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How To Treat The Most Common Addictions

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

February 11, 2019

Addiction knows no boundaries. Anyone can find themselves feeling as if they’re chained to a particular substance, action, or behavior. Fortunately, the good news is that treatment is available for all different types of addictions.

Addiction Defined

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” Put simply, it involves multiple interactions between various areas of the brain that ultimately cause the body to crave a substance or behavior both psychologically and physically in an attempt to get the same positive feeling over and over again.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) adds to the conversation by calling addiction “a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the functioning of the brain and body.” They expand further by defining addiction to include the negative effects it creates in a person’s life, highlighting how it often “causes serious damage to families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.”

Addiction From The Addict’s Perspective

If you’ve never suffered with an addiction, the biological and physical responses may be difficult to understand. In an article published on, Elizabeth Hartney, PhD. suggests that having an addiction is like having “never really felt comfortable with who you are.” And then, you’re involved in some type of experience “and suddenly, everything feels great. You feel as if success is easy and right for you, that perhaps others don’t understand, but now it feels good to be alive.”

Realistically speaking, addiction isn’t about feeling happy and right with the world. As Cassie Rodenberg points out in a piece on Scientific American, addiction is also a “need-hate relationship” in which you need something, yet hate yourself for feeling that way because you know that it isn’t good for you. You obsess about it when you don’t have it, thinking of little else. And you feel extremely guilty when you do partake in the substance or behavior either because you realize what you’ve done or because society tells you to.

It’s these up and down feelings that can make addiction particularly hard to overcome. But rest assured that every addiction has a variety of effective treatment methods from which to choose. It’s just a matter of finding the one that works best for you and your particular addiction.

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The Most Common Addiction

Although many types of addictions exist in the world today, some are more common than others. For instance, one out of every 12 adult Americans—or almost 18 million people—have some type of alcohol dependency, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. This contributes to 88,000 deaths every year, making alcohol abuse “the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation.”

Additionally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shares that drug addiction is a common issue. One survey found that approximately 10 percent of the population had used some type of illegal drug within the previous 30 days. While the drug of choice for most respondents was marijuana, 6.5 million admitted to taking prescription drugs such as pain relievers and sedatives for non-medical reasons in that same time frame. Next were cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, and heroin.

As far as other common addictions, in July 2011 a group of researchers published an article in Evaluation & the Health Professions that outlined some of the addictions most prevalent in society, based upon a systematic review of related literature. Among the two already listed were an addiction to nicotine, food-related addictions and disorders, gambling addictions, Internet addiction, and an addiction to sex or love.

Principles of Effective Treatment

Regardless of which type of addiction one has, the NIDA reports that there are certain “Principles of Effective Treatment,” or conditions that must be met in order for a treatment program or process to work.

  • Understanding that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment program that works for each and every person.
  • Constantly measuring whether the program or process is working for that particular individual, making changes as necessary to “fit the patient’s changing needs.”
  • Providing addicts with “quick access” to the treatment option, yet also keeping them involved for what is often a lengthy amount of time to help the person address all of the factors that led the person to the addiction to begin with.
  • Offering treatment not only for the addiction, but also for any underlying mental disorders and/or physical health-related conditions that may exist in tandem with the addictive behaviors and compulsions.

Three Major Aspects of Successful Recovery

It’s important to note that the ASAM advises that “recovery from addiction is best achieved through a combination of self-management, mutual support, and professional care provided by trained and certified professionals.” What does this mean in simple, easy-to-understand terms?


Self-management involves all the things you can do on your own to increase your chances of success when fighting an addiction. For instance, if you’re addicted to alcohol, one thing you can do to help self-manage is to not have alcohol in your home. And if heroin is your “drug of choice,” one positive self-managing behavior would be to no longer hang out with the people you know who continue to do it so you’re not around it and therefore not tempted to give in.

Self-management also includes taking care of any other part of your life that may be contributing to your addictive behavior. For example, if you drink to self-medicate for your anxiety or stress, then tackling these two issues at their source is critical to making a successful recovery. And if you take drugs to help you deal with your bipolar disorder, treating this disorder outright can greatly enhance your addiction recovery process.

Mutual Support

The mutual support part of a successful recovery is often met by joining a support-based organization, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), or any other 12-step group composed of members who are fighting the same type of addiction as you. There are also support groups that follow their own recovery systems, enabling you to find one that best fits your personality and recovery needs.

Support can also come in the form of family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else who wants to see you succeed. Admittedly, this isn’t always easy for others to do, especially if it’s been a long road. But there are many support-based programs designed to help them help themselves, so they can better help you. For example, Munson Healthcare has a list of resources for family members of alcohol and drug addiction and offers many tips for helping a friend or family member who has a gambling problem.

Professional Care

Professional care “by trained and certified professionals” is the third critical part to a successful recovery, because this person can teach various tools and tricks that can help make addiction-related obstacles easier to overcome. By meeting with someone who knows and fully understands the addiction—both physically and mentally—you’re able to learn what works best for you when it comes to making manageable, lasting positive lifestyle changes.

Many different types of counseling-based therapies exist. Some are inpatient, others can be done on an outpatient basis so that the recovering addict can keep his or her job and remain at home, surrounded by the love and support that a family provides. Additionally, some treatment programs involve just the individual and the counselor or other trained professional. Others involve the entire family, addressing various issues and dynamics for all involved to raise the addict’s chances of successfully recovering from the substance or behavior.

