Kaia Koglin
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

Ad Disclosure: Some of our recommendations, including BetterHelp, are also affiliates, and as such we may receive compensation from them if you choose to purchase products or services through the links provided

Addiction is a disease, and just like any other disease, it can cause health issues. If left untreated, addiction can last a lifetime and may even lead to death. The likelihood of developing an addiction varies by person, but certain factors can put a person at higher risk than others. Once addicted, people may find it difficult to break the cycle of addiction, and recovery often feels perpetually out of reach. And when addiction takes over a person’s life, it doesn’t just impact them — it also impacts their family and friends.

Many people with an addiction underestimate its hold on them and deny the need for treatment or deny the habit altogether. If you’re wondering if you or a loved one has an addiction or need more information about overcoming addiction, this guide answers many common questions, including information on what causes addictions, the signs and symptoms of addiction and addiction treatment and recovery.

What Is Addiction?

You’ll find many definitions of addiction, but they all have a common theme. If you’re struggling to stop using a substance or performing an activity that causes substantial physical and psychological harm, you may have an addiction.

The three basic types of addictions are substance, behavioral and impulse addictions. Substance addictions can involve alcohol, various drugs or any substance that creates a physical dependence on whatever you’re putting into your body. Behavioral addictions are medical conditions that are more difficult to recognize but can include any compulsive behavior you can’t stop doing, such as gambling, watching porn, shopping or playing video games. Impulse addictions occur in individuals with impulse control disorders and may result in bad behavior and emotional outbursts. Impulse control disorders may also cause other addictions, especially substance addictions.

An addiction is a chronic illness that continues for a long time or reoccurs and is difficult to overcome. Addictions are complex conditions, and relapse is common. Despite what many people think, addicts can't "just stop". Overcoming an addiction isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right support.

Related Questions & Answers

Weblog Entries
Substance Abuse And Drug-Induced Osteoporosis

Addiction is a disease, and just like any other disease, it can cause health issues. If left untreated, addiction can last a lifetime and may even lead to death. The... Read More

Teen Drinking And Binge Drinking

Addiction is a disease, and just like any other disease, it can cause health issues. If left untreated, addiction can last a lifetime and may even lead to death. The... Read More

The Issue Of Coffee, Caffeine And Addiction

Addiction is a disease, and just like any other disease, it can cause health issues. If left untreated, addiction can last a lifetime and may even lead to death. The... Read More

Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Addiction

Recognizing common signs and symptoms of addiction can let you know when someone needs help. However, addiction can have a broad range of harmful side effects, depending on the type and severity of addiction involved. The primary symptoms of any addiction are a lack of control and a pattern of use or behavior that leads to some form of impairment or distress, despite negative or unhealthy consequences. Specific symptoms vary based on the addictive disorder, but common signs, symptoms and effects include:

  • Becoming obsessed with a substance or activity
  • Taking risks to obtain the substance or continue doing the activity
  • Lying to family and friends about what they’re doing or where they’re going
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while impaired
  • Giving up activities/hobbies that previously brought them joy
  • Avoiding spending time with friends and family
  • Mounting financial difficulties or legal issues
  • Experiencing changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Ignoring their appearance and personal hygiene

What Causes Addiction?

There isn’t one clear path to addiction, and no single factor makes addiction inevitable. Many people exposed to substances or activities considered addictive never become addicted, while others do.  While numerous studies have been performed to determine what causes addiction, opinions vary.

Countless theories on why some people seem prone to addiction exist because the research and various studies weigh contributing factors differently. However, most theories involve some combination of social, biological, psychological, cultural and/or situational elements comingling to form the complex cause of addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse discusses biological factors, including genes, age, gender and ethnicity. NIDA discovered that scientists estimated genes and environmental factors account for 40% to 60% of a person’s risk of addiction. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration research also shows that the earlier a person begins using drugs, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder or addiction.

Mental Health, Dual-Diagnosis and Behavioral Addictions

Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, are often a component of addiction, especially substance addictions. Sometimes a person living with mental illness abuses substances to deal with their problems, but it actually makes them worse.

