What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a long-term condition of compulsive drug seeking that is not stopped by negative consequences. Addictions, in general, are compulsions to use and abuse things to an excessive and destructive extent. This need to use and misuse substances can be very powerful and can be life-threatening. It often extends to not only harm the user, but family and friends as well.

Commonly abused drugs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Club drugs (GHB, ketamine, MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly), Rohypnol)
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens (ayahuasca, D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), peyote (mescaline) phencyclidine (PCP), DMT)
  • Inhalants (solvents, aerosol sprays, gases, nitrites)
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids (heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine)
  • Prescription Drugs & Cold Medicines
  • Steroids (Anabolic)
  • Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice)
  • Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts)
  • Tobacco/Nicotine & E-cigarettes

Why are more and more drugs needed to maintain a high over time?

Over time, your body adapts to the drug. It no longer releases the chemicals that provide the “high” feeling (euphoria). This is called tolerance. When this happens, you will need more and more of the drug to feel the same high that was experienced the first time. As more of the drug is consumed, you may enjoy other aspects of life less. Social, family, and work obligations may also fall to the side. The need for the drug to recapture that original high can become all-consuming.

Who is most likely to become addicted to drugs?

Anyone can become addicted to drugs. Some people may be more prone to use drugs based on family history (genetic predisposition), social factors, their gender, or ethnicity.

What are the causes of drug addiction?

Addiction causes changes to the brain over time. It is actually considered a brain disease because of the way the drugs can impact the brain over a long period of time. Continued use of drugs can shift the way the brain works and the structure of the organ. Even though the first use of a drug is by choice, addiction creates a need for the drug after continued use. The ability to make decisions, like stopping drug use, can be decreased because of the impact of the drug on the brain.

What are the symptoms of drug addiction?

The symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Craving the drug
  • Trying, or failing, to cut down or control drug use
  • Struggling to complete tasks at work, in school, or at home
  • Partaking in risky behaviors (driving while impaired or unprotected sex)
  • Continuing to take risks despite knowing the negative results
  • Building up a tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping the drug

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy