Skip to content

An In-Depth Guide to Understanding Substance Abuse

The Most Common Addictions:
A Comprehensive Guide

For many years addiction was viewed as a choice. Struggles with drugs or alcohol or something that the user decided they wanted to do.  In the eyes of the medical community, the mental health community, in society in general, those who abused alcohol or drugs were making a conscious and even diligent decision to swallow pills, introduce illicit substances into their body or consume alcohol. Fortunately, as years and research have progressed, science has determined addiction is not a choice. Today, many, although not all, addiction treatment providers, mental health counselors, and primary care physicians will agree, addiction is indeed a disease, and just like many other chronic and debilitating diseases, addiction can be treated. 

An Introduction to Addiction

In the clinical setting, addiction is generally referred to as a substance use disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a substance use disorder is the strong compulsion to get and use substances, despite ongoing or known adverse and potentially dangerous consequences. Addiction is also frequently described as “a mental health disorder that affects the brain and changes behavior.” Addiction is understood to be a complex process that directly affects various parts of the brain and body both physically and functionally. Chronic use of alcohol or drugs is responsible for disruptions within the brain regions responsible for judgment, reward, memory, motivation, and learning. Consequently, those who chronically abuse substances may not be entirely aware of the impact their substance use is having on their body and its ability to function. 

Addiction is considered a disease by several organizations, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These reputable organizations define addiction as a disease for various reasons. Two of the most prominent include how addiction changes the brain function and structure and the fact that these changes are long-term and can persist well beyond treatment and sobriety. Addiction is a chronic disease that is marked by periods of relapse and recovery. As a chronic disease, addiction can be treated (and controlled) but not cured. Some who engage in chronic substance abuse do not develop an addiction; however, about 25 to 50% of those with a substance use problem will develop a severe and chronic addiction disorder. 

Request a Confidential Callback

What Are the Most Common Addictions?

When people talk about addiction, they often think of drugs such as alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs. These and others make up the shortlist of some of the most common addictions found in the United States. 


Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in tobacco products. Recent data shows more than 50 million people across the nation are addicted to some type of tobacco product, including snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, and traditional cigarettes. Nicotine addiction is the most common addiction in the United States. According to data from the United States Surgeon General, as many as 90% of those who smoke started doing so by the age of eighteen.


Struggles with alcohol are nearly as common as those with nicotine. Data provided by the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that almost 86% of people ages eighteen and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Perhaps even more startling is the fact but nearly 15 million individuals over the age of twelve meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder. It is estimated that almost 100,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol addiction the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States (behind tobacco and poor dietary choices). 


Contrary to popular opinion, marijuana is indeed addictive. Regular marijuana use can lead to the development of a marijuana use disorder which in severe cases evolves into addiction. Recent information from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse and Health indicates 30% of those who use marijuana have some degree of marijuana use disorder. Also, those who started using marijuana before the age of eighteen are up to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than those who began using as adults. Today it is estimated that approximately 45% of Americans over the age of twelve use marijuana regularly. 


Prescription painkillers (among other opioids) lie at the root of the national opioid crisis. In 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that nearly 50,000 people died from an opioid-involved overdose in the United States that year alone. Although prescription painkiller addictions often arise from a legal prescription prescribed by a medical provider for various reasons, abuse and misuse of these drugs are common. It is believed that as many as 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Also, 80% of people who struggle with a heroin addiction first misused prescription opioids. 


Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the Coca plant found in South America. When someone uses cocaine, they experience an almost immediate high lasting for about ten minutes. Because it was off so quickly, this high is often followed by immediate cravings for more drugs. Cocaine increases levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is directly related to the reward system in the brain. Because users eventually adapt to higher dopamine levels and do not feel the same high, they begin to take larger and stronger doses in an attempt to feel the same high, sometimes leading to an overdose. 


Heroin is an opioid drug manufactured from morphine. The effects of heroin on the body are very rapid. Upon entering the brain, heroin binds to specific opioid receptors on the brain, spinal column, and other body areas. These receptors are responsible for sensing and transmitting feelings of pain and pleasure. They are also involved in controlling breathing, heart rate, and sleeping patterns. Heroin is a highly addictive drug with a significant risk of overdose. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for someone who chronically uses heroin to develop a tolerance for the drug needing more and more of the substance to maintain or achieve the high they reached early on. As their tolerance builds, so does the risk for overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 14,000 American’s lost their lives to a heroin overdose in 2019. 


Like prescription painkillers, benzodiazepines are legally prescribed and, when used properly, are highly beneficial in mitigating the symptoms of specific conditions. However, benzodiazepines are highly addictive and, unfortunately, frequently misused. Typically prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as sleeping difficulties in seizures, benzodiazepines are sedatives. Similar to opioids, the chemical properties of benzodiazepines work on the brain and body, resulting in sensations of relaxation and sedation. Because of their sedative effects and ability to often entirely relieve feelings of panic and anxiety, an addiction to the “happier feelings” results. In many cases, after three or four weeks of regular use, dependence on benzodiazepines develops. 

Addiction is a struggle faced by millions of people in the United States annually. As many as twenty-one million people currently have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. In addition to drug or alcohol addictions, people struggle with addictions to shopping, food, video games, adult entertainment, gambling, and various others. Although the challenges of addiction are many, recovery is possible. If you are ready to begin your recovery journey, get help with Stillwater Behavioral Health.

Escape Addiction For Good. Get Help Now.

How Mental Illness Ties Into Common Addictions

Many who struggle with addiction also struggle with one or more mental health conditions. This is known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. Statistics show as many as half of those who seek treatment for mental illness also experience a substance use disorder. Also, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over 8.5 million adults (approximately 4% of the population)  over the age of eighteen struggled with a dual diagnosis in 2017. Dual diagnosis treatment in Southern California is necessary because mental health and addiction are closely connected. Although there is little research that clarifies whether one diagnosis or illness “causes” the other, struggles with substance abuse or addiction often lead to maladaptive coping and symptoms of new or worsening mental health conditions. Conversely, someone who struggles with an undiagnosed or even a diagnosed mental health condition also frequently turns to alcohol or drugs to reduce the intensity of symptoms. Although it was once believed that mental health and addiction should be treated as separate concerns, today, it is understood that the best treatment outcomes are achieved with comprehensive, integrated mental health and addiction treatment options. 


Healing the body.
Learn more about our on-site, sub-acute detoxification programs.
Learn More

Residential Inpatient

Healing the mind.
Discover how our residential inpatient program can help you recover.
Learn More

Unique Therapies

Learning to live again.
We use the best therapies available to help you recover at Stillwater.
Learn MOre

Dual Diagnosis

Mental health matters.
We offer extensive treatment for co-occurring mental illness.
Learn More

Drug Addiction

Understanding the disease.
Explore the different substances of abuse we treat.
Learn More


Quit drinking for good.
Find out how to overcome an alcohol problem and get sober for good.
Learn MOre

Getting Help is Easy

Stillwater Behavioral Health works with most major insurance carriers who offer out-of-network benefits. This typically includes PPO and POS insurance plans, but if you are unsure of the type of insurance you have, contact us for a free consultation and verification of benefits today.

1. Talk to Us About Your Problem

We've been in your shoes. Let us know what's going on and how we can help by contacting us today via phone, email, chat or by filling out a form.

2. Get a Free Assessment

One of our caring admissions coordinators will contact you for a free pre-assessment so we can find you the best treatment options.

3. Prepare to Enter Treatment

Once we verify your benefits and arrange intake, it's a smooth and easy process to enter our program and begin your journey to lasting recovery.

How Can I Get Help When Suffering from Addiction?

If you are struggling with addiction, there are many treatment options available to help you begin your recovery journey. The type of treatment and level of care most appropriate to meet your needs will depend on various factors. For example, the severity and duration of your addiction, the substance or substances you used, and whether or not you have been to addiction treatment before and experienced a relapse. For some, outpatient treatment options are beneficial. However, if you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol, opioids, or have completed treatment before an experienced relapse, a luxury inpatient treatment facility is likely a better treatment alternative. Inpatient facilities provide the opportunity for those struggling with addiction (or the symptoms relapse) to receive comprehensive detox, therapy, nutrition, and aftercare planning services in a holistic treatment environment free from triggers and concerns that often lead to stumbling blocks along the road to recovery. 

How Stillwater Behavioral Health Can Help

At Stillwater Behavioral Health, our caring and compassionate treatment staff utilize various types of therapy (both traditional and alternative therapies) and therapy settings (group, individual, and family) to help you learn new and healthy coping strategies that can put an end to drug use, drug-seeking, and addictive behavioral patterns. At our luxury Santa Barbara rehab, we use different types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, equine therapy, spiritual counseling, acupuncture, art & music therapies, meditation, mindfulness practices, and many others to create the most comprehensive, individual treatment program possible. We understand the decision to seek treatment is difficult. It is likely one of the most challenging decisions someone who struggles with addiction will ever make voluntarily. For this reason, we strive to ensure each therapy program is unique and designed specifically to help you meet your specific treatment needs and goals in the healthy, holistic, and supportive manner possible. 

Overall, addiction is a chronic disease, but it is not a disease without treatment. To ensure your treatment experience is successful, it is crucial to select a treatment facility where the treatment models align closely with your rehab goals. If you struggle with a dual diagnosis, it is vital to ensure your chosen treatment facility specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. Our team at Stillwater Behavioral Health specializes in a wide variety of traditional and alternative treatment options to provide a holistic and comprehensive treatment experience. 

If you are one of the twenty-one million Americans struggling with a substance use disorder, or millions more struggling with various other addictions, there will never be a better day to begin your recovery journey. The process of recovering from any addiction can be challenging. At our secluded, private, luxury Santa Barbara, CA facility, members of our treatment team will work with you to design a treatment program derived explicitly for your needs. If you are ready to begin walking your path to recovery and experiencing a future free of addictive behaviors, get in touch with Stillwater Behavioral Health today.

Escape Addiction for Good.

Your path to healing starts today.