When mental illness and substance use disorder occur together, it’s called a co-occurring disorder, and you receive a dual diagnosis. A person with a dual diagnosis must receive treatment for both the addiction and the mental health issue to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Besides depression, anxiety and PTSD, other common mental health issues that frequently co-occur with addiction include:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders

Sometimes addictions are behavioral instead of substance related. Evidence suggests that non-substance addictions resemble substance addictions in many ways. Like substance use, addictive behaviors can produce short-term rewards that cause a person to continue doing something, even when it causes problems, such as financial, relationship, work and school issues.

Addiction Treatment

Treatment for a substance addiction typically includes an assessment and detox to eliminate the substance from your body. During detox, you may receive medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. Following detox, numerous forms of therapy exist to treat the underlying cause of the addiction and help you overcome it. Treatment plans may include the following:

  • Counseling to uncover why you started using a substance, discover co-occurring mental health issues, work through past traumas and set future goals.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to teach you how to adjust your routines, attitudes and beliefs regarding substance abuse, recognize and avoid triggers and cope with stress and cravings to prevent relapse.
  • Various 12-step programs including support group meetings that help members recover from substance and behavioral addictions and maintain abstinence.
  • Group therapy, which involves counseling sessions with multiple patients attending at once, allowing you to learn from others with similar experiences under a professional therapist’s guidance.
  • Family therapy, including joint counseling sessions with you and significant family members to improve communication, resolve conflicts and help loved ones learn how to better support your recovery.
  • Nontraditional therapies as a supplement to traditional talk therapies. These may include more holistic treatments, such as biofeedback and music, art, dance, massage, animal, spiritual-based and recreational therapies.

How to Stop Addiction

Stopping addiction involves individualized treatment plans tailored to long-term goals, specific types of substance or behavioral addictions and mental health concerns. Generally, the first step in stopping is admitting you have a problem and seeking professional support to help you develop a plan to stop. You may receive assistance in an inpatient or outpatient facility and one or more therapies. Other steps to stop addiction include:

  • Identifying your triggers to use a substance or pursue an activity
  • Changing your environment, such as the people you spend time with
  • Exercising to help reduce stress, boost self-esteem and provide a distraction
  • Calling for help when you feel an uncontrollable urge for a substance or an activity

It may also be possible to prevent addiction through a combination of early intervention and preventative measures to reduce the risk of substance abuse in children and adolescents. Prevention methods can include education, improving community resources, parental monitoring and presenting alternatives to substance abuse, such as fun activities.

Addiction Recovery

Once you stop using the substance or doing the activity tied to your addiction, you’re on the road to recovery, which can be just as rocky as the treatment phase. During recovery, you may pursue different forms of support based on your personality and preferences.

Some people choose to pursue recovery on their own without any support groups or treatment, which is known as natural recovery. While this works well for some people, others need additional support, such as:

  • Spiritually based support programs that include an anonymous group of other people recovering from the same addiction
  • Secular or self-empowerment recovery groups
  • Sober living facilities with like-minded people also in recovery

Although relapse may be part of the recovery process, it doesn’t mean treatment has failed. It simply means you may need to modify your treatment plan or try a different treatment that better supports your desire to remain in recovery.

Information on Specific Drugs

Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 27.6 million people aged 18 or older had an alcohol use disorder nationwide. Prescription pain relievers are another top substance of abuse, including opioid-based medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, hydrocodone and fentanyl. In 2020, 9.3 million people misused opioid-based prescriptions. Other major substances of abuse include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Bath Salts
  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Ecstasy
  • Hallucinogens
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Ketamine
  • Morphine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Recreational Marijuana
  • Steroids
  • Antidepressants, such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft
  • Sedatives, such as Ativan, Ambien and Xanax

Substance abuse can result in numerous symptoms that damage your physical and psychological health and impact your family and social life. Behavioral addictions resemble substance addictions in many ways and often have similar treatment methods. When a person wants to quit but needs help overcoming an addiction, they may consider an inpatient or outpatient treatment center with options covering detox, therapy and medications to assist with withdrawal and help prevent relapse. 

If you or someone you know is struggling to stop addiction, pursuing mental health assistance may be the next big step toward quitting and embracing recovery. Many insurance companies cover addiction treatments, so contact your provider to learn what options might be covered by your policy.