program will include behavioral therapy along with a gradually decreased dose until medication is no longer needed to treat the substance use disorder (SUD).
All programs have safety checks, including breathalyzers and drug screens to monitor treatment compliance and identify any risky behavior. Some programs conduct random screens to support accountability, responsibility, and a safe treatment plan.
If a prescription medication is indicated to treat the disorder, your provider will re-evaluate frequently and make adjustments over time if needed. If the medication has the potential to be addictive, the provider will work with you to decrease the dose and wean you off over time. The hope is to reach full abstinence from all addictive substances.
Finding the right treatment plan for you starts with talking to your physician or treatment provider. Just as you would seek a heart specialist for a heart condition, the same is true for addiction. Quality addiction treatment programs have a team of health professionals who are medically and clinically certified and trained to treat substance use disorders.
Once you decide where you want to get treatment, the clinical team at that center will develop a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. To help determine the best plan, an initial medical assessment will be used to determine what level of care you need (e.g., inpatient or outpatient). For those with a history of medical complications or who have experienced multiple relapses, medical monitoring during detox may be indicated, as well as a higher level of intensive inpatient care for stabilization. Outpatient treatment may be appropriate for others.
Finding Rehab Near Me
It is important to not wait to get help for substance abuse and addiction as it will only get worse over time. America’s largest network of addiction providers, American Addiction Centers (AAC), is ready to help you with getting treatment for addiction or substance abuse. A leading provider of detox and rehab in both Nevada and nationwide, AAC meets the highest national standards of care for both safety and quality of addiction treatment provided.5
AAC has top-rated physicians, masters-level therapists, and nurses trained to care for you. All of our staff go above and beyond to bring you compassionate care.5 You will have the best services available so that you can get back as quickly as possible to the life you were meant to lead.
Our personalized treatment plans offer individualized counseling that will guide your recovery and address and support other areas of your life that may have been impacted by your substance use such as employment, legal issues, or social relationships.5
In Nevada, Desert Hope Treatment Center is one of our AAC inpatient rehabs, located in Las Vegas. We are proud to offer the best comprehensive care services available including:6
- Medically managed detoxification
- Inpatient residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment (OP)
- Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment
- Telehealth addiction treatment
Our treatment plans are highly customized to fit your needs with specialized services offered at AAC’s Desert Hope Treatment Center that include:6
- Co-occurring mental health treatment plans.
- Chronic medical condition treatment plans.
- Pregnancy care.
- Individual counseling (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT], dialectical behavioral therapy [DBT], and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing [EMDR]).
- Group therapy.
- Family therapy.
- Specialty group therapy (e.g., early recovery, LGBTQ support, Veterans/First Responders, women empowerment).
AAC has an expanded list of holistic and alternative therapies for those interested in addressing wellness from a mind, body, and spiritual approach. You can choose to participate in art therapy, equine therapy, yoga, music therapy, spiritual engagement, and recreational therapy such as hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities.6
Our trained admission navigators are ready to assist you and to answer any questions you may have about addiction treatment, services, insurance coverage, and treatment services offered at our various centers across the nation. Call us today at our free, confidential, 24/7 helpline at