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Your Guide to Spotting Addiction

Addiction is a perpetual disease that wreaks havoc on the lives of many every year. Specifically, there were 17 million individuals with an alcohol problem in the United States in 2012.[1] In 2013, 24.6 million were current illicit drug users.[2]  When someone can no longer control how much of a substance they use or how often they use it, addiction is likely present. Often, negative consequences stem from substance abuse, including but not limited to:

  • Legal ramifications, such as DUI
  • Job loss
  • Disruption in one’s home life and familial relationships
  • Poor health

Despite these issues, the addict will keep using drugs and alcohol, whereas the habitual user would not.

What Causes Addiction?

mental illness and addiction rateFor many, there is a genetic component to addiction. Although no specific addiction gene has been pinpointed, biological makeup contributes to around 50 percent of the cause.[3] Others grow up to be addicts merely due to drug and alcohol abuse being prevalent in the environment they were brought up in. In many cases, what starts off as a mere habit grows into a full-blown addiction.

Often, habits become compulsions that serve to relieve some sort of uncomfortable feeling that the addict doesn’t know how to cope with. This is especially true for those suffering from mental health issues. A reported 29 percent of all mentally ill individuals also struggle with substance abuse.[4] Likewise, drug habits give substances the time they need to form a physical dependence in the user’s body that requires them to keep using. If they don’t, they’ll have to endure the rather unpleasant side effects of withdrawal. So the use perpetuates in an effort to avoid such an experience and the addiction grows deeper.


stereotypeThere is no shortage of stereotypes when it comes to the addict persona. Most of the general population has yet to recognize addiction as a medical problem. Many don’t view addicts as deserving of sympathy, care, or tax dollars. Addicts may be seen as vagrants, weak-willed, lazy, and lacking morals. But what is a stereotype if not false?

In truth, addicts are people just like you. Something compelled them to engage in substance abuse, and they couldn’t stop. For some, they experimented with LSD one night at a party and found themselves feeling better than they have in years. They couldn’t contain their need for that heightened elation and started seeking access to the drug. Over time, their dependency and tolerance may have led them to discover other substances that are popular among partygoers and the club scene – like Molly, which put 10,176 young people in the emergency room in 2011.[6]

The non-addict can’t comprehend why someone wouldn’t quit using a substance after it’s caused them distress or negative consequences, but that’s merely part of addiction. People who are dependent on alcohol or drugs can’t stop, even when they want to. They can’t do it on their own. Their incessant cravings for the substance are compounded by the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that contribute to the problem.

What Does It Look Like?

Everyone likely has an image in their mind of what addiction looks like to them. It might be the guy on the street corner with his cardboard sign asking for spare change. It could be the woman arrested last week. Sometimes it’s the kid who skips school and gets bad grades. But other times, it’s the mom who walks her son to the bus stop every morning before taking a few of his Adderall, a middle class father of two who never quite gave up his leisurely marijuana habit, or a lawyer who finds that the workday is far more bearable with prescription opioid pain relievers on hand. Even doctors might be popping pills or lighting up, with one study reporting 10 to 12 percent of them do.[5]
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Who Is a Drug Addict?

Certain individuals are at risk for addiction more than the general population is. If your mother or father was an addict, you have an eightfold increased risk of becoming one yourself.[7] In 2009, 23.5 million people entered treatment for an addiction or substance abuse problem.[8]
enter treatment 2009
You might be surprised at who these people are. Long gone are the days of only the poor or desolate being drug users. Addiction has worked its way into the lives of millions, and they aren’t all crowded together in one demographic.

Others Demographics

Among different races, there were more current illicit drug abusers among the mixed-race population than any other at 17.4 percent.[9] Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders came in at 14 percent, American Indians and Alaskan Natives at 12.3 percent, African Americans at 10.5 percent, Caucasians at 9.5 percent, Hispanics at 8.8 percent, and Asians at 3.1 percent.[10]  Between genders, 11.5 percent of all males over the age of 11 were current illicit substance users, in comparison to 7.3 percent of females.[11]

The wealthy have just as much of an issue with substance abuse as the poor. The death of a celebrity due to a drug overdose is common news. Often, these headlines include statements that imply the media, the celeb’s success, or their personal demons were to blame. In fact, addiction is usually to blame. In 2010, 38,329 people died from drug-related overdoses in America.[12]


Another growing trend in addiction demographics is the suburban mom. Soccer moms from coast to coast have taken to abusing drugs in an effort to meet the demands society has placed on their shoulders. The most popular drug in this sector is likely prescription stimulants, such as amphetamine-based Adderall, used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

An approximate 8 million adults have been diagnosed with ADHD.[13] Some question whether or not they all actually have ADHD. For the true ADHD patient, certain medications help them and do not deliver the jolt of energy that someone without ADHD experiences under their influence. Thus, users who are getting high on drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are likely not suffering from ADHD, but rather from addiction.

