Addiction and Recovery

8 Common Questions About Internet Addiction

You’ve likely joked about spending too much time online. You may even cringe when you get your weekly screen time report. Who doesn’t? But there is a difference between spending more time than you think you should online and internet addiction. When you have an internet addiction, you can’t balance your time online with your life offline.

This post addresses eight commonly asked questions and answers about internet addiction.

1. What is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is a psychological disorder that causes people to spend so much time online that it negatively affects their health, job, finances, or relationships.

Because the internet is still relatively new, there aren’t many studies on internet addiction. So, mental health experts can’t say with certainty how common internet addiction is. But experts estimate about 10% of the population has an internet addiction. They also think the disorder is more prominent in young people, with about 20% of college students experiencing internet addiction.

2. What Do People with Internet Addiction Do?

Mental health experts classify internet addiction based on the types of activities you perform online.

Types of internet addiction activities are:

Gaming – Gaming may include playing games online by yourself or with others.Net Compulsions. This type of internet addiction includes online gambling, shopping, or stock trading.Cyber-Sexual – These activities consist of cybersex and internet pornography viewing.Cyber-Relationships – These online relationships include those developed via social media, online dating, or any other type of virtual communication (i.e., instant messaging apps).Information Seeking – Spending your time surfing online or excessively searching for information.

None of these activities in themselves suggest an internet addiction. Everyone uses the internet for at least some of them. The concern comes from spending an excessive amount of time on these activities, to the point that it impairs other parts of your life.

3. What are the Symptoms of Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is more than being online too much. It’s an actual addiction. Internet addiction has some of the same troubling symptoms as substance use disorders and gambling addictions.

People with addictions get a dopamine hit in their brain from performing certain activities. Dopamine is known as the brain’s “feel-good” chemical. When you have an internet addiction, performing your preferred activity online releases the chemical, making you want to do that activity more often and for longer periods.

After a while, your brain adjusts to the dopamine release, and you have to increase the amount of time you spend on the activity to get the same positive feeling.

Symptoms of internet addiction include:

Decline in school or job performanceLack of involvement with family and friendsLoss of interest in hobbiesFeeling anxious or depressed when you aren’t onlineSpending time away from the internet thinking about when you can reconnectLosing track of time onlineLying about how much time you spend online or what you do while you’re onlineNeeding to be online for increasingly longer periods before you feel satisfiedGetting angry or defensive when someone comments on the amount of time you spend onlineHiding how much you’re onlineUsing the internet to help you forget about your problems or to make yourself feel betterTrying unsuccessfully to control or reduce the amount of time you spend online

4. What are the Physical Effects of Internet Addiction?

In addition to the emotional effects of internet addiction, there are also physical effects that result from spending so much time online.

Physical effects of internet addiction include:

BackachesHeadachesWeight gain or lossSleep disturbances or insomniaCarpal tunnel syndromeBlurred or strained vision

5. Who is Most Likely to Develop an Internet Addiction?

Anyone can develop an internet addiction. But some people may be more prone to this type of addiction than others.

People who develop an internet addiction may already feel socially isolated. They may have a difficult time relating to their peers. Also, people with other types of addictions (alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling) are more likely to experience an internet addiction because they use the internet as a tool to fulfill the needs of their other addictions.

Reasons people develop internet addictions include:

Accessibility – Most people can get online easily whenever they want. The internet is literally at your fingertips.Control – You can go online whenever you want without others knowing. This ability gives you a sense of control.Excitement – Going online and performing your preferred activity there provides you with a jolt of dopamine.

People with internet addictions also are more likely to develop:

DepressionAnxietyHostility and angerSocial isolationImpulse control issuesSubstance use disorders

6. How is Internet Addiction Diagnosed?

Because internet addiction is such a new concern, there isn’t one tool professionals use to diagnose it. 

Clinicians may ask the following questions in an attempt to diagnose internet addiction:

Are you preoccupied with using the internet?Are you unable to control your desire to use the internet?Do you have to use the internet to feel satisfied?How do you feel when you can’t use the internet? Does it make you anxious, irritable, or in a bad mood?Do you turn to the internet to solve your problems?Do you stay online for longer than you intend to?Have you tried to decrease the amount of time you spend online and failed?Do you have physical symptoms from spending so much time online? For example, do you have backaches from sitting for too long?Do you continue to use the internet despite these physical concerns?Is your internet usage causing problems at school or with your job? If so, what have you done to resolve these problems?Is your internet usage causing problems in your relationships with family and friends? If so, what have you done to resolve these problems?Have you ever broken the law through your internet use?

7. Can You Stop Internet Addiction on Your Own?

You can attempt to stop or control your internet addiction. But, if you try, you want to be aware of withdrawal symptoms and how to know if you need professional help.

To control your internet usage:

Schedule Breaks – If you have to be online, limit the amount of time you spend. Consider scheduling a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes you’re online.Move Your Body – Don’t automatically fill your free time online. Instead, use the scheduled break to stand up, walk around, and stretch. These activities will help your brain and body feel good, all while discouraging you from going online.Limit Accessibility – Leave your phone or laptop in another room. Being physically separated from your devices will help you avoid mindlessly spending time online.List Activities – Keep a list of internet-related activities you want or need to do. Allow yourself to do only those things online. Also, keep a list of things you enjoy doing that aren’t online. Make yourself complete a certain number of those “fun” offline activities before you allow yourself to get online.

You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to put healthy boundaries around internet use.

Internet withdrawal symptoms include:

DepressionIrritabilityAnxietyExcessive sweatingBody shakesInsomniaMood changes

You may need to seek help if your symptoms worsen or fail to decrease.

8. What are Treatment Options for Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction sometimes develops as a way to mitigate or manage other mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Internet addiction may manifest in these or other mental health concerns. Therefore, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs are sometimes prescribed to help those with internet addiction.

Other treatments for internet addiction include:

Physical exerciseCognitive behavioral therapyInpatient treatment programs when intensive treatment is needed

We offer a directory of internet addiction therapists and counselors that you can use to find professional help.

The goal of internet addiction treatment isn’t to eliminate online use. Instead, the goal is to minimize the negative impact of internet addiction and to reestablish normal levels and allow you to function effectively and maintain personal relationships.

Let All Counseling Help


Personal Assistant Service — Duke. 2021. Internet Addiction | Personal Assistance Service | Duke. Available at: .
Addiction and Recovery

Everything You Need to Know About Vicodin Addiction

Vicodin is a common prescription painkiller often used to relieve moderate to severe pain. Being opioid-based, it also has the potential for dependence and addiction. Vicodin addiction and misuse is a growing problem in the U.S. and a significant contributor to the country’s opioid epidemic.

This post provides helpful information about Vicodin addiction, from recognizing the signs and symptoms to seeking treatment.

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a prescription pain medication made of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Doctors prescribe it to relieve moderate to severe pain, particularly after surgery or for those suffering from long-term chronic pain.

Vicodin is an opioid-based drug. Opioids interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain to change how your body feels and responds to pain. Opioids trigger a release of endorphins, which are your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. This brain response means opioids also create a feeling of euphoria or pleasure, especially once the original pain subsides.

Opioids and Addiction

The prevalence of prescription painkiller abuse in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last several years. Experts estimate that more than 6% of the population has used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons, and opioids are one of the drugs most often used.

Prolonged use of Vicodin can lead to tolerance, dependence, and, when misused, addiction.

Although people may take Vicodin as prescribed, anyone treated with opioids can develop opioid tolerance. This tolerance means you have to take increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same effect. You also would experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is reduced or stopped altogether. This increased tolerance is called opioid dependence and is a common risk of regular use.

Dependence can result in some people finding alternate ways to access opioid-based drugs to continue increasing their dosage beyond their medical prescription. Dependence creates the potential for addiction, overdoses, and even death.

Risk Factors for Vicodin Addiction

Most people prescribed opioids don’t develop an addiction, so don’t be alarmed if your doctor prescribes you an opioid-based drug. It’s critical to take the medication as directed and inform your doctor if you have concerns about tolerance or dependence. Communicating with your doctor is especially important for people recovering from alcoholism or other substances.

Numerous medical studies have shown that factors including genetics, mental health issues, and past substance misuse issues contribute to opioid addiction.

Those at increased risk of becoming addicted to opioids include people with:

A history of substance useA family history of substance useMental health issues, including depression, anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderA history of childhood abuse or trauma

Signs and Symptoms of Vicodin Addiction

Recognizing addiction in yourself or a loved one can be difficult. You may overlook dependency (tolerance and withdrawals) until the prescription ends. This dependence can then quickly lead to addiction.

Criteria for diagnosing a substance use disorder include:

Taking Vicodin in larger amounts or longer than prescribedDifficulty cutting down on Vicodin useCravings and urges to use VicodinNeeding more Vicodin to get the effect you want (tolerance)Developing withdrawal symptoms when not taking Vicodin (dependence)Continuing to use Vicodin even when it interferes with daily life and relationships

Vicodin addiction can also lead to adverse health consequences while using the drug.

Noticeable signs of Vicodin use include:

DizzinessDrowsinessSlurred speechPoor coordinationSlow or shallow breathingNausea and vomitingMood swingsDepression or anxiety

Although suffering withdrawals when Vicodin use ends doesn’t mean you’ll develop an addiction, it does mean your body has built up a dependence, so it is still essential to watch for.

Vicodin withdrawal symptoms can include:

AgitationRestlessnessAnxietyMuscle achesInsomniaRunny noseWatering eyesSweatingNauseaDiarrheaAbdominal cramping

Vicodin withdrawal symptoms can vary significantly from individual to individual. The symptoms typically start between six and 24 hours after the last use of the drug, with the most uncomfortable symptoms lasting up to a week or even longer in rare cases.

The Effect of Addiction on Life and Health

Vicodin addiction can have many dangerous consequences on all aspects of a person’s life, from health problems to negative social impacts.

In addition to the health effects of Vicodin overuse mentioned above, such as drowsiness, dizziness, mood swings, and mental health problems, a severe risk of opioid addiction is the possibility of an overdose and potentially death.

Overdoses most commonly occur when a person attempts to stop taking Vicodin and reduces their tolerance, then immediately starts to take it at the same level as before. This risk is why it’s best to undergo detox and withdrawal while under the care of a licensed professional.

Another potential health complication of Vicodin overuse is liver damage or liver failure from the acetaminophen in the drug.

Vicodin addiction also can harm the social life and connections of a person with substance use disorder. A person’s need to obtain and take more drugs can cause them to lose focus at work or school, break down relationships, and give up social and recreational activities. These changes can then lead to further mental health problems.

Seeking Treatment

Breaking the dependence on opioid-based drugs can be challenging, and withdrawal can be painful and intense. Therefore, the best treatment for Vicodin addiction is to seek the help of a qualified professional. Professional detox programs can help those with substance use disorder wean themselves off the drug slowly and safely while successfully managing withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment plans can include addiction therapy and medications to ease symptoms and aid recovery.

Getting Help With All Recovery

If you or a loved one has a Vicodin addiction, you need professional help to uncover the root cause of your addiction and start on your way to recovery. All Counseling wants to help connect you with the mental health support you need and deserve. Use our counseling directory to find a therapist in your area who specializes in addiction.
Addiction and Recovery

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder and Treatment Options

If you or someone you love can’t stop or control your alcohol consumption despite its adverse impacts on your life, you may have alcohol use disorder. This post will help you understand this disorder, its symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is also known as alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, or alcoholism. Regardless of what you call it, alcohol use disorder is an addiction — a chronic but treatable medical condition.

A combination of genetic, environmental, mental, and social factors could result in an alcohol use disorder. Research is still underway on most of the causes and risk factors.

Common risk factors include: 

Family History – Children of parents with alcohol use disorder are two to six times more likely to develop the disorder themselves. For many years, the belief was that addiction was genetic. It’s now understood that family environment and lifestyle influence addiction as well.Trauma – There is a link between childhood trauma and an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Trauma includes emotional, sexual, or physical abuse and emotional or physical neglect. It also includes other types of severe emotional stressors like parents’ divorce or a loved one’s death.Social and Cultural Influences – Early exposure to people who drink regularly, like parents, friends, and other role models, could encourage an alcohol use disorder.

If you have alcohol use disorder, it likely means you drink frequently and/or excessively and have tried to stop but can’t. Your alcohol use also likely causes problems in your social life, relationships, or other aspects of your life, like your job or just completing daily tasks.

Other symptoms of alcohol use disorder include: 

An increase in alcohol toleranceAlcohol cravingsSpending a lot of time seeking out, consuming, and recovering from alcohol useUnsuccessful attempts to quitExperiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinkingDrinking more than intendedDrinking despite negative impacts on relationships and health

To be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, you must show two symptoms within 12 months. A medical professional will likely gauge your symptoms, then complete a physical exam, a cognitive evaluation, and possibly labs and imaging tests when diagnosing the disorder.

Treatment Options

The goal of treatment is to stop alcohol use to improve your overall quality of life. While alcohol use disorder treatment is not a cure, many people benefit from a treatment program.

There is no one-size-fits-all program. What may work for one person may not for another. As such, there are various options for alcohol use disorder treatment. Understanding all of your options is the first step toward recovery.

For people who need less intervention, there are outpatient programs. Those that need more support or a higher level of care should consider a residential program.

Alcohol treatment options include: 

Outpatient Programs – These programs can occur in various settings and typically requires less attendance than other programs. Outpatient programs are the lowest level of care and are typically the last “step” on the care continuum. For many, outpatient programs are tempting because they provide discretion.Intensive Outpatient Programs – Intensive outpatient programs are similar to outpatient programs in that you can go home at the end of the day. These programs are “intensive” because they require a minimum of nine hours of treatment per week.Partial Hospitalization Programs – These programs are “day programs.” This setting allows you to participate in treatment for most of the day, every day while living at home. Participants are not able to work while in attendance. Generally, these programs are about two weeks, after which you attend an outpatient program.Residential Treatment Programs – This type of program provides 24-hour care in a structured and resource-heavy setting. These programs typically include group therapy, individual therapy, and medication management. Many centers also offer holistic and experiential therapies such as yoga, motivational interviewing, and equine therapy. There are 30-day programs, but many centers understand that some people need longer.

You should gather as much information as possible about the program before selecting a treatment option for alcohol use disorder. It is crucial that you feel respected and understood during your recovery process.

What to consider when selecting an alcohol treatment option:

Cost – Consider how much therapy costs. Determine if your health insurance will cover therapy — all, part, or none. Keep in mind that some facilities are self-pay and don’t take insurance. Sometimes, these facilities will offer fees on a sliding scale.Understand the Approach – Understand the facility’s approach to an alcohol use disorder. For example, does the facility offer medication, treat co-occurring conditions, or take a trauma-informed approach?Individualized Treatment – There is no one-size-fits-all treatment program for alcohol use disorder and recovery. Ensuring participants receive treatment tailored to their needs is crucial to long-term success.How Success is Measured – Success rates can be misleading depending on how success is measured. Ask how long rates are tracked, how many participants return for a second round, and if relapse is factored into success rates.

Recovery is Possible

Understanding alcohol use disorder and how to treat it is an important first step toward recovery. Seeking professional help, being active in an aftercare program, and having supportive family and friends are essential to recovery maintenance. Use All Counseling’s online directory to help you find a therapist today.

Resources: Alcohol Abuse and Dependence Therapists, Addiction Counselors and Therapists

Resources and References:

Volkow, N. (2021). What Does It Mean When We Call Addiction a Brain Disorder?. Retrieved 5 February 2021

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2014).

Alcohol use disorder – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic.

NIDA. 2020, May 25. Treatment Settings.

Benton, S. (2011). Understanding Addiction Treatment Levels of Care.
Addiction and Recovery

What Causes Addiction?

Perspective and research on what causes addiction changes over time, from the belief that addiction is an incurable genetic disorder to understanding that substance use targets the brain’s reward system. The causes of addiction can include risk factors, past trauma, genetics, environment, and exposure.

1. Risk Factors

Multiple factors contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction:

Trauma, especially during childhoodFamily history of addictionMental health disorders (addictive behaviors can become coping mechanisms)Peer pressureLack of family involvement or social supportEarly useTaking a highly addictive drug may lead to developing an addiction faster than others

Drinking, using drugs, or engaging in addictive behaviors flood the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. Dopamine also regulates many bodily functions, including emotions, thoughts, motivation, and reward reinforcement. When a person continues to use a substance, the flood of dopamine reinforces the behavior, and the brain learns that repeating it feels good.

2. Past Trauma

Environmental conditions heavily influence the brain. Because of this, people with histories of trauma, especially during childhood, are more vulnerable to addiction. Trauma-focused research shows that positive relationships with parents and others are needed for healthy brain development, meaning when an environment becomes toxic or abusive, brain development becomes distorted. The person then adopts unhealthy coping behaviors to deal with the underlying emotions they have not processed from past trauma(s).

When a person adopts substance use or uses a specific behavior like gambling as a way to cope with past trauma, dopamine floods the brain and reinforces the behavior. Someone overwhelmed by unprocessed trauma is often unaware of the emotions they are attempting to avoid. Until they fully deal with past trauma, they will seek relief in whatever ways are known to work.

