Most Common Drugs for Addiction
Substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction, affects millions of people in the US each year. There are a wide variety of addictive substances including alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications. While there are those who can control these substances, others who continue substance abuse may end up exhibiting addiction symptoms. The most common types of addictive substances include the following:
Alcohol is abused by over 16 million people in the US each year and is the most common addiction. Millions are at high risk of developing alcoholism due to genetics, mental health disorders, socioeconomic circumstances, and other factors. The social acceptance and normalization of dangerous drinking practices like binge drinking caused many cases of alcohol addiction to go undetected.
Tobacco products that contain nicotine are highly addictive, legal, and easy to obtain. Long-term use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, making it difficult for someone to quit using. According to the American Cancer Society, two out of three smokers report wanting to quit but few are successful.
Due to the legalization of medical and recreational use, marijuana consumption has quickly risen. Social acceptance and increased potency over time has resulted in higher marijuana addiction rates. However, there are different opinions on whether marijuana is addictive. Recent research shows that dependency can happen when the brain adapts to large amounts of endocannabinoids and people do report withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop after prolonged, frequent use.
Oxycodone, Vicodin, and Codeine are common prescription opioids and can be highly addictive, even when used as prescribed by a doctor. All opioids attach to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals and releasing pleasure signals, resulting in feelings of euphoria. Often, those who have been prescribed opioids do not notice they have developed dependency until they attempt to stop use and develop withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawals can be extremely uncomfortable and painful, which leads to people to continue using and increasing their risk of developing addiction symptoms.
Also referred to as Benzos, benzodiazepines are prescription anti-anxiety medications with a high abuse potential. Benzos like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are intended for short-term use only because of their addictive nature. They can also lead to uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms if a person attempts to quit cold turkey. Individuals can develop benzo addiction even when used as prescribed, however many users abuse the drug by mixing it with other sedatives like alcohol to increase their effects.
Cocaine and Crack Cocaine
Cocaine and crack are highly addictive and long-term use of these substances results in changes in the brain’s reward pathways, which makes the behavioral aspects of cocaine addiction the hardest to break. Withdrawal symptoms from cocaine are usually more psychological including feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts, which can trigger cravings and relapses.
Stimulants include a wide range of drugs including illicit substances like methamphetamines and prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall. Users will quickly build up tolerance and experience intense withdrawal symptoms, making it extremely difficult to stop using without a detox program.
Illicit opioid abuse, especially heroin and fentanyl, is on the rise and one of the most difficult drug addictions to overcome. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings can make long-term abstinence from these drugs almost impossible without professional treatment programs. Often, illicit opioid abuse started with prescription opioids, leading users to turn to illicit substances when their prescriptions ran out.
How is Addiction Defined?
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder also known as substance use disorder (SUD). It involves several complex interactions among genetics, the environment, brain circuits, and the individuals’ life experiences. Individuals with drug or alcohol addiction have a compulsive urge to use these substances despite negative consequences. Addiction causes physical changes to a person’s brain and neurochemistry, however, it is treatable.
Often, people may use substance abuse and addiction interchangeably, however, they are completely different. Individuals can engage in substance abuse without being addicted and without causing changes in the brain that lead to compulsive use. Addiction is a slow process that stems from frequent substance abuse. When a person begins to frequently engage in substance abuse, they may build up a tolerance, needing more of the substance to get the same effect. Tolerance can then lead to dependence, in which the body requires the substance in order to function properly and the person may experience withdrawal symptoms without it. As you need more of the drug, it can become increasingly difficult to go without it. Once a person cannot stop using and experiences cravings and withdrawals when not using, is what defines addiction.
Drug addiction is when a person is unable to control the use of a legal or illegal drug. The risk of addiction and how fast it develops depends on several factors, including the type of substance. Becoming addicted to alcohol or a drug will lead to the inability to stop use, even when wanting to or experiencing negative consequences. Addiction symptoms can range from mild to severe and worsen as time passes. It can seriously interfere with all aspects of your life and lead to health issues. Those struggling with addiction are prone to cycles of relapse and remission, even cycling between intense and mild use.
The compulsive need to use drugs or alcohol can cause people to go to extreme measures, including lying, stealing, and hiding use. Partly this is due to avoiding cravings and uncomfortable withdrawals, which can include aches and pains, irritability, anxiety, sweating, shaking, hallucinations, and nausea and vomiting.
15 Addiction Symptoms to Watch For
Not all addicts look like the media depiction of a “junky”. Addiction exists on a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe, and there are many addicts who are functional, even living seemingly perfect lives with a stable job, a family, and well-put together. As a progressive disease, addiction symptoms will get worse over time and will also be more difficult to treat. Early intervention during the mild stages of addiction has higher success rates, which is why it is important to know addiction symptoms so you can get help as soon as possible. Drug and alcohol addiction can include physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms. Exhibiting just one of these symptoms is not indicative of addiction, however, the more addiction symptoms you present, the more severe the disorder is.
Addiction symptoms include:
- Withdrawal Symptoms and Cravings When Not Using. Developing cravings and withdrawals from a substance when not using is a sign your body has become physically dependent. Symptoms will range depending on the substance, however, some general withdrawal symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety, depression, and flu-like symptoms.
- Extreme Mood Changes. The effects of frequent substance abuse on the brain will cause mood changes such as irritability, sudden misery, anger, and aggressiveness. Individuals can also experience mood swings, going from one extreme to another.
- Developing Tolerance. Finding that you need more of the substance to get the same effects is a sign your body has developed tolerance from frequent use. Developing tolerance is a precursor to addiction.
- Inability to Cut Down or Stop Use. A major sign of addiction is the inability to cut back use and stop completely, even when you want to or are experiencing negative effects.
- Experiencing Issues at Work or School. Frequent substance abuse can cause an increase in absences or tardiness, as well as a decline in your work, leading to falling grades or work performance. Mood swings from drug and alcohol abuse can also cause conflicts among peers and coworkers.
- Hiding Drug or Alcohol Use or Lying About It. Individuals who hide or lie about their substance abuse are already aware that they have an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol.
- Obsessing About Next Dose. Addiction can take over your life completely and consume every thought. Individuals may also find they spend most of their day either thinking about their next dose, acquiring the substance, using it, or recovering from it.
- Neglecting One’s Appearance. Substance abuse can cause a person to fail in their appearance and hygiene because they are too sick from using. Addiction can also cause a person to stop caring about themselves, their health, and their appearance.
- Financial Issues. Addiction is expensive and addicts will prioritize buying their substance of choice rather than taking care of obligations such as bills, rent, or even food. They may also lose their job because of their addiction.
- Getting Defensive or Aggressive When Questioned About Consumption. Defensiveness is one of the mood changes caused by addiction. The person may also become defensive or hostile as a way to distract from their issues when questioned about their drug or alcohol use.
- New or Worsening Mental Health Disorders. Frequent substance abuse will cause changes in the brain and neurochemistry which can cause or worsen mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
- Engaging in Risky Behavior. Drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions and abusing these substances may cause a person to engage in dangerous activities such as swimming or driving while intoxicated.
- Loss of Interest in Things Once Enjoyed. Addiction will consume all areas of your life, including activities you enjoy. Individuals will spend more time using or recovering from substance abuse instead of doing the things they love or spending time with loved ones.
- Loss of Energy or Motivation. Drugs and alcohol will affect your energy levels and will lead to fatigue. Addicts have very low motivation for anything other than getting or using their substance of choice.
- Reclusive Behavior. Addicts will become more reclusive as their addiction progresses in an attempt to hide their drug and alcohol use.