Adderall is a highly addictive substance, and it is not without negative effects. Some parents are even guilty of tapping into their child’s prescription. Prolonged use of the drug can lead to dependence, as well as diminished metabolism, tooth decay, and more.

The Mentally Ill

Last but not least, a huge portion of drug and alcohol abusers are also mentally ill — 53 percent of drug addicts and 37 percent of alcoholics to be exact.[14] Our society often lacks just as much compassion and understanding for the mentally ill as it does for addicts. When the two go hand in hand, the story is no different. Often, people suffering from mental health disorders go undiagnosed or without treatment, serving to further complicate their situation. Around 60 percent of adults and nearly half of young people aged 8 to 15 who were mentally ill received no treatment for their illness in 2012.[15]

no treatment mental illness

Symptoms aren’t understood, and being quite uncomfortable, these sufferers may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an effort to mask the symptoms. That being said, it is important not to confuse the symptoms of drug abuse with a mental health disorder, and vice versa. The symptoms of addiction include:

  • Building up a tolerance to a substance
  • Engaging in substance abuse to prevent the effects of withdrawal from setting in
  • Lack of control over how much of a substance you use
  • Failed attempts to cut back on how often you use
  • Pulling away from social activities and engagements with friends and family that you once found pleasurable
  • Spending a significant amount of time bouncing back from using, thinking about maintaining a sufficient supply, and using said supply
  • Persistent use of a substance even though it has caused trouble in your life

Thus, the symptoms of many mental health disorders also include many of those listed above and can easily be confused with one another. Some drug abuse can actually cause certain mental health conditions. Substance-induced disorders can be quite serious and most often caused by the abuse of hallucinogens, alcohol, sedatives, stimulants, and opiates. Among individuals experiencing initial episodes of psychosis, around 7 to 25 percent are suffering from a substance-induced psychotic disorder.[16]In addition, some addicts end up where they are via the misuse of a legitimate prescribed medication for a mental health problem. Most commonly, stimulants and anti-anxiety medications may lead to addiction. Drugs like Adderall and anxiety-treating benzodiazepines are both highly addictive. It is said that using a benzodiazepine for more than three or four weeks can quite easily place you at risk for dependency on it. Drugs like these are quite dangerous considering the ease with which someone can fake symptoms and obtain their own legal prescription. One study touted that an alarming 95 percent of students were able to do just that.[17]

The most common mental health disorders among the mentally ill are depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Around 20 percent of substance abusers in the United States have an anxiety or mood disorder.[18]

Bipolar disorder is highly common among the substance abusing population, consisting of symptoms like racing thoughts, endless energy, and feelings of euphoria. Depression includes symptoms like lethargy, difficulty finding pleasure in anything, and feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Anxiety is just as common as depression — if not more so — and presents with the extreme tension and worry, an accelerated heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and restlessness.

Getting Treatment for Addiction

Only a mere 11.2 percent of the addicts in need of help in 2009 got that help.[19] Today, you can become part of this year’s recovery effort. Getting help for your troubles has never been easier. Whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, you’re prepared now with the information needed to look for the signs of addiction.

If you still suspect that substance dependency or abuse may be a problem, now is the time to reach out for help. The sooner a drug or alcohol addiction issue is addressed, the better. Call Palm Beach Detox today and let us assist you in preparing for the first step in addiction treatment — recognizing the problem and asking for help.

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Works Cited

[1]Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[2]Drug Use Estimates.” (n.d.). Drug War Facts. Accessed November 15, 2014
[4] “Co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders.” (n.d.). Missouri Department of Mental Health. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[5] Seppala, M. & Berge, K. (Feb 2010). “The Addicted Physician.” Minnesota Medicine. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[6] Join Together Staff. (2013 Dec 4). “Molly ER Visits Rose 128 Percent in Six Years Among Those Under 21.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[7]The Genetics of Addiction.” (n.d.). Addictions and Recovery. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[8]DrugFacts: Treatment Statistics.” (Mar 2011). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[9]Drug Use Estimates.” (n.d.). Drug War Facts. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Serna, J. (2013 Feb 19). “Fatal drug overdoses in U.S. increase for 11th consecutive year.” The Los Angeles Times. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[14]Smoking Cessation and Addressing Alcohol & Drug Addiction.” (n.d.). National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[15] “Numbers of Americans Affected by Mental Illness.” (n.d.). National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[16]Substance/Medication-Induced Psychotic Disorder.” (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[17] Kapadia, N. (2012 Feb 8). “USCience Review.” University of Southern California. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[18]Substance Abuse.” (n.d.). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[19]DrugFacts: Treatment Statistics.” (Mar 2011). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed November 15, 2014.

Medical Disclaimer: The Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.