Guide to Addiction: What It Is & How to Help

Addiction is a widespread problem that can be devastating when left untreated. Fortunately, there are evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment hat can help someone get sober and remain in recovery.1 This page will provide an overview on addiction and how it is diagnosed and treated.
Did you know most health insurance plans cover addiction treatment?
Addiction Definition & Statistics

What is Addiction?

Woman concerned about a loved one's addiction problem

Addiction—or substance use disorder (SUD) as it is referred to by clinicians—is a chronic, but treatable, condition that leads people to drink or use drugs compulsively despite serious negative consequences affecting multiple aspects of an individual’s life.2,3

Chronic alcohol use or drug use can cause changes to brain structure and function that may take a long time to repair or may be permanent.1 This can make quitting alcohol or drugs extremely difficult as strong cravings and urges can lead to relapse .

Fortunately, there are evidence-based methods for treating SUD that have helped many people live fulfilling lives in recovery.1

Addiction Facts & Statistics

Addiction is a very serious and widespread problem:4,5,6,7

  • In 2020, approximately 40,263,000 Americans 12 years old or older suffered from SUD, though only 4,184,000 received treatment.
  • 5% of Nevada residents 12 years of age or older suffered from past-year SUD between 2017 and 2019.
  • Between November of 2020 and November of 2021, 102,568 overdose deaths were reported in the United States.
  • In Nevada alone, 536 people died of overdoses involving opioids.

Addiction vs Dependence vs Tolerance

As mentioned above, SUD is a chronic condition that involves physiological and behavioral changes. Tolerance and dependence are among the physiological changes often associated with addiction but are not the same as addiction.3

Dependence means that the body becomes so used to the substance of abuse that the body believes it needs the substance to function normally. When the individual reduces the dose or stops taking the substance of abuse, they are at risk of withdrawal. In other words, an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit or cut down on their use.8

Tolerance means someone needs more of the substance in order to feel the same desired effects as overtime, the body becomes so used to the drug that the desired effects become blunted.8

Addiction Signs, Causes, & Risks

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction

doctor holding chalkboard that says DSM-5, which is used when diagnosing substance use disordersFor someone to be diagnosed with an SUD they must exhibit at least 2 of the following within a 12-month period:3

  1. Cravings for drugs or alcohol
  2. Drinking or using drugs in a situation where it is dangerous to do so (like driving)
  3. Skipping important activities to drink, use drugs, or recover from the effects of substance use
  4. Failing to meet expectations at work, school, or in one’s homelife due to drinking or drug use.
  5. Engaging in substance use for longer periods of time than intended
  6. Continuing to use substances despite knowing it has caused or worsened a medical or mental health problem
  7. Spending considerable time seeking or using substances
  8. Having a desire to quit but failing to do so
  9. Experiencing social problems due to drinking or drug use
  10. Experiencing a tolerance to a substance or substances (needing to increase the dose to experience the desired effects)
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when cutting back or quitting

Causes of Addiction

It is often difficult to understand why one person can drink or use drugs recreationally without developing an addiction and why someone else becomes addicted. However, research has identified several strong predictors of SUD. These include:8

  • Genetics, which may account for about 50% of a person’s risk of developing an SUD at some point.
  • Substance use at a young age.
  • Environment (e.g., poverty, domestic violence, trauma).

Dangers & Consequences of Addiction

Each substance carries its own unique dangers; however, addiction to any substance is associated with many mental, physical, and social risks. Some of these risks include:1,3,8,9

  • Damaged relationships with family and friends.
  • Problems at work.
  • Mental health problems like anxiety and depression (caused or worsened by substance use).
  • Legal trouble.
  • Lasting changes to the brain structure and function.
  • Injury or death by overdose or reckless behavior (such as impaired driving or unprotected sex).

When to Seek Help for Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, it may be a good idea to consult with a specialist. While SUD can vary greatly in severity, people often need treatment to recover.1

Furthermore, what starts as a mild addiction can quickly progress into a severe addiction. It’s never too late to get help but getting into treatment early increases the chances of positive results.1

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and are ready to take the first steps towards recovery, call us today at . Desert Hope, American Addiction Centers’ addiction rehab center in Las Vegas, is ready to help you get the treatment you need today.

SUD Diagnosis, Testing & Treatment

Doctor diagnosing patient with a substance use disorderSubstance use disorder is a condition that should be diagnosed by a medical or clinical professional. Once a positive diagnosis for SUD is made, specialists can begin outlining a treatment plan. Typically, when a patient is admitted to treatment, staff perform an evaluation to ascertain:10

  • The different substances used and their concentration in the patient’s system.
  • The patient’s living environment and social situation.
  • Any co-occurring mental or physical health concerns.

