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What is Addiction?

Addiction and Substance Use Disorder 

Addiction is a complex issue where a person is using substances despite harmful consequences. It can be a condition called substance use disorder. Substance use disorder (SUD) is now the terminology most commonly used amongst professionals. Changing the language from addiction to substance use disorder has helped to curve some of the stigmas attached to “drug addicts.” Most of the time someone who has an addiction is focused on one or more substances that they cannot stop using even facing problems or knowing that it will cause significant problems in their life. When someone has severe SUD, they are addicted to a substance and cannot stop without some sort of exterior intervention that almost forces them to seek help. 

People who are struggling with addiction have distorted thinking and behaviors. Drugs and excessive alcohol use can change the structure of the brain causing a person to suffer from changes in personality, intense cravings, abnormal movements, and questionable behaviors. Studies have shown that areas in the brain most impacted by addiction relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control. When someone is diagnosed with SUD, they have a tolerance built up against a substance which causes them to need to use larger and larger amounts of the substance to achieve the same outcome. Increased use can come with increased consequences. 

Does Addiction mean Drugs?

Immediately when someone thinks of addiction, they think of drugs. It can come in all different forms but work the same on the brain. People can have gambling addictions which change the brain in the same way as substance use disorder. Food addiction also works similarly to drug addiction. Sugar addiction works like opioid addiction. Sometimes when someone is withdrawing from opioids, they will report sugar cravings which are combatted with eating candy or other sugar items. Any addiction is labeled as a brain disease and will produce the same euphoric feeling in the brain like drugs or alcohol.

Another addiction that is often a problem is sex addiction. Unfortunately for other addictions that are not related to drugs or alcohol, a person cannot just cut those out easily. For example, if you have a food addiction, you still need to eat. Unlike a heroin addiction where heroin can just be eliminated. Treatment for these will look different because a person needs to learn how to have healthy relationships to food or sex instead of just eliminating them. 


Regardless of the substance or non-substance used for a person who is addicted, most of the signs are similar because the brain disorder causes people to act a certain way. Signs of addiction can be behavioral, physical, or exterior. Some differences will fall into the category of physical or exterior. Some signs of addiction are: 

  • Denial of use or anything being wrong 
  • Obsessive thoughts or actions 
  • Loss of control 
  • Sudden financial loss 
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Change in pupil size 
  • Poor physical condition
  • Slurred speech 
  • Constant drowsiness 
  • Agitation, aggression or violent behavior 
  • Hallucinations or delusions 
  • Depression 
  • Seizures 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Change in personality 
  • Mood swings 
  • Finding needles, cut straws, rolled dollar bills, excessive scratch offs, spoons, etc.
  • Legal problems 

It is important to note that depending on what addiction a person is struggling with will depend on what signs are being displayed. The above signs don’t automatically indicate addiction but should be considered if any of these have a sudden onset to a person. 


Treatment will look very different for various addictions. It is important to seek help from a facility that is aware that no two addictions can be treated the same. It is also important that the facility knows that one treatment style might not work for every single client. Behavioral health treatments are a great start for those struggling with substance use disorders. Different counseling styles and psychotherapies are used to help people understand the situation they are in and to begin to change behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.

One thing is for sure, the goal is always to help a person struggling with addiction to change and have an understanding of what they are up against. Harm reduction is another way that people are helping to combat substance use disorder. Immediate abstinence is no longer pushed on people seeking help, especially those with opioid use disorder. Asking for help is the first step in the process. From there, it is best to find a treatment that specializes in whatever you or your loved one is battling. Change is possible and help is available.