Addiction is a complicated disease and navigating treatment options can be complex. However, getting the treatment you need for a substance use disorder is important in addressing and overcoming addiction. As you approach treatment, you may have many questions, but once you’ve recognized your need for help, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or addiction treatment professionals as soon as possible. Here are some answers to some of the most common questions surrounding addiction treatment. 

Why is Drug Addiction a Disease?

You may have heard addiction referred to as a disease, but isn’t it just a consequence of the choices a person makes? In many cases, it’s both. While some people develop a substance use disorder through the legitimate use of a prescription drug, many people misuse drugs in a way that causes dependence and addiction. But that doesn’t mean substance use disorders aren’t a disease. In fact, other diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes are often caused by a person’s lifestyle and choices. Still, they are treated by health care professionals. 

A disease is a disorder of structure or function in a living thing. Substance use disorders are complex conditions in which a person relies on or compulsively uses a drug. Addiction is a disease that affects the reward system of the brain. Relatively healthy people are capable of avoiding choices that they know will lead to severe consequences. But addiction is identified by the compulsive use of a drug despite consequences. Addiction makes changes in the brain’s reward system that causes people to treat drugs as an important life-sustaining behavior like eating food or drinking water. Compulsions can get out of control without intervention. 

Like many diseases, addiction can be effectively treated with medication and therapy. In many cases, addiction is a progressive disease that gets worse without treatment. 

Is Addiction a Habit or Obsession?

Addiction is often thought of as the same thing as a bad habit. In fact, smoking cigarettes is often called a bad habit. In one sense, addiction does involve something that has become habitual. But it’s a bit different. A habit is a well-worn mental pathway that can cause you to behave compulsively or subconsciously. A habit may also be difficult to give up, like an addiction. However, substance use disorders can be more severe than many bad habits like biting your nails or chewing with your mouth open. Again, addiction hijacks the reward center of your brain, which is intended to encourage you to repeat important tasks like eating. Giving up an addiction may feel like working against the instinct to eat, drink, or sleep. 

Addiction may also have common traits to obsession. Obsession involves thoughts that dominate your mind and make it difficult to think about other things. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health issue that involves unwanted obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. However, unlike drug addiction, an obsession can be a neutral or positive thing in your life. Disorders that involve obsession usually involve unwanted thoughts, but you can also experience obsessive thoughts about a piece of art you’re working on, your career, or other things you enjoy thinking about. 

Are Addiction and Dependence the Same Thing?

Addiction is related to dependence, and the two are often used interchangeably, but they are two different things. Chemical dependence, also called physical dependence, is a change that happens in your nervous system’s chemical communications. Drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuanna, alcohol, and others all work by influencing chemical messengers or chemical receptors in the brain. They disrupt your typical chemical balance to cause both their intended and adverse effects. However, your brain is adaptable, and it will begin to adjust the chemical balance in your nervous system to include a drug that you take consistently, in high doses, or for many weeks or months. When you stop using the drug, you’ll feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction is related to the reward system of the brain and involves powerful compulsions to continue using a drug despite serious consequences. Drug addiction and dependence often occur at the same time and many of the same drugs can cause both issues. Dependence can also make addiction worse, combining powerful drug cravings with uncomfortable withdrawal when you try to quit. However, some drugs with a low potential to cause addiction can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Many prescription drugs can cause a brief period of physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms when you quit, even though they aren’t known to cause addiction. Antidepressant medications are one example. Quitting SSRIs can cause rebound depression or anxiety, but it’s unlikely for you to develop an addiction to them.

Is There a Cure For Addiction?

There is no known cure for addiction currently. Addiction is a complex and chronic disease that can last for a long time. However, there are effective ways to treat addiction and substance use disorders. Still, people that go through addiction treatment and achieve sobriety may experience drug cravings and the urge to use a particular drug again from time to time. For some, addiction is a lifelong battle, and treatment involves learning effective ways to cope with triggers and compulsions to use. Still, many people achieve sobriety and maintain it for long periods or for the rest of their lives. 

There are both medications and psychotherapies that have been found to be effective in treating addiction, but there is no magic bullet. There are medications that specifically treat opioid and alcohol addiction, though some drugs have no FDA-approved medication treatments. Most substance use disorders can be treated with psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. Addiction treatment is a trial and error process, and it takes time to find the ideal treatment for your needs. 

Is Addiction Genetic?

It’s difficult to identify a single cause for addiction. It may have something to do with your environment, your development, mental health, socioeconomics, and other factors. However, genetics seem to play a significant role in the development of substance use disorders. The genetic influence of something like addiction can be studied by looking at children that are separated from their biological parents at birth and by studying twins that have gone through different environmental and developmental variables. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), research suggests that your genetics make up as much as 50% of your risk of developing a substance use disorder. That means if a parent or grandparent struggled with an alcohol use disorder, you have an increased risk of developing one. 