This information will assist treatment staff in determining the best way to stabilize someone during detox and the right setting and approach for continued addiction treatment.10

Medical detox in Las Vegas—for those that need it—generally lasts between 5 and 7 days at Desert Hope. Medical detox enables medical staff to monitor and supervise the patient 24 hours a day, administering medication and responding to emergencies as needed. The goal of detox is to provide care until the addicted substance is eliminated from the body and the individual is no longer at risk of harmful or uncomfortable withdrawal effects. Following detox, patients usually need continued treatment to achieve success in long-term recovery, as formal treatment addresses the underlying triggers, thoughts and behaviors that lead to addiction.10

Continued treatment often means rehab, which can be conducted in inpatient or outpatient settings.9 It is common for patients to move through multiple levels of care as they go through rehab. In addition to medical detox, Desert Hope offers:

  • Residential care, in which patients spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the facility, benefiting from a structured routine and the many features and amenities provided by the treatment center.
  • Partial hospitalization, where outpatient treatment is conducted a minimum of 5 days a week in 6-hour session blocks.
  • Intensive outpatient care, where patients visit the facility at least 3 days a week for 3-hour sessions.
  • Standard outpatient rehab, which offers the most flexibility in terms of scheduling.

Effective treatment—in any setting—involves the use of evidence-based techniques, which may include:

  • Behavioral therapies.
  • Peer support.
  • Psychoeducation.
  • Medications.

Treatment for addiction is a highly individualized process, and the ideal setting for rehab, combination of treatment methods, and duration of treatment (i.e., short-term rehab, month-long addiction treatment, long-term rehab), vary based on each patient’s needs.1 Decisions about the setting, type, and length of treatment a patient should undergo are often made with the help of an addiction specialist.

Can Addiction Really Be Treated?

Yes, substance addiction is a treatable condition, meaning that the symptoms, underlying triggers and behaviors can be treated; however, addiction itself cannot be cured.1 Evidence-based treatment methods used by Desert Hope and other effective treatment centers can save your life or the life of someone you love.

Because rehabilitation is a unique process for each person and each facility, statistics on the success rates of rehab are hard to calculate. Additionally, the measurement of a program’s success is subjective. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to experience a relapse; however, relapse doesn’t necessarily mean failure and is seen by professionals as a setback that can be fixed on the path to long-term recovery. Those who relapse can re-enter treatment or have their treatment plan adjusted if needed.1

To illustrate the benefits of specialized treatment, here are some statistics and facts about addiction treatment:12,13,14,15

  • A 2010 study that observed the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)—the most common form of therapy in addiction treatment—found that 60% of patients surveyed with cocaine addiction tested negative on toxicology screens 1 year after treatment.
  • Participating in comprehensive treatment programs in prison has been shown to reduce drug use among released prisoners 50-70% compared to those that do not participate in the program.
  • Gay and bisexual men that undergo treatment in a specialized LGBTQ treatment program have higher “success rates” than in a non-specialized program.
  • Treatment for people with co-occurring mental disorders is much more effective when treatment for addiction and the other co-occurring conditions are conducted simultaneously.

How to Help a Loved One with Addiction

Unfortunately, there is no way to “fix” someone else’s battle with addiction.  One can, however, encourage them to get help and support their healthy behaviors before, during, and after they undergo treatment.16

Desert Hope offers numerous who are unsure what to do when a friend or family member is struggling with substance misuse. Most often, the first step is to have a direct conversation that is non-confrontational and nonjudgmental at a time when your loved one is sober. Be patient; one conversation is unlikely to convince someone to get help, but over time (and more discussions) they may come to the decision on their own.16,17

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s not too late to get help. Call an admissions navigator at to start addiction treatment at Desert Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada.


What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse is the use of illegal drugs, the use of legal drugs for nonmedical reasons, or the use of legal drugs in higher amounts than prescribed.18

Due to the stigmatizing nature of addiction, many experts prefer terms like “substance misuse.”

Is substance misuse different from addiction?

Yes, though substance misuse is a component of addiction. Substance use disorder is a behavioral health condition that causes people to compulsively misuse substances despite the negative consequences.3

Not everyone that has misused or misuses substances has an addiction, though all substance misuse is dangerous. Substance misuse means that an individual is using a drug differently than prescribed, using an illicit drug or using prescription medications without a prescription. Individuals often misuse drugs to get high, to numb painful emotions, to treat physical pain or to avoid reality.18

Is addiction genetic?

Some scientists believe that genetics may account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s potential to have a substance abuse disorder. However, there are several other factors that can increase a person’s vulnerability for substance addiction, such as experiencing trauma, living in a dangerous or high-stress environment, and childhood drug and alcohol use.8,19

What are the most common substances of abuse?

Common substances that are misused include the following:4,20

What is the detox process like?

Detox depends on the drug being used, the physical attributes and health of the person who used it, the amount of time it was used, and the dosage and frequency of use.10

Detox can be an uncomfortable process, resulting in a variety of symptoms that vary depending on the substance(s) of dependence. These can include:10

  • Cravings.
  • Mood swings.
  • Anxiety or irritability.
  • Fatigue or agitation.
  • Depression.
  • Insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Muscle tremors, unsteadiness, and shakiness.
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.

These symptoms can range from mild to severe to life-threatening, depending on the substance and level of dependence. During withdrawal from alcohol or benzos, for example, withdrawal can result in high fever, delirium, or seizures.10

Going through a professional, medically supported detox process can help to minimize many of these symptoms and keep individuals safe.10


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