Addiction: Understanding Addiction and Substance Use Disorder

What is addiction? What are the signs of addiction? Am I an addict? Is it possible to recover from addiction? How can I overcome my addiction? If you find yourself asking these questions, this article is for you.

Hi. My name is Sean Galla. I am a facilitator of support groups and support forums for men, with over 10 years of experience. My work involves providing safe spaces for men to talk about men’s issues, including addiction. In my line of work, I have seen firsthand how important being part of a support group is, especially for men.

A support group is a fantastic place for anyone to get the support, information, and help they need to understand addiction and overcome it. This article gives you all the information you need about addiction and joining an addiction support group. I will tell you why a support group is highly recommended for anyone interested in overcoming addiction.

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Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

Addiction and Substance Use Disorder


Substance use disorder (SUD) is a condition characterized by uncontrollable use of drugs or substances despite the dangers. People living with substance abuse disorders are fixated on using a type of substance, which can be illicit drugs like opioids, alcohol, or tobacco. The abuse of these drugs impairs a person’s ability to function normally, day-to-day. The most severe type of SUD is what is referred to as addiction.

Addiction is a type of chronic, relapsing disease that causes brain changes characterized by a dependence on a behavior or drugs, affecting their wellness. A person living with addiction is often compelled to pursue the harmful habit despite the negative consequences.

The American society of addiction medicine definition of addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical brain disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or risky behavior that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

People living with addiction exhibit signs of distorted behavior and thinking. This is caused by brain function and structure changes, causing them to experience intense cravings for the substance in use.

Addiction is developed through tolerance. What mostly starts as a fun activity slowly leads to frequent use.

Addiction often occurs in stages. How the brain and body react at the onset of addiction changes as one moves through the stages.

The four stages of addiction are:

  • experimentation: one uses or engages in drugs out of curiosity
  • social or regular: one starts using or engaging in social settings as part of having fun
  • problem or risk: one uses or engages in drug use in extreme ways with disregard for consequences
  • dependency: one uses or engages in the addictive behavior on a daily basis, or several times a day, despite the negative consequences

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Commonly Abused Drugs That Cause Addiction

Both legal and illegal drugs can give a high, cause relaxation, and help to detach from real-life issues. Below are some of the most commonly abused drugs in the modern day.


Alcohol use disorder can have different effects on different people. However, too often, people who drink too much have higher chances of sustaining an injury or getting into accidents. Alcohol abuse can lead to liver disease and other health problems or cause a more severe alcohol disorder.

Alcohol use prevalence has increased over the years. According to statistics, 1 in 3 people globally suffers from an addiction either to behavior or substance. Further studies show that many Americans are addicted to either drugs or alcohol, with 1 in 10 addicted to both. Of the people with an addiction to drugs, a third of them also use alcohol.

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Over-the-Counter (OTC) and Prescription Medicine

Prescription drugs and OTC medicines are just as dangerous and addictive as illegal drugs. You are abusing medication if:

  • You take medication prescribed for someone else for your use
  • You take extra doses of a drug or use it in ways other than how it should be used
  • You take medications like dopamine for non-medical reasons

The most common prescription drugs often abused include:

  • Opioid pain relievers like methadone
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication like methamphetamine
  • Anxiety and sleeping pills

Cough and cold medicine are the most commonly abused OTC medicines, especially those containing dextromethorphan, which causes drunk or intoxicated feelings when consumed in high doses.

There has been an increase in teens engaging in prescription drug abuse, especially stimulants and opioids leading to opioid use disorder.


Heroin is an illegal drug that is a natural version of manufactured prescription opioid narcotics. When used, heroin gives one a good feeling rush at first. When this feeling wears off, everything around them slows down. The person moves and thinks slower and may experience chills, nausea, and nervousness as part of withdrawal. These withdrawal symptoms give the user a strong need to take more heroin to overcome the withdrawal symptoms.


Cocaine is a drug used by people in need of feeling hyper and super active. When used, cocaine makes an individual talk, move, or think fast than usual. It may also make them feel happy and bursting with energy. Sometimes, the feel-good mood can shift to anger and paranoia, leading one to exhibit unruly or unusual behavior. Using cocaine over a long period eventually leads to addiction caused by strong cravings for the drug.


While a growing number of states are legalizing medical marijuana, with a handful of these states allowing the use of recreational pot, the use of marijuana is still illegal in other states.

Even with the medicinal benefits, marijuana can as addictive as the other drugs on this list. Using marijuana can pose the same dangers as highs from other drugs, making it dangerous when misused. Driving while high on pot is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Heavy marijuana use can leave someone feeling “burned out”.

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Cigarettes and Tobacco Products


While tobacco is widely used worldwide, it is one of the most addictive substances used today. Tobacco contains nicotine, a chemical substance that gives the brain a rush of pleasure and energy. The effect of tobacco wears off fast, leaving the user wanting more. With time, users start to abuse tobacco and get addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.

Causes and Risk Factors for Developing an Addiction

Like other mental health problems, drug use disorders like addiction do not have a single cause, nor are they a result of lacking self-control or discipline.

Different psychological, biological, and social factors can increase an individual’s vulnerability to addiction. In some families, the frequency of substance use disorders seems higher, mainly due to existing in an addictive environment. Therefore, addiction specialists and professionals say that there is a genetic aspect to the risk of drug addiction.

