Drug abuse and addiction can both result in serious consequences in a drug user’s life and in the lives of the people they love. We all know this, but it usually doesn’t even cross a person’s mind the first time they use drugs. Most people try drugs and alcohol for the first time for one of the following reasons: 


  • Curiosity – I want to know what it will feel like
  • Pleasure – I want to have fun and feel great.
  • Peer pressure – I want to fit in
  • Symptom relief – I want to ease my pain, discomfort, or anxiety.
  • Improved performance – I want to do more, do better, or stay focused.


Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol will become addicted. And not all drug use is drug abuse. But every addiction begins with that first time.  So what exactly is drug abuse, how does it differ from addiction, and is there a cure? Read on for answers to these and other questions about drug abuse and addiction. 


What is drug abuse?


Drug abuse, or more generally, substance abuse, is a pattern of harmful use of drugs or alcohol. It can involve illicit drugs such as cocaine, meth or ecstasy, as well any type of alcohol or prescription drugs. Harmful use is defined as that which results in:

  • Impaired control 
  • Risky behaviors
  • Health issues 
  • Failure to meet responsibilities
  • Social issues 
  • Legal problems


Some people who experience negative consequences as a result of their substance abuse are able to scale back or quit using the substance altogether. Others find that they are unable to do so because they have developed an addiction to the substance of choice. 


What is addiction? 


Drug addiction is a disorder of the brain. Drugs rewire the brain, causing chemical changes in messaging networks and ultimately affecting the way a person feels, thinks, and behaves. Ongoing drug abuse often leads to addiction. The more a person uses the drug of choice, the higher the likelihood of developing physical and psychological dependence. The addicted person experiences:

  • Compulsive cravings for the drug of choice
  • Increased tolerance (the need to use more to get the same effects)
  • Loss of control (multiple failed attempts to stop or cut back)
  • Excessive focus on getting or staying high 
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance
  • Continued use despite negative consequences


There is no cure for addiction, but it is treatable. With help, many addicts are able to quit their drug use, regain control of their behaviors, and go on to live healthy, productive lives. 


Substance abuse and addiction treatment


Just as addiction develops over time, recovery from addiction is also a process. It requires time and commitment. One of the first steps in addiction treatment is a clinical assessment. This is done by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist for the purpose of gathering the information necessary to create a treatment plan. The kind of information gathered during this assessment includes details about:

  • Specifics of drug or alcohol use
  • Effects of the drug use on the person’s life
  • Medical history
  • Any mental health issues
  • Family history
  • Employment or school performance
  • Current medications
  • Any other information that will help the medical or psychiatric professional understand the individual’s addiction, circumstances, and needs


Once the assessment has been done, the mental health professional creates a treatment plan. This plan includes the type of treatment, the treatment objectives for the individual, and the goals for meeting those objectives. The types of treatment for drug addiction can include:

  • Inpatient treatment – patient stays in the facility 24 hours a day
  • Partial hospitalization treatment – patient stays at the facility up to 8 hours per day, spends nights at home
  • Intensive outpatient treatment – patient participates in 9 to 20 hours of treatment per week, lives at home
  • Outpatient treatment – patient participates in treatment activities during evenings or on weekends, but otherwise maintains a normal work or school schedule


Treatment plans are customized to each individual in order to help address their particular needs, circumstances, and treatment objectives. The treatment plan usually includes a range of therapies and activities designed to foster a healthy relationship with oneself and to teach skills for managing the stresses of daily life while remaining sober. These therapies and activities may include: 

  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Education 
  • Stress management
  • Relapse prevention training
  • Treatment for co-occurring mental illness


Some addiction treatment also includes medication for detoxification or for managing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. 


According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA),  47.6 million adults in the U.S. had mental illness in the past year, 19.3 million had substance use disorder, and 9.2 million had a co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder.  Dual diagnosis treatment refers to the simultaneous treatment of a mental illness and substance abuse disorder. 


The best addiction treatment focuses on healing the whole person


People who suffer from drug addiction need more than just help quitting. They need help addressing the underlying issues that led them to seek comfort through drugs and alcohol in the first place. This starts by developing healthy habits and understanding the triggers that may threaten their sobriety, while building a support network of people who can remind them of their worth and help them stay committed to a life of recovery. 


At Pacific Health Systems in San Diego, we focus on healing the whole person.  Our addiction treatment programs help people get sober, stay sober, and live rich, meaningful lives.  For information on our programs and services, please give us a call at 619-631-0128 today.