However, having a genetic link to addiction doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable in your life. Avoiding substance misuse can help you avoid addiction altogether. NIDA also points out that there are many protective factors that can help you avoid substance use problems. These factors include parental supervision, natural or developed self-control, doing well in academics, anti-drug use policies at school, and a sense of connection to your community. Other risk factors, along with genetics, can increase your likelihood of developing an addiction. Other risks include growing up around people that drink excessively, a lack of parental monitoring, poverty and economic challenges, and untreated mental health disorders.

What Drugs Cause Addiction?

There are several substances that can lead to addiction problems. Drugs that contribute to addiction usually influence certain “feel-good chemicals” in your brain, including dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and oxytocin. These chemicals can lift your mood, motivate you, relax you, or make you feel energized. Drugs that increase the amount of these chemicals in your nervous system usually have pleasant effects. They also tend to work quickly and wear off quickly. Drugs that take a long time to kick in or last all day are less likely to cause a severe substance use disorder because they aren’t as pleasant to use recreationally.  

In the United States, alcohol is the most common. More than 85% of people have drunk alcohol at least once in their lifetime. Alcohol is often thought of as separate from drugs, but it’s a chemical substance that interacts with brain chemistry and causes both dependence and addiction. Alcohol is similar to prescription depressants like benzodiazepines and barbiturates, which can also cause addiction. 

Opioids are another common source of substance use disorders in the United States. Opioids include prescription drugs like codeine, oxycodone, and morphine. It also includes illicit drugs like heroin. Opioids have been the center of the increase in addiction and overdose over the past several years. Fentanyl is a major culprit in the crisis. It’s a powerful synthetic opioid that’s used in medical treatment, but it’s also made and sold on the black market.

Central nervous system stimulants are also commonly misused drugs and include prescription amphetamines and illicit cocaine and methamphetamine. Nicotine and caffeine are also in this category. Cocaine and meth are some of the most addictive and destructive drugs in this category. However, amphetamines are sometimes misused as performance-enhancing drugs on college campuses for their ability to increase alertness and wakefulness through long study sessions. 

Marijuana is one of the most common recreational drugs in the United States after alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. However, it’s not known to cause significant physical dependence or addiction. However, many people seek addiction treatment for marijuana use. While the drug isn’t known to cause severe substance use disorders, it may contribute to psychological or emotional dependence. 

Other drugs like psychedelics and MDMA (Molly) have a high potential for misuse and recreational use, but they aren’t associated with high severe addiction or chemical dependence. Still, using them can be potentially dangerous, especially when they’re obtained from illicit sources. 

What are the Complications of Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease that has the potential to take over multiple aspects of your life, including your physical health, your psychological health, and your relationships. Addiction can cause both immediate consequences and long-term problems. In many cases, addiction can increase your risk of fatal consequences like long-term health issues, overdose, or accidents.


Addiction can cause immediate and chronic health concerns. High doses and recreational binges of alcohol, opioids, or stimulants can lead to fatal overdoses. Overdose is one of the most common ways an addiction can be fatal. Illicit drug use can make an overdose even more likely since doses and potency can be difficult to predict. Illicit drugs may also be mixed with other substances that increase your risk of overdose. Long-term drug use can cause chronic health problems, depending on the specific drug you use. For instance, drugs that are smoked can cause lung problems, alcohol is linked to liver disease, and intravenous drug use can cause infections. 

Addiction is also associated with psychological problems. It’s unclear if drugs can cause mental health issues or if they trigger or worsen existing problems. Mental health disorders seem to be a significant risk factor for addiction. Around half of adults with a mental health disorder also have a substance use disorder and vice versa.  

Addiction can also lead to social and financial problems. It’s often called the family disease because of the way it affects entire families and because it can be rooted in family dysfunction. Addiction can put a strain on interpersonal relationships. But it can also affect other areas of your life. It can make it difficult to maintain employment, and it increases your likelihood of having legal troubles like DUIs. 

How are Substance Use Disorders Treated?

Substance use disorders are chronic diseases, but they can be treated with a variety of approaches. Addiction is complex and people that have substance use problems may enter treatment with physical, psychological, and social problems that need to be addressed. For that reason, effective addiction treatment is tailored to your individual needs. There’s no one addiction treatment option that works for every person, so you’ll form a personalized treatment plan when you first enter addiction treatment. 

The first stages of addiction treatment will depend on the drug you’ve been using and the severity of your dependency and addiction. If you’ve been using a central nervous system depressant like alcohol for a long time, you may be in danger of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Other drugs, including opioids, can cause extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that are difficult to get through without relapse. Medical detox can help get you through dangerous and uncomfortable withdrawal safely. 

Detox involves 24-hour medically managed treatment. If your risk for dangerous withdrawal is low, but you have other needs that require round-the-clock treatment, you may go through inpatient or residential treatment options. When you can live on your own safely, you can go through partial hospitalization, intensive inpatient, or inpatient treatment. Addiction treatment often follows the continuum of care model, which is when you move through the various levels of care as you progress in treatment. 

Through each level of care, you’ll receive therapies and medications according to your need. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is common in addiction treatment and you may go through other therapy options to address specific problems like past traumas or other mental health problems. Individual and group therapy sessions can also be helpful. 

Are There Medications For Treating Addiction?

Through addiction treatment, you may be given medications to help you manage some of the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. However, there are some medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat addiction directly. Most of the FDA-approved addiction medications are used to treat opioid addiction. Methadone is a common drug that’s used to treat opioid use problems. It is a long-acting synthetic opioid that can stave off opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 


The idea behind using an opioid to treat opioid addiction is to replace more harmful or unmanageable opioids with a drug that can satisfy cravings without causing significant intoxication. Opioid use disorders can cause a cycle of seeking drugs, using them, and recovering from them. Methadone can help decrease the time spent managing and recovering from opioid use. 

Buprenorphine is another popular choice in treating opioid addiction. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it partially activates the same receptors that other opioids do. Buprenorphine is able to stop withdrawal and cravings without causing feelings of intoxication. It also has a lower misuse liability than other opioids and it’s less likely to cause an overdose in high doses. Suboxone is a brand of opioid medication that combines buprenorphine with naloxone, a medication that blocks opioid receptors. The addition of this medication can make the drug even harder to misuse. 

There are also some medications that are used to treat alcohol addiction. Acamprosate is one such medication. It works by binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors, which are the same receptors alcohol works on. Acamprosate is thought to help ease some of the longer-lasting symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, like anxiety and insomnia. Alcohol is also sometimes treated with benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are also central nervous system depressants like alcohol. They have many of the same effects on the brain that alcohol has, and they can be used to help taper a person off alcohol without experiencing dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

While there are a few medications for alcohol and opioid use disorders, these drugs are often best combined with other treatment options like behavioral therapies.

Does Addiction Treatment Work?

Addiction treatment is complex, and finding the right treatment for your needs can take time. However, addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can get worse without treatment. Around 40% to 60% of people that achieve sobriety will relapse. Many people learn that statistic and worry that addiction treatment will not work for them. However, those relapse rates are consistent with other chronic diseases like diabetes at 30% to 50% and hypertension and asthma, which are both at 50% to 70%. Relapse is often a concern for people with substance use disorders. 

Still, treatment has shown to have several benefits in the lives of people with substance use disorders. People that get treatment and remain in it for the proper amount of time stop using drugs are less likely to be involved in criminal activity, maintain jobs, and improve social functioning. It’s also important to note that relapse doesn’t mean that addiction treatment has failed. 

Through addiction treatment, you learn to identify triggers, you learn better coping mechanisms, and you learn how to form positive connections with other people. That means that each day you engage in treatment that has value. Plus, addiction treatment needs to be treated like treatment for other chronic diseases. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process and you need to continually pursue techniques to safeguard your sobriety. 

How Do I Get Into Treatment?

There are many ways you can be connected to the right treatment for your needs. If you know you have a substance use problem and you’re ready to seek treatment, you can call a treatment center to learn more about your options. If you’re not sure if you have a substance use problem or if you’re not sure how severe your problem is, you can talk to your doctor. Your general practitioner can help connect you to treatment that works for your needs. If you don’t have a doctor or health insurance, organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can connect you to treatment options.

How Much Does Drug Rehab Cost?

Like other medical procedures and treatments, addiction treatment can be costly. The cost of drug rehab can vary widely depending on several factors. The levels of care you go through, the therapies you receive, and the type of rehab facility you go to are all variables that can affect the final cost of treatment. For that reason, treatment ranges from a few thousand to several thousand dollars. However, since addiction is a chronic disease that can affect your finances and your ability to maintain employment, treatment is often worth the cost.

Does Insurance Cover Addiction Treatment?

Yes, insurance companies offer coverage for addiction treatment. In fact, in order to participate in the Healthcare Marketplace in the United States, law requires that insurance companies offer coverage for mental health and substance use disorders. Most insurance providers have in-network treatment facilities that they prefer. But you still may be able to get coverage with facilities that are out of network. Insurance companies prefer treatment facilities that use evidence-based treatment approaches with a proven track record. 

Evidence-based treatment centers usually accept insurance coverage from most private insurance companies. But many private treatment centers may not accept coverage from federally-funded insurance programs like Medicare or Medicaid. Still, if you have one of those, you will have some options when looking for addiction treatment.

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