Psychological aspects that can lead to substance abuse or addiction include mood disorders like depression, early aggressive behaviors, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Thought disorders such as schizophrenia and personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder are also high psychological risk factors for addiction.

Social aspects that can lead to drug abuse and addiction include gender, where men of ages between 18 and 44 of Native-American heritage are at a higher risk, unmarried marital status, and lower socioeconomic status.

According to statistics, people living in the West part of America are at a higher risk for chemical dependency. Men are more likely to develop a chemical dependency like alcoholism compared to women.

How someone is raised is also a social risk factor for addiction. Adults who grew up surrounded by negative events are often at higher risk of drug use disorders. Some of these negative events include poverty, lack of parental supervision, witnessing domestic violence, living with an addicted parent, or being a victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

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Warning Signs of Addiction

some of the warning signs that you or a loved one may be suffering from addiction include:

  • Frequent blackouts or loss of memory
  • Mood swings, sadness, irritability
  • Frequent arguments with loved ones
  • Using drugs to cope with problems
  • Withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from drug use
  • Overdosing on drugs or using drugs for longer than necessary
  • Reduced interest in life obligations
  • Needing drug to calm nerves or relax

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a diagnostic reference written and endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, for one to be diagnosed with addiction, they need to exhibit a maladaptive pattern of drug use that causes significant problems or stress. This maladaptive pattern can manifest through at least two of the signs or symptoms below in one year.

  • Recurrent drug use despite it significantly results in problems. For instance, consistently using drugs even when proved to be physically dangerous causes repeated legal issues or social or relationship issues.
  • The inability of the sufferer to meet significant responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Increased tolerance to the drug, characterized by either a decreased effect of the drug or a significant increase in the amount used to experience high or desired effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using, or the need to take that drug or anything chemically close to the drug as a way of avoiding symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Larger amounts of the drug are taken for longer than intended.
  • A persistent urge to take the drug and inability to decrease or control the drug use
  • Spending excessive time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Lack of will to engage in important recreational, social, school, or work activities due to substance use
  • Negative decision-making. The person continues to use the drug despite suffering from ongoing or recurring psychological or physical issues caused or worsened by drug use.

Complications Caused by Addiction

When left unaddressed or untreated, addiction can have long-term consequences and complications for the user. Some of the common complications include:

  • Health issues like heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and neurological damage
  • Emotional and psychological complications like anxiety, stress, and depression disorders
  • Social issues like jail time and damaged relationships
  • Economic issues like bankruptcy and debt
  • opioid overdose
  • overdose Deaths

Treatment Options for Addiction and Getting Support


If you are living a life of addiction, the good news is that all types of addiction, including behavioral addiction and the national institute on drug abuse, can be treated. According to the department of health and human services, and the U.S. Department of health, the best treatment approaches, and health care are comprehensive, aiming to address and heal different areas of an addict’s life through psychiatry and medicine. The treatment program focuses on helping the addict to stop engaging in risky behavior or seeking a high.

The type of treatment recommended is dependent on the stage and severity of the addiction. Early stages of addiction are often treated with medication and therapy, while patients benefit from inpatient addiction treatment programs in later stages and co-occurring addiction.

Some of the most common therapies include:

  • Medications to treat mental disorders causing the addiction
  • Behavioral therapy and talk psychotherapy, as well as group therapies
  • medical services to treat severe addiction complications, like withdrawal during the detox process
  • addiction case manager partnering to help with coordinating and keeping tabs on ongoing treatment
  • inpatient addiction treatment
  • self-help and support groups

Support groups are often recommended for addicts as it goes a long way in making the recovery journey easier and more successful. Numerous organizations like SAMHSA can help with different types of addictions.

Addiction Support Groups Referral and Recommendations

Al-Anon Family Groups

Al-Anon is a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics. It offers support, guidance, and an opportunity to learn from other people who have lived with alcoholics. It has a support group for families and teens to ensure everyone has a safe space to come and learn more about alcoholism.

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous is a support organization for narcotics addicts. As a global community-based organization, meetings take place in different parts of the world in different localities. You can check online for an available meeting in your area. It offers recovery from the effects of narcotics addiction through the twelve-step program.

Men’s Group

Men’s Group is an online men’s support group that offers group support, help, and guidance to men interested in becoming better versions of themselves, including men working to overcome addiction.

It is a supportive network of men ready and willing to help others like them through shared life experiences. The group session is rich in relevant information to help you lead a better life. It is more than just a self-help group. It offers one the support and guidance to become a better man and lead a better, more fulfilling drug-free life.

As an online support group for men, the group meets virtually over video or chat, making it perfect for busy men who prefer not to attend physical addiction anonymous meetings, especially in this coronavirus pandemic era.


Like any other mental health problem, understanding addiction is a necessary first step when working towards recovery. Whether you are an addict looking for help or a friend or loved one to an addict, this article has all the information you need to understand addiction and help you get the help you need. MensGroup offers a strong social network of friends who will walk with you in your recovery journey for men in need of a support network.

1. The Treatment of Addiction: What Can Research Offer Practice?
2. Advances in understanding addiction treatment and recovery
3. Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)
4. What Is a Substance Use Disorder?
5. Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views