3. Genetics and Environment

There is a genetic link to addiction, though this alone does not mean you will become addicted to substances or behaviors. People with relatives who struggle with addiction are around 50% more likely to become addicted than someone without a genetic component. But, even with a genetic link to addictive behavior, environmental interventions such as after-school programs can help children develop other coping skills and habits. Environment can influence whether a young person will become addicted to substances or harmful behaviors as much as any other factor.

4. Exposure

Because the brain is still developing, early exposure to addictive substances or behaviors during childhood or adolescence can cause changes that lead to addiction. In part, this is because there is more opportunity over time for repeated use. Peer pressure, in addition to early exposure, increases the risk for children and teenagers significantly. The other element to consider is that, during adolescence, the brain is still defining coping skills used in adulthood. If using drugs or alcohol is the default coping skill for someone at age 13, the likelihood that they will use them in the future is much higher.

There is Hope in Recovery

Recovery can feel amazing, like being set free after a long period of despair. Maintaining your recovery may also, at times, be daunting as you find yourself replacing old habits and developing coping skills. It helps to have a plan for how you will approach relapsing, either to prevent it or to get back on track if relapse occurs.

Here are a few ways to help prevent relapse:

Avoid High-Risk Situations – Going back to the old neighborhood or contacting friends who were participants or enablers of addictive behaviors can be highly risky to your recovery. Avoiding these situations and people may help you stay on track and avoid falling into old patterns.Stick to the Treatment Plan – Continue to see your therapist, attend support group meetings, take medications as prescribed, and monitor cravings. Often people may feel like they have their addiction under control, but changing deeply embedded behaviors takes time. Sticking with your treatment plan will provide you with the support you need to get through more difficult times.Get Professional Help – If you experience a relapse, the sooner you contact your therapist, sponsor, counselor, or medical provider for help, the sooner you can get back to recovery.

Relapsing during or after treatment is common and nothing to be ashamed of. Recovery is a journey. Breaking old patterns of behavior associated with addiction takes time. Once those patterns are identified, knowing what might trigger a relapse can help you get back on track or even prevent relapse before it happens. No single treatment type is guaranteed to be right for everyone, and a relapse might indicate that a different treatment method is needed.

Let us help you find the addiction therapist or counselor that’s right for you! Use our directory of vetting mental health professionals to locate a therapist by specialty, treatment type, state, city, or even insurance accepted.
Addiction and Recovery

Coping With Love Addiction Withdrawal

Most people are familiar with the whirlwind of feelings that come with falling in love. You may make rash decisions, want to be with the person all the time, and deprioritize other things in your life during this stage of a relationship. But what about when the need to feel like you’re falling in love is overwhelming? Is love addiction a real thing? And if it is, how can you tell if it is happening to you?

This post clarifies what love addiction is, including explaining:

Signs of love addictionHow it relates to mental illnessSymptoms of love addiction withdrawalHow to access help if you think you’re struggling

Signs of Love Addiction

Love addiction is when a person feels like they always need to have the feeling of falling in love — that sense of euphoria that comes with an intense connection with another person. It can show up in short or long-term relationships. It can feel like an addiction to a substance, with cravings for love and attention. If things don’t work out in the relationship, a person could go through a withdrawal experience.

People who are experiencing love addiction may:

Feel the need to always be in a relationshipFeel the need to constantly have someone who likes themBecome dependent on their partnerChase the “high” of the honeymoon phase of a relationshipSeek validation and rely on another’s love and approval for their well-being

Love addiction can cause a lot of turbulence in a person’s daily life and the most dangerous part is when the object of love is no longer present. Much like drug and alcohol withdrawals, a person can experience withdrawals from love addiction.

Causes of Love Addiction

Mental health professionals have not pinpointed an exact cause of love addiction, but research points to some connection to experiences in relationships with attachment issues. Attachment issues are problems that result from a person’s earliest relationships — the ones with their caregivers. Inconsistent care of an infant, such as sometimes doting and overwhelming attention, other times not being responded to when in distress, can lead to an anxious attachment style.

People with an anxious attachment style may experience:

Fear of abandonmentNeed for constant attentionHigh sensitivity to criticismDifficulty trusting othersDifficulty in relationships

While it’s not certain that people who experience inconsistent care as children will have trouble in relationships as adults, it’s one possible factor.

Symptoms of Love Addiction Withdrawal

Love addiction withdrawal is when the source of love or attention is removed, resulting in a break in the pattern of what caused the addiction. It could be a breakup or separation. For people who experience love addiction, this withdrawal may bring overwhelming feelings. They may feel like they need to jump into another relationship, or they may feel intensely saddened and unable to cope.

Other signs of love addiction withdrawal include:

DepressionGriefAnxietyDenialDistorted thinking or irrational thoughtsExhaustion or insomniaUnexplained weight lossOther physical ailments

Relationships don’t work out for various reasons, and breakups or separations can be difficult for anyone. But breakups can seem impossible for people with attachment issues or those who experience love addiction.

Managing Through the Withdrawal

Coping with love addiction withdrawal may look different depending on each individual’s experiences. The following are some general tips that can help someone dealing with the difficulties involved with this form of withdrawal.

