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Addiction and Substance Use Disorder

Help begins with a simple conversation.

Addiction is a brain disease.

Addiction is a brain disease that deserves compassionate treatment just like any other disease. When someone has an addiction — also known as a substance use disorder — their brain and body are dependent on something. It isn’t a personal failure, and it isn’t something they can control. There are two main types of addictions:

  • Physical dependence

    The result of physical changes in the brain through the use of an addictive drug. Without that drug, the person experiences withdrawal symptoms.

  • Psychological dependence

    The result of prolonged use of an addictive drug, causing an emotional need or a craving to continue using it.

What are the signs of addiction?


  • Altered sleep habits
  • Small or pinpoint pupils
  • Dramatic weight changes
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Frequent colds or illnesses
  • Itchy skin or unexplained cuts or scabs
  • Leg cramps
  • Poor hygiene


  • A sense of desperation
  • Changes in personality or friends
  • School or work performance problems
  • Out of or in need of money
  • Nodding off or constant sleep problems
  • Paranoia
  • Secrecy

Stigma makes it harder to ask for help.

Society’s assumptions about people struggling with addiction is a huge barrier to getting help and overcoming a substance use disorder. When someone expects that they’ll be judged, ridiculed, or treated as lesser-than, they are less likely to seek help for their addiction. Unfortunately, these attitudes are far too common. Remember:

  • Addiction can happen to anyone.

    In fact, some opioid addictions can result from misusing a drug prescribed by a health care provider.

  • Drug use changes the brain.

    It becomes harder to resist temptation and harder to enjoy normal healthy activities like eating food or spending time with others.

  • Addiction is a treatable disease, not a character flaw.

    It’s not as simple as resisting temptation and powering through withdrawal symptoms. Recovery may involve medication, therapy, or even rehab. It can be challenging, but it is possible.