How do I know if it's an addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and body similar to other chronic diseases like type II diabetes or heart disease. It is considered a brain disease because drugs can change the brain’s structure and how the brain works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful health and social consequences.

Drug and alcohol addiction shares many features with other chronic illnesses, including a tendency to run in families

It is also influenced by other environmental and behavioral factors. Like other chronic illnesses, addiction can respond to appropriate treatment which may include long-term lifestyle modification and medication.

The consequences of untreated addiction often lead to other physical and mental health challenges that require medical attention. If left untreated over time, addiction becomes more severe, disabling, and life threatening.

No one chooses to become an addict any more than they choose to develop heart disease

Over the last 25 years, several medications have received FDA approval to treat addictions. In most cases these medications work by blocking the rewarding effects of addictive drugs, or by decreasing drug cravings and other withdrawal symptoms that occur after the drug abuse has stopped.  Much like insulin for diabetes, these medications correct an imbalance in the body caused by the effects of drug use on the brain.

How do I know if my alcohol/substance use is a problem?

Substance use disorder symptom checklist

Use the checklist below to determine if your use of substances falls into the range of risky or problem use:

  • Have you encountered drinking or drug related problems with your job, relationships, health, or the law?
  • Have friends or family been concerned about your drinking or drug use?
  • Have you experienced nausea, sweating, shakiness, or anxiety when trying to stop your drinking or drug use?
  • Are you pregnant and continuing to drink or use drugs? Even moderate use during pregnancy can be harmful to your fetus.

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it is important that you see your healthcare provider so he or she can help you determine whether you have a problem, and, if so, recommend the best course of action.

Keep in mind, the sooner you get help, the better your chances are for a successful recovery.

Use our alcohol use disorder interactive tool to help you see if your drinking is dangerous or unhealthy, or if you may be addicted to alcohol.  

Treatment can help. Call your health care provider if:

  • You are concerned about your use of alcohol, cocaine, or other illicit or prescription drugs, and you want help
  • You suspect that you, your child, or someone close to you has a substance use problem.

All referrals are confidential.

What to do if you know someone with an alcohol or substance use disorder

Many people are affected by the drinking or drug use of a family member or friend. Alcohol and substance use disorders affect every family member. It is important to remember that you cannot control someone else’s behavior.  You might suggest ways they can get help but one of the most frustrating factors in dealing with alcohol or substance use disorders is that they are often  accompanied by "denial."

There may be little you can do to help the friend or family member until he or she is ready to get help, but you can stop letting someone else’s problem control your life. It is important to make choices that are good for your own physical and emotional health. Individual counseling for yourself may help you to deal with the daily stressors.  Al Anon Groups may also be a helpful peer support. Also, living a healthy lifestyle with healthy eating, exercise, relaxation techniques and other wellness activities can help to reduce your stress

Read our Alcohol + Substance Use brochure for more information.
Spanish version: Uso de Alcohol y de Sustancias