Stay the Course of Letting Go – You may feel like the separation is too difficult and you should attempt to reunite with the person with whom you experienced love addiction. Separating can be damaging mentally as well as physically exhausting. It’s best to try and make the separation a clean break.Set Boundaries – If the person you’re addicted to is still involved in your life, set secure boundaries with them. Boundaries ensure your mental health and well-being stay intact.Reach Out For Help – Consider explaining your situation to your loved ones, like friends and family, so they can support you during the difficult times and celebrate with you when you accomplish goals.Avoid Distorted and Obsessive Thoughts – Obsessive thoughts about the relationship only contribute to a higher level of distress. Seek support from people you trust so they can help you manage unhelpful thoughts about the relationship, such as “I should get back with them” or “No one will ever love me again.”Note Your Feelings – Remind yourself that you shouldn’t ignore or suppress your feelings. Rather, try writing them down or speaking to a close friend or mental health professional about them. It’s essential to the healing process that you feel your feelings.Give Yourself Time to Heal – Instead of jumping into a new relationship, give yourself time to work on healing. This healing includes mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional care of yourself.Use Healthy Activities for Coping – Coping mechanisms are vital for dealing with challenging emotions and situations. Remember what you like doing and engage in some of those activities. Grab a friend and take a dance class, work on fun projects, read a new book, or take up meditation. Whatever works for you and makes you feel good about yourself contributes to your healing process.Avoid Self-Pity – Engaging in activities you enjoy, spending time with friends and family, and remembering that you are your own person outside of a relationship can build your confidence and self-esteem.Seek Professional Help – A therapist can help you cope healthily with withdrawal. Counseling can assist you in processing your emotions, goal-setting, gaining self-confidence, and developing coping mechanisms that work for you.

How All Counseling Can Help

Coping with love addiction withdrawal may seem like a daunting process. All Counseling wants to validate your experience by providing you with an easy-to-use directory of counselors that you can browse to find what works for you. Search by location, insurance accepted, gender, specialty, and more. All Counseling is ready to help you search for a mental health professional who specializes in addiction, so you can focus on your healing process.
Addiction and Recovery

Why Addiction Changes How Your Brain Works

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic but treatable disease. Many factors, such as past trauma, environmental factors, life experiences, brain chemistry, and genetics, are generally the root cause of addiction.

The most easily recognizable sign of addiction is the continued use of drugs or other substances despite the harmful consequences and negative impacts on your life. That’s the nature of addiction — it’s not enough to just want to stop. Additional signs of addiction include, but are not limited to finding reasons to use, blaming other people or things for problems, needing more to feel the same effects, sleeplessness, memory loss, or increased depression or anxiety.

If you or a loved one live with addiction, it’s important to realize you are not alone. About 23 million people in the United States are experiencing some form of addiction.

The Connection Between Addiction and the Brain

Addiction and the brain are vastly intertwined. Addiction changes the brain, which then causes the brain to assess pleasure differently and upend other drives such as motivation and learning.

It has taken researchers decades to begin to understand how addiction and the brain go hand-in-hand. But science has moved beyond the idea that people with substance use disorders are weak or flawed individuals. Experts now realize that addiction is a chronic disease that changes brain structure and function.

The Reward Center

Understanding the reward center is crucial to understanding how addiction and the brain are ultimately linked. Any event, situation, action, object, etc., can be registered as pleasurable by the brain. There are innate rewards directly correlated to survival instincts. These natural instincts include things such as food, water, and shelter. These natural rewards are crucial to survival on a primal level. Of course, those aren’t the only activities that cause the brain’s reward system to be engaged.

Your first cup of coffee in the morning, purchasing items from your favorite brand, or enjoying a delicious meal can all be assessed as pleasurable activities by your brain. As can using substances, engaging in sexual activity, or receiving monetary rewards.

When your brain feels pleasure, it releases dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that improves mood and increases motivation and attention. Dopamine also helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses. All addictive drugs stimulate the reward system by raising dopamine levels. When participating in substance use or addictive behaviors, the dopamine release is much larger. This increase in dopamine reinforces the connection between substance use or addictive behaviors and associated pleasure.

Additionally, the dopamine system is sensitive to cues — like when you smell coffee roasting in your kitchen. Your brain anticipates that you’re going to drink a cup of coffee soon. It is the anticipation of a reward that sets off our reward system. But, these cues are not enough. You must take action. The reward system is organized to engage the executive center of the brain. The brain’s executive area encompasses the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex helps you plan and follow through on activities and controls your impulses.

Reward System Loop

This reward system loop is how substance use becomes an addiction.

Dopamine also is an essential component of learning and memory. Dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter to hijack the learning system related to the brain’s reward system.

When you participate in an experience that registers as rewarding, the brain’s executive center engages. It remembers the actions you took to create the experience. Then, the reward system provides the motivation and rationalization necessary to repeat the experience. The more you repeat a pleasurable behavior, the more enforced that behavior.

You end up in a reward loop — cue, action, reward.  The consistent release of dopamine during substance use rewires brain structure. It also creates signals associated with substance use or addictive behaviors, leading to compulsion.


Another critical component to understanding how addiction and the brain are linked includes understanding substance tolerance.

If you find that you need more coffee to make it through the day, you have grown tolerant of the amount of caffeine you were consuming previously.

Tolerance is a similar process when it comes to substance use and addictive behaviors. Addiction provides a shortcut to the brain’s reward system — flooding specific structures with dopamine. Eventually, the brain adapts to the substance of choice, becoming less pleasurable. Just as you grow tolerant of our caffeine consumption, your brain adapts to substance use.

Thanks to the shortcut that addictive substances and behaviors provide, your brain can’t withstand the assault. With addictive substances, the dopamine released is anywhere from two to 10 times the amount released from natural rewards and is faster and more consistent. The brain adapts by shutting off dopamine receptors or producing less. This adaptation means that dopamine has a smaller effect on the reward center. Shutting off dopamine receptors causes the pleasure associated with addictive substances to wane.

At this point, people using addictive substances must take more of them to receive the same level of pleasure they previously derived from the lower dose.

Get Help for Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disease that profoundly affects your brain and how it operates. Understanding addiction and the brain is crucial to recognizing how substance and behavioral addictions hijack your brain.

While addiction is a disease, much like any other, it presents a set of unique challenges. There isn’t a surgery you can have, a pill you can take, or any amount of rest and relaxation that will cure addiction. It takes time, effort, support, and a treatment plan.

All Counseling can help you find a therapist who offers addiction counseling and who can support you in addiction recovery. Use our therapist directory to find a counselor or therapist that specializes in treating addiction.

