An addictive substance is any habit-forming substance that can be injected, inhaled, absorbed through the skin or ingested into the body.

Addictive substances include:

  • Alcohol
  • Amphetamines
  • Anti-anxiety, painkiller and sleep medications
  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Crystal meth
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Narcotics
  • Nicotine
  • PCP.

Each of these substances can be misused or overused, and all have a proven ability to cause psychological or physical dependence. Once addicted, users may find it very difficult to stop using, and, without intervention, these substances may cause serious harm to a user’s health and relationships.

In all cases, treatment programs and other options are available for those who have developed a drug addiction or alcohol addiction. These programs can provide information, support and therapeutic ways to manage withdrawal symptoms.

How Does Addiction Work?

In many cases, the addiction process works by altering the levels of key neurotransmitters or hormones in the brain. Drug addiction and alcohol addiction take place when the user of a substance develops one or more of the following:

  • A craving for the drug that is very difficult to overcome
  • A tolerance to a drug (meaning higher doses are required to achieve the same effects)
  • Unpleasant or debilitating withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing use of the drug.

Who is at Risk for Substance Addiction?

Risk factors for addiction include family history and a personal history of addiction. Other environmental factors, such as socioeconomic status, age and gender, also play a role in addiction susceptibility.

However, no one is destined to become an addict. If you’re worried about addictive behaviors in yourself or a loved one, the best way to avoid addiction is to avoid habit-forming substances entirely. Talk to your doctor about your concerns if you need to be prescribed a high-risk substance, such as a painkiller or anti-anxiety medication.

How is Substance Addiction Treated?

The treatment process for almost all substance addictions can be broken down into three stages:

  1. The user must recognize that he or she has a problem and seek help.
  2. The user needs to go through a period of withdrawal.
  3. Finally, the user needs to avoid relapse. This part of the process may be lifelong, and often involves a change in lifestyle to avoid the triggers that caused the addiction in the first place.

It is important to note that many addictions begin with a period of denial, in which the user does not realize that he or she is dangerously misusing or overusing the drug in question. Dependence can be very difficult to self-diagnose, especially if the user has a strong physiological or emotional motivation to ignore the problem.

Because this is the case, the first step — recognizing the addiction and seeking help — can be the most important, as well as the most difficult.


Mayo Clinic. (2010). Drug addiction. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from

The National Institutes of Health. (2010). NIDA Infofacts: Science-based facts on drug abuse and addiction. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from

Smith, M. and Saisan, J. (2010). Drug abuse and addiction. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 12, 2014