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Addiction: Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

According to a survey done by the Mayo Clinic in 2022, nearly 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment?

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disorder that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. Understanding addiction is crucial for recognizing its signs and symptoms early, which can pave the way for effective intervention., treatment, and recovery. 

This blog aims to shed light on the causes, signs, and symptoms of addiction, providing valuable insights for individuals and families affected by this condition.

Understanding Addiction

What is Addiction?

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The term encompasses both substance addiction and behavioral addiction, such as gambling, or pornography.  At LA Valley Recovery, we specialize in treating people who suffer from the disease of addiction.

How Addiction Develops

Addiction often starts with an experimental use of a substance in social situations. For some people, the use of a recreational drug becomes more frequent. As time passes, a person may need larger doses of the drug to get high, causing the body to crave the substance and leading to addiction. According to the Mayo Clinic, drug addiction can cause a variety of complications including health problems, family conflicts, and job loss. (1)

Causes of Addiction

3 pairs of shoes, one beloning to the father, mother and their kid.

Biological Factors

Genetics play a significant role in addiction. According to the Mayo Clinic, genetic predisposition accounts for about 40% to 60% of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. If a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, struggles with addiction, an individual’s risk of developing an addiction increases substantially.

Additionally, brain chemistry is a critical factor. The brain's reward system is heavily involved in addiction. When a person engages in enjoyable activities, such as eating or socializing, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that signals pleasure. Drugs can trigger a much more powerful release of dopamine, leading to the reinforcement of drug-taking behavior.

Over time, the brain becomes reliant on these substances to produce dopamine, reducing the ability to experience pleasure from everyday activities. This chemical imbalance can make it extremely difficult for individuals to quit using the substance, as their brain has essentially been rewired to crave it. (1)

Psychological Factors

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder often co-occur with addiction, making individuals more susceptible to substance use disorders. Individuals with trauma or high levels of stress are also at a greater risk of developing addiction. People with these mental health issues may turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication, attempting to manage their symptoms. However, this often leads to a dangerous cycle where substance use exacerbates mental health problems, which in turn leads to increased substance use.

Individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other impulse-control disorders are also at a higher risk of developing addiction. The impulsive nature of these conditions can lead to experimentation with substances and subsequent addiction.

Substance abuse and mental health concerns often go hand-in-hand.

Our dual diagnosis program in Los Angeles at LA Valley Recovery helps patients identify the cause of their addiction as well as treat any related mental illnesses, so they can recover long term from both without either being a barrier to success.

Environmental Factors

A person’s environment includes many different influences – from family and friends to socioeconomic status and quality of life. Environmental factors such as peer pressure, a lack of family support, and early exposure to substances can significantly increase the risk of addiction.

For instance, individuals who grow up in environments where drug or alcohol use is prevalent are more likely to adopt these behaviors themselves. Lack of a supportive family structure can also lead to feelings of isolation and emotional distress, driving individuals to seek solace in substances. Socioeconomic factors, including poverty and lack of access to education, can limit opportunities and create stress, increasing the likelihood of substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Moreover, the availability and accessibility of substances in one’s community can play a significant role in addiction. Areas with high rates of substance abuse may have more stores selling alcohol or drugs, making it easier for individuals to obtain these substances.

If you or someone you know is looking for help for a drug or alcohol addiction, please get in touch with us today for help.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

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Behavioral Signs

Addiction often manifests through noticeable changes in behavior. Individuals may start neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home. They may also lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and isolate themselves from friends and family. Increased secrecy, such as hiding substances or lying about their activities, is also a common behavioral sign of addiction.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of addiction can vary depending on the substance used, but common signs include changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, deterioration in physical appearance, poor hygiene, and unusual body odors. Withdrawal symptoms are another key indicator, which can include tremors, sweating, nausea, headaches, and fatigue when not using the substance.  Check out this blog article on The Importance of Physical Health in Recovery.

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms often include mood swings, increased irritability, anxiety, and depression. Individuals may also experience paranoia, hallucinations, and cognitive impairments, such as memory problems and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s ability to function in daily life.

Social Signs

Addiction can lead to social isolation as individuals withdraw from their social circles. Conflicts with friends and family members often arise due to the individual’s behavior and substance use. Financial problems are also common, as individuals may spend excessive amounts of money on substances or struggle to maintain employment.

Recognizing Addiction in Loved Ones

Common Red Flags

Recognizing addiction in loved ones can be challenging, but certain red flags can help. 

Here are some things to look out for:

  • a lack of interest in hobbies or activities that used to be important

  • neglecting relationships or reacting negatively to those closest to them

  • missing important obligations like work

  • risk taking tendencies, especially to get drugs or continue certain behaviors

  • ignoring the negative consequences of their actions

  • distinct change in sleeping patterns that result in chronic fatigue

  • increased secrecy, like lying about the amount of substance used or time spent (2)

How to Approach the Subject

Approaching a loved one about addiction requires sensitivity and empathy. It’s important to choose a calm, private setting for the conversation and to express concern without judgment. Using “I” statements, such as “I’ve noticed you seem stressed lately,” can help keep the conversation non-confrontational. Encouraging them to seek help and offering support can make a significant difference.

Seeking Help and Treatment Options

The Importance of Professional Help

Seeking professional help is crucial for effective addiction treatment. Medical professionals can provide comprehensive care that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. Early intervention can prevent the addiction from worsening and reduce the risk of severe health complications.

Treatment Options

There are various treatment options available, each tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Inpatient treatment programs provide a structured environment with 24-hour care, making them ideal for severe addictions. Outpatient treatment allows individuals to receive care while maintaining their daily responsibilities, making it a flexible option for those with milder addictions.

Therapy and counseling, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and group therapy, are essential components of addiction treatment. These therapies help individuals address the underlying causes of their addiction and develop coping strategies. Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), offer ongoing support and community for individuals in recovery. Aftercare programs are also crucial for maintaining sobriety and preventing relapse.


Addiction is a multifaceted disease with complex causes, signs, and symptoms. Understanding these elements is essential for recognizing addiction in oneself or loved ones and seeking appropriate treatment. Recovery is a challenging journey, but with the right support and resources, it is achievable. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don't hesitate to reach out for help.


What are the first signs of addiction?

  • The first signs of addiction often include behavioral changes, such as neglecting responsibilities, increased secrecy, and withdrawal from social activities.

Can mental health issues lead to addiction?

How does genetics influence addiction?

What are some effective treatment options for addiction?

Why is professional help important for addiction recovery?

If you or someone you know is looking for help for a drug or alcohol addiction, please get in touch with us today for help.

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