Treatment with a professional is also often beneficial because this person can sometimes prescribe medications (or refer the person to someone who has the ability to prescribe them). That can make it easier for the addict to deal with the uncomfortable symptoms common to withdrawal from various substances and behaviors.

For instance, methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are three medications typically prescribed for individuals working to overcome addiction to opioids. Other drugs like naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram can help people with alcohol addiction, whereas bupropion and varenicline are two prescriptions people can take to help ease the negative feelings commonly associated with nicotine addiction.

Opioid Addiction:

  • methadone
  • buprenorphine
  • naltrexone

Alcohol Addiction:

  • naltrexone
  • acamprosate
  • disulfiram

Nicotine Addiction:

  • Bupropion
  • Varenicline

Addiction Recovery in Jail and Prison Settings

Addicts intent on recovery face a special set of obstacles if they are incarcerated because they’re unable to seek out their own treatment options. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re destined to remain tied to the substance or behavior that is making their life more difficult.

The NIDA has created a research-based guide that provides administrators in incarceration settings 13 principles of treatment for criminal justice populations. Although they are specifically focused on drug addiction, these philosophies and ideologies can be applied to other types of addictions.

Addicts intent on recovery face a special set of obstacles if they are incarcerated because they’re unable to seek out their own treatment options. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re destined to remain tied to the substance or behavior that is making their life more difficult.

The NIDA has created a research-based guide that provides administrators in incarceration settings 13 principles of treatment for criminal justice populations. Although they are specifically focused on drug addiction, these philosophies and ideologies can be applied to other types of addictions.

  • Completing a comprehensive assessment to understand the true “nature and extent” of the individual’s addiction.
  • Creating a treatment program that is individualized so that it addresses each offender’s needs.
  • Addressing criminal behavior in addition to the addiction that may have contributed to it during the treatment sessions.
  • Treating any underlying physical and/or mental health conditions, which co-exist with addictive behaviors.
  • Assisting the individual with finding and signing up for available treatment options that are available to the recovering addict after he or she is released from incarceration.

Preventing Relapse

Because addiction is a combination of biological and behavioral issues, many individuals are afraid of relapsing and returning to their old behaviors and the negative consequences that come with them. Certainly, this is a very real and understandable fear because some relapse rates have been found to be quite high.

For instance, one study published in the Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy involved 436 patients who voluntarily sought treatment for drug addiction. Of them, 64 percent relapsed within six months post-treatment. Researchers found that factors that increased the relapse rate included smoking, having family members who continued to use or being around friends who were still doing drugs, not believing they could quit, and not having a job.

Another study, this one published in the International Journal of High-Risk Behaviors & Addiction, looked at 140 recovering addicts and found a lower relapse rate (closer to 30 percent) and an average relapse time of 2-3 years. This research also found that factors such as employment status, relationship status, and the age of the individual all made a contributing impact on whether or not the individual returned to the addictive behavior.

Though these statistics may be grim, it cannot be stressed enough that it is entirely possible to recover from addiction and to remain recovered for the remainder of one’s life. This takes an unrelenting desire to remain “clean,” but there are other things one can do to remain squarely in the recovery process.

  • Staying away from any situation that may tempt the individual to relapse (if you have a gambling addiction, for instance, this would mean staying away from casinos).
  • Setting up a “positive support network” by having a list of non-addicts you can go to—any time of the day or night—when you feel the urge to return to your old behaviors.
  • Creating healthy life habits or routines that make it easier to remain in recovery by not allowing you to get bored or feel overwhelmed. These can include setting up regular counseling appointments, frequent engagement in hobbies you enjoy that don’t involve your addictive substance or behavior and spending quality time with the people you love.
  • Making recovery a conscious effort so you don’t fall into the complacency trap and relapse because you weren’t prepared or suddenly found yourself face-to-face with a temptation that you didn’t have the motivation or tools to overcome.
  • Keeping the idea of relapse in perspective. In other words, if you do relapse, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to always have your addiction; it just means that you need to take action on it quickly so that you can re-enter and continue with the recovery process.

Do You Need Help With Recovering From Addiction?

There’s no denying that addiction recovery and treatment is a process that takes a lot of hard work and commitment. It often involves confronting issues you’ve had for years (a lifetime even), finding new ways to cope, and undoing behaviors by replacing them with actions that provide more positive results.

If you’re ready, or even if you’re just considering your options, we’re here to help! You can talk to a member of our trusted, professional, and compassionate staff at 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re here to take your call whenever you’re ready to make it.

And we’re here to connect you to the program best suited to you, your addiction, your situation, and your needs. You are our #1 priority, and we’re here for you and whatever you need to ensure a long and successful recovery process!

American Society of Addiction Medicine - Definition of Addiction

Center on Addiction - What is Addiction?

VerywellMind - Understanding Addiction and What It Is Like to Be Addicted

Scientific American - How addiction feels, the honest truth

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Nationwide Trends

NCBI - Prevalence of the Addictions: A Problem of the Majority or the Minority?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction

Alcoholics Anonymous - Home

Narcotics Anonymous - Home

Gamblers Anonymous - Home

Munson Healthcare - Home

National Council on Problem Gambling - Home

Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy - Addiction Relapse and Its Predictors: A Prospective Study

NCBI - Survival Analysis of Drug Abuse Relapse in Addiction Treatment Centers

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations - A Research-Based Guide

National Council on Problem Gambling - Help By State

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