Citations & References:

Harvard Publishing. July 2011. How Addiction Hijacks the Brain.NIH, News in Health. October 2015.  Biology of Addiction – Drugs and Alcohol Can Hijack your Brain,Nora D. Volkow, Scientific America. March 23, 2018. What Does it Mean When We Call Addiction a Brain Disorder?National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 10, 2020. Drugs and the Brain.Dana Foundation. Cynthia M. Kuhn, Ph.D., Wilkie A. Wilson, Ph.D. April 1, 2005. How Addiction Hijacks Our Reward System.
Addiction and Recovery

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are drugs that cause distortions in people’s reality while producing a euphorically good feeling. While under the influence of hallucinogens, some people claim to see, hear, and feel things that seem real but aren’t. In addition to the short-term “feel good” effects, there are also counter-reports of significant long-term damage to a person’s health. People can have adverse reactions to hallucinogens, even after just one use.

Common Types of Hallucinogenic Drugs

There are multiple types of hallucinogens. Scientists most commonly split them into two categories — classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. Both types of drugs can cause hallucinations. Dissociative drugs also can cause the user to feel out of control or disconnected from their body and surroundings.

Some hallucinogens were created for feelings of being “high,” and others were created for medical purposes. Hallucinogens can be human-made, or they can be derived from plants or mushrooms.

The most common hallucinogens are:

DMT – Also known as “Dimitri,” this hallucinogenic drug is a natural chemical found in some plants. It also can be human-made. It usually comes as a white powder that users smoke.Ayahuasca – This hallucinogenic drug is also called “hoasca,” “aya,” and “yage.” It is brewed from plants containing DMT and consumed like tea. Indigenous people, specifically in South Africa, use it for religious and medicinal purposes.DXM – Also known as “Robo,” this is a cough suppressant or mucus-clearing ingredient in some over-the-counter drugs. It is a dissociative drug.Ketamine – Also known as “K” or “Special K,” doctors use this dissociative drug in humans and animals. It is an injectable liquid, but most illegal use occurs when people evaporate it into a powder that is snorted or compressed into pills. It is odorless and tasteless.LSD – A human-made hallucinogen made from ergot, a fungus that grows on grains. It is the most potent hallucinogen available. It comes as a white powder or clear liquid that users put on small squares of paper and then place on their tongue. It has no color or odor.Marijuana – Probably the most popular and widely used, it contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the active ingredient. Marijuana doesn’t fit neatly into a single drug category because it has depressant, hallucinogenic, and stimulant qualities. Marijuana rarely has hallucinogenic qualities, but can if used in extreme quantities. It affects learning, memory, appetite, coordination, and pleasure. It may be cooked into food or smoked. Marijuana can also be used for various medicinal purposes.Mescaline – The main ingredient in this hallucinogenic drug is a natural substance found in the peyote cactus. The cactus’ disc-shaped buttons are dried out, then chewed or soaked in liquid to produce a drink. Mescaline also can be human-made.PCP – This dissociative drug is a dangerous human-made substance developed to use as an anesthetic. Doctors discontinued it for that purpose because of side effects. People sell it as a white powder or liquid that is snorted, injected, smoked, or swallowed.Psilocybin – A natural substance found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. It can produce similar effects as LSD. “Shrooms” can be used fresh or dried. They are eaten, mixed with food, or brewed in tea.

How Hallucinogenic Drugs Affect the Brain

Scientists don’t know for certain how hallucinogens affect users the way they do. But, they think hallucinogens affect the brain’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is the hormone that stabilizes mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.

The parts of the brain affected by hallucinogens control mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control. It also regulates arousal and responses to stress and panic.

All hallucinogens can be addictive, and the more they’re used, the more a user may develop a tolerance to them. This tolerance isn’t permanent and builds quickly, forcing the user to take more to get the same effects. It disappears if the person stops taking the drug for several days. Therefore, changing the type of drug will not increase the effect without increasing the amount of the hallucinogen used.

One unique feature of this type or class of substance is that hallucinogenic users typically don’t experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drugs.

Short-term Effects of Hallucinogens

People who use hallucinogens can see, hear, and feel things that seem real but aren’t. The onset of these hallucinations can begin as quickly as 20 minutes after taking the drug and can last up to 12 hours.

The effects of hallucinogens are unpredictable and depend on the amount of the drug taken, the user’s genetics, personality, mood, surroundings, and expectations. Users are known to lose their ability to recognize reality, reason, and communicate. If a user’s experience is enjoyable, it is a “good trip.” When users have a negative experience, it’s a “bad trip” and can result in terror, anxiety, despair, and sometimes long-lasting effects.

The short-term effects of hallucinogenic drugs include:

Hallucinations involve the sense of sound, touch, and smellDizziness, lack of coordination, and insomniaExtreme, rapid emotional shiftsTrouble breathingIncreased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperatureLoss of appetite, nausea, dry mouth, and sweatingNumbness, weakness, and tremorsChanges in perception of time (time goes by slowly)Intensified feelings and sensory experiences (brighter colors, sharper sounds)Mixed senses (“seeing” sounds or “hearing” colors)Spiritual experiencesPanicParanoiaPsychosis (detachment from reality)Bizarre behaviors

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens can have serious long-term effects as well. Two more serious long-term concerns are persistent psychosis and flashbacks, otherwise known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). These effects can occur separately or together.

Persistent psychosis causes:

Disorganized thinkingMood disturbancesParanoiaVisual disturbances (like seeing halos or trails on moving objects)

HPPD causes:

HallucinationsVisual disturbancesSymptoms that resemble a stroke

Seeking Help for Hallucinogen Addiction

While there are no approved medications to treat addiction to hallucinogens, a mental health professional can help you uncover and treat the root cause of the addiction, which can then help you on your road to recovery.

If you are looking for a therapist who specializes in treating addiction, you can search our vetted directory of therapists and counselors to locate a mental health professional that is near you.

