Addiction and Alcoholism: Overview & Statistics

Overview of Addiction

Addiction is a very complicated disease.

When a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, it does not mean they lack willpower or moral principles. In fact, drugs and alcohol cause actual physical changes in the brain. These changes make quitting extremely difficult, often resulting in painful and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse regards drug addiction as “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” What begins as a pleasurable behavior or experience, becomes something that is out of control, harmful, and even deadly.

Similar to other chronic diseases, addiction can lead to repeated cycles of relapse and recovery. However, with treatment programs like those offered by Nexus, addiction can be wrestled to the ground and successfully managed just like many other chronic conditions.

What Is Addiction: Signs & Symptoms

Drug addiction is a set of complex, interrelated factors.

There is no one sign or one symptom. However, when studying addiction, a certain picture emerges that tends to typify someone with a substance abuse disorder:

1 Obsessive Thoughts

In addition to physical cravings, someone with an addiction issue will also spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their drug of choice. These thoughts become a compulsion and impossible to control, which leads to drug-seeking behavior that can sometimes be criminal.

2 Negative Feelings

Feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, and the like are often at the root of substance abuse. The substance might temporarily mask these feelings, but they return once the high wears off, creating a vicious circle of drug abuse.

3 Repeating Cycles

Taking a substance will temporarily stop the cravings and compulsion for it, but soon the same feelings return. In time, it takes more and more of the same substance to achieve the same effect it once had.

4 Loss of Control

People addicted to drugs and alcohol may feel like they have no control over their drug use. Refraining from using or stopping seems to be an impossibility for them. The substance controls them, rather than the other way around.

5 Negative Consequences

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol will continue to seek them out even if their addiction has made them lose friends, family, spouses, and jobs. Drug-seeking behavior can even lead to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

What Causes Addiction?

In the past, addiction was frequently seen as a moral failing or weakness. This is no longer the case.

Over the last decades, research has shown how addiction is much closer to a disease that has physical causes than to a simple lapse of judgment or willpower. While all the causes of addiction remain the subject of ongoing research, we do know that continued abuse of drugs and alcohol causes physical changes to the brain that leads to overwhelming cravings (research has also shown that similar changes can be created in the brain by things like gambling, sex, and other risky activities).

The fact is, people become addicted to drugs and alcohol in many different ways. Contemporary research looks at things like “risk factors” and “protective factors.” Risk factors increase a person’s tendency to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Protective factors are types of interventions that can help nullify the risk factor. A table put together by the National Institute on Drug Abuse summarizes these risk and protective factors like this:

Risk Factors

  • Early Aggressive Behavior
  • Lack of Parental Supervision
  • Substance Abuse
  • Drug Availability
  • Poverty


  • Individual
  • Family
  • Peer
  • School
  • Community

Protective Factors

  • Self-Control
  • Parental Monitoring
  • Academic Competence
  • Anti-drug Use Policies
  • Strong Neighborhood Attachment

Of course, not everyone who has one or more of these risk factors becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, but the more risk factors someone faces without protective factors to stop them may lead to an increased chance of developing a substance abuse problem.

Besides these risk factors, the physical aspect of drug addiction cannot be stressed enough. Drugs and alcohol flood the brain’s reward circuit with dopamine – they make the user feel good. Repeated use reinforces this behavior and leads to a physical and chemical dependency.

Generally speaking, modern research sees the causes of drug addiction as a combination of factors:


  • Genetic
  • Environmental
  • Developmental

Addiction Myths and Facts

There is a lot of misinformation on issues surrounding substance abuse. To shed some light on these, the following list goes through a number of common myths and their related facts.

MYTH: Drug addiction is voluntary… it’s just a bad habit!
FACT: The first time a person takes drugs or a drink may be voluntary, but over time it becomes a compulsive behavior due to physical changes in the brain.

MYTH: Substance abuse is a character flaw.
FACT: This is absolutely untrue. Drug and alcohol addiction is a disease caused by changes to the brain.

MYTH: To be effective, you have to want treatment.
FACT: A number of studies have shown that people compelled into drug rehabilitation get the same results as those who volunteer so one does not have to hit “rock bottom” to benefit from treatment.

MYTH: Treatment is a one-time deal.
FACT: Many people with substance issues relapse. It sometimes takes multiple stints at rehab for treatment to be successful

MYTH: Treatment doesn’t work.
FACT: Studies that that treatment can and does help.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

Nature vs Nurture

Is drug addiction caused by “nature” – our genetic makeup – or by “nature” – the way a person is raised?

When it comes to substance abuse, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s a combination of these things, so it really isn’t “nature vs. nurture,” but rather, “nature and nurture.” In fact, current research indicates that drug abuse is 50% nature and 50% nurture.

On the nature side, our genes may predispose us to substance abuse. Scientists have identified numerous genes that could potentially influence the risk of addiction. The University of Utah has broken these genes down here in an easy-to-understand format.

On the nurture side, many factors can contribute to a substance-abuse problem:

  • Poverty
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stress
  • Lack of parental guidance
  • Violent trauma (like experience in war)
  • Untreated health issues

These types of experiences can lead to neurodevelopmental changes and severe emotional damage, which could, in time, lead to substance abuse.

Statistics On Substance Abuse in America

There are 1000s of statistics available on drug addiction and alcoholism in the United States.

Let’s explore some of them here. These, and others, can be found in the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

  • 19.7 million American adults (12 and older) face some kind of substance abuse disorder.
  • Marijuana (4.1 million people) is the most commonly abused substance.
  • 2.1 million people have an opioid use disorder and the majority of which come from prescription drug abuse rather than street drugs such as heroin.
  • Around 966,000 have a cocaine abuse disorder.

Substance abuse disorders are also extremely expensive, costing billions of dollars each year to treat. A 2011 report by the NIH states, “Abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs” exacts “more than $740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care.”

The numbers can be quite shocking:

  • 3.3 million fatalities each year related to alcohol
  • 85%–90% of stimulant-related drug fatalities involve meth
  • Though not as highly abused as other drugs, cocaine was associated with one out of five overdose-related deaths in 2017.
  • 38.2% of drug overdose fatalities are the result of opioid painkillers
  • 191,218,272 opioid prescriptions were written by doctors in 2017

More shocking, perhaps, is that only 10% of Americans receive treatment.

Treatment Options

Many options are available to help people recover from and manage an addiction problem.

Rehab centers like Nexus offer a comprehensive, holistic approach that uses many modalities.

There are different levels of care such as inpatient where someone lives full time at a facility. Then, there is an outpatient program where they live at home but attend sessions several times a week. And through a partial hospitalization program which involves around 20 hours of treatment a week, splitting the difference between inpatient and outpatient care.

Treatment often entails a mix of prescription medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, personal counseling, and group therapy. It is, however, important to understand that treatment takes time and is an ongoing process that may last the rest of someone’s life.

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment, Nexus is here to help you every step of the way. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation from one of our qualified professionals.

If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

Sign up for our Monthly Newsletter and get our blogs delivered right to your inbox!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Call Now