References and Citations:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2021Common Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs .

National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2021Hallucinogens DrugFacts online] .

Harvard Health Publishing. 2022Back to the future: Psychedelic Drugs in Psychiatry. .

The Wall Street Journal. 2020Silicon Valley and Wall Street Elites Pour Money Into Psychedelic Research 
Addiction and Recovery

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse describes the use of illegal drugs or the misuse of legal drugs that causes problems with a person’s day-to-day activities, work, relationships, and life in general. More than 20 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with substance use disorder last year.

Understanding Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is the mental health diagnosis for someone who abuses substances. The diagnosis is given to someone who can’t control their use of drugs or alcohol. Symptoms of substance use disorder include:

Taking more of a drug than advised or taking it for longer than advisedWanting to cut down on using the substance but not being able toSpending a large amount of time planning to use, getting, using, or recovering from using the substanceHaving cravings to use the substanceBeing unable to manage daily obligations such as expectations of school, work, or home life because of substance usePromising yourself or others that you won’t use substances and being unable to keep that promiseUsing the substance even when it interferes with relationshipsGiving up recreational or social obligations because of the substance useContinuing to use the substance even if it’s putting you or your health or employment in dangerNeeding to use more of the substance to get the desired effectDeveloping withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance

The most commonly abused substances include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription medications, methamphetamines, and hallucinogens.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Multiple factors contribute to the likelihood someone will experience a substance use disorder. These include Adverse Childhood Experiences, environmental stressors, genetic factors, unresolved trauma, and social pressure. But experiencing some of these risk factors doesn’t mean a person will develop a substance use disorder. It’s also possible for someone to experience a substance use disorder without any of these risk factors.

Adverse Childhood Experiences – ACEs are stressful or traumatic events that occur during childhood. These experiences include a death in the family, abuse, neglect, divorce, a family member in jail, a family member experiencing a mental health disorder, or witnessing domestic violence. Adults who experienced more ACEs as children are more likely to experience substance use disorders.Environmental Stressors – When people talk about their reasons for using a substance, they often cite stress as a cause. Pressure can change a person’s brain and physiology. Environmental stressors could include poverty, homelessness, or abuse in the household. These stressors are linked to an increased likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.Genetic Vulnerability – There may be a genetic component to substance abuse that’s inherited or passed down from parent to child.Trauma – Unresolved trauma may result in people using drugs or alcohol to get relief from traumatic memories. People repeat this process until it becomes an addiction.Social Pressure – The influence of social pressure can be overwhelming, especially in the adolescent and young adult years. A person can feel left out or isolated if they don’t use substances when it seems like their peers are all doing so. The desire to feel included within social groups can be a risk factor in using substances.

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Treatment for a person dealing with a substance use disorder varies depending on their specific needs. Popular treatment options include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT focuses on thoughts and behaviors as ways to heal. This type of treatment can involve disrupting negative thought patterns, skills training, rewarding positive behavior, or developing more positive coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.Dialectical Behavior Therapy – DBT focuses on the motivation for change, enhancing a person’s abilities for change, and structuring the environment to introduce and generalize new behaviors. It enhances a person’s ability to change behaviors, thoughts, and patterns while simultaneously accepting the parts they can’t.Holistic Therapies – Holistic approaches to treating substance use disorders include meditation, yoga, acupuncture, herbal medicines, and other techniques to healing that are not considered traditional. These approaches can be beneficial for people when used in combination with therapy. They can also be activities a person can focus on to support their healing from a substance use disorder.

There are numerous treatment options available for those dealing with substance use disorders. You don’t have to continue letting substances control your life. Use All Counseling’s therapist directory to find a counselor to help you on your road to healing and recovery.


McLellan AT. Substance misuse and substance use disorders: Why do they matter in healthcare?. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2017;128:112-130.American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—DSM 5. American Psychiatric Association; 2013.SAMHSA. 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Table 5.4A—Alcohol Use Disorder in Past Year among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Age Group and Demographic Characteristics: Numbers in Thousands, 2018 and 2019. Available at:, Elizabeth. DSM 5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders., 2020. Available at:, Kara R et al. “Adverse childhood events as risk factors for substance dependence: partial mediation by mood and anxiety disorders.” Addictive behaviors, Vol. 35,1 (2010): 7-13. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2009.07.004Gordon, Harold W. “Early environmental stress and biological vulnerability to drug abuse.” Psychoneuroendocrinology vol. 27,1-2 (2002): 115-26. doi:10.1016/s0306-4530(01)00039-7Duaux, E et al. “Genetic vulnerability to drug abuse.” European psychiatry: the journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists vol. 15,2 (2000): 109-14. doi:10.1016/s0924-9338(00)00204-2Dimeff, Linda A, and Marsha M Linehan. “Dialectical behavior therapy for substance abusers.” Addiction science & clinical practice vol. 4,2 (2008): 39-47. doi:10.1151/ascp084239Anda, M.D, R., 2018. The Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Substance Misuse and Related Behavioral Health Problems. Available at: <> .
Addiction and Recovery

Sad Woman Thinking

What Is Addiction?

If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, you are not alone. Around 21 million people in the United States are believed to suffer from alcohol or substance addictions, and gambling addiction alone impacts at least 2 million people. But what is addiction, and why does it happen?

Addiction is a treatable, chronic disease. Genetics, brain chemistry, environmental factors, and life experiences all play a role in the disease, and past trauma is often at the root of many addictions. For many who struggle with addiction, it can be helpful to know that risk factors and levels vary by person, but like any chronic condition, focusing on the cause and the symptoms in treatment offer the best chance for recovery.

Two Types of Addiction

There are two categories of addiction: substance disorders and behavioral or process disorders. While the way each addiction is acted out might vary, the results are the same: problems at school, work, or home, and the potential for significant health issues.

Substance addiction involves abusing alcohol, illegal or prescription drugs, and misusing common substances such as household cleaners to get high. Unlike behavioral addictions, substances create a physical need to use, which can lead to faster addiction. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, outranking methamphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol because of how quickly it creates that physical dependence. Heroin is still considered the most addictive substance because of how quickly the body and mind start to depend on it and the extreme detoxification effects it produces depression, hallucinations, physical pain, and nausea. This doesn’t mean quitting is impossible, rather than your support needs might be a bit more involved.

Examples of substance addictions:

Alcohol – Beer, wine, liquorAntianxiety and Antidepressant Medications – Increasing dosage for faster effect, taking with alcohol to increase effectDissociative Anesthetics – Ketamine, PCP, dextromethorphanEntactogens or Empathogens – MDMA, molly, ecstasyNicotine – Cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, some vapesOpiates – Heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, fentanylPsychedelics – LSD (Acid), mescaline, mushroomsSedatives and Tranquilizers – Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, benzodiazepines

Behavioral addiction is a compulsive behavior that disrupts your life in much the same way that drugs or alcohol can. They have the same impact as drug or alcohol addiction on personal relationships, finances, and overall health. Still, a key difference is that fully abstaining from some of these behaviors is impossible or not recommended. Eating, shopping, and working, for example, are necessities for most people.

Examples of behavioral additions:

GamblingIntimacy disorder (sex addiction, porn addiction)Food addictionInternetOnline or computer gamingWork addictionShopping or compulsive spendingExercise

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

The most recognizable addiction symptoms involve using substances or behaving compulsively, even if you experience harmful consequences as a result. In plain language, drinking when you know that you won’t be able to stop or gambling with more money than you can afford because it makes you feel better in the short term.

Common signs of addiction:

Looking for reasons to useSleeplessness or memory lossIncreased secrecyBlaming other people or things for their problemsIncreased depression and anxietyA hard time identifying feelings or telling them apart from physical sensationsMore severe stress reactionsNeeding more to get the same effectSpending money on substances or related activities even when they can’t afford itDoing things they wouldn’t normally do, like stealingEngaging in risky behaviors while under the influence

Often, people with addictions are aware that the substances or behaviors they wrestle with cause them problems; the nature of addiction is such that simply wanting to stop is not enough.

Five Stages of Addiction

There are five stages that a person with addiction typically experiences, beginning with experimentation or first use and resulting in dependency and addiction.

Experimentation or First Use: Trying a substance or engaging in potentially addictive behavior is the first step towards addiction. Again, this does not mean that you will develop an addiction immediately. However, some substances like nicotine, cocaine, and opiates cause faster physical dependency than others.Social or Regular Use: As someone starts to use substances more frequently or starts to engage in behaviors like internet gaming or shopping, a pattern will develop. What may begin as a once a week or weekend only activity will become more frequent, and signs of addiction will be more noticeable.Problem: When people use more frequently, their behavior becomes more dangerous, like driving while drunk or high. At this point, your personal relationships may begin to suffer, along with school or work performance.Dependency:  At this point, a person’s tolerance for substances or behaviors have developed, and they can no longer regulate their use. With drugs and alcohol, physical and mental cravings are more intense, and going without can bring on withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may include muscle cramps, vomiting, or fevers. Both substance and behavioral addiction cravings can create feelings of irritability, impatience, and angerAddiction: As these phases progress, it leads to a substantial loss in a person’s life: relationships, work, and school are notably impacted because they can no longer function without the addictive substance or behavior. For some people, this is known as hitting rock bottom, but you don’t have to wait for a catastrophic event to occur in order to get help.

Available Treatment Options

Addiction can make it feel like there are no options for relief, and stigma, or shame, around addiction can make it even more difficult to find or ask for help, but you don’t have to be ashamed: you are worthy of recovery. With treatment and support, hope and healing are within reach.

Therapy, Counseling, and Outpatient Treatment – Treatment that addresses all areas of your life, rather than focusing solely on changing behaviors, is usually the most successful. Working with a therapist, counselor, or addiction specialist is the best way to determine an ideal treatment plan for you. Your path may include residential treatment, individual or group therapy, or a combination of approaches that fit your needs and goals. Treatments counselors use for addiction include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Person-Centered Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Solution-Focused Therapy, and Rational-Emotive-Behavior Therapy (REBT). Counseling for addiction aims to reduce the problematic behaviors in a person’s life by behavioral changes, changing thoughts, or addressing the root cause.Medication and Medical Interventions – In some cases, treating addictions with medication is ideal. This approach might be best if there are underlying mental disorders. A combination of medication and therapy can help eliminate unhealthy coping behaviors such as substance use. Some medicines help control drug cravings or help with withdrawal symptoms. More involved medical services may best manage withdrawal symptoms during detox and can include hospital admission for care and observation for more severe symptoms. If there are other health complications from using substances, receiving additional medical attention may be necessary and beneficial.Inpatient Treatment Programs  – Inpatient treatment for addiction may be needed for those who have not seen success with other treatment types or who need more comprehensive care as they journey towards recovery. There are various centers, some through local hospitals and organizations, and private, offering multiple options. Both short- and long-term residential programs are available, and it is essential to continue therapeutic and other support work after completing a residential program.Self-help Programs – Self-help and support groups, including 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can be useful in addiction treatment. These work best when combined with therapy and for ongoing maintenance of the addiction.Trauma Healing and Support – Because trauma is the cause of many addictions, treating the underlying trauma and emotions is essential to recovery. Psychotherapy is the most common method for addressing trauma, and advanced techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may help you process and heal from the trauma. EMDR targets traumatic material and helps to process it in a focused manner.

Whatever methods of treatment and support work best, remember that you are worth the effort, and you can recover.

If you’re struggling with addiction and looking for help, you are not alone on this journey. Recovery from addiction is possible and within reach; choosing a path forward might seem overwhelming, but we are here to help you determine your next steps.
Addiction and Recovery