Addiction & Substance Use Care


The line between casual drug or alcohol use and addiction can sometimes be difficult to draw. However, when excessive use of substances causes chronic health problems, physical disabilities or a failure to meet the responsibilities of daily life, a substance use disorder may be at the root. At Mercy, we take an empathetic approach to every person’s unique circumstance and situation.

What is Substance Use Disorder? 

Substance use disorder occurs when a person’s drug or alcohol use goes beyond a doctor’s recommendation or accepted societal norms. It can be diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe.

Addiction refers to substance use disorder at the most severe end of the spectrum. Addictions are usually accompanied by an extreme compulsion to use drugs or alcohol.

Although substance use disorder is fairly common, it’s often treatable with the right tools and mentality. Many people facing this discomforting reality not only recover but also live productive, meaningful lives.

What Causes Addiction? 

Anyone can become dependent on drugs or alcohol. Some people may even develop an addiction to a drug the first time they try it. Other people may not experience any long-lasting effects. The chance of any person becoming drug or alcohol dependent relies on many different factors.

Several common factors that can influence drug or alcohol dependence include:

  • Genetics — By studying the genes of drug and alcohol addicts, scientists have discovered specific DNA sequences that indicate some people are genetically predisposed to addiction.
  • Environment — Your living environment can play a pivotal role in whether you develop a substance dependency. Work, school and home atmospheres, along with the availability or acceptance of drugs and alcohol in those spaces, can all impact your chances of becoming addicted.
  • Developmental Disorders — Due to drugs and alcohol stimulating areas of the brain that are changing quickly, adolescents may be more susceptible to addiction. Some studies have also shown that people dependent on cocaine, heroin and alcohol have fewer dopamine receptors in their brains than others.

Risk Factors

Although people of any age, economic status, or gender can become dependent on drugs or alcohol, certain factors can affect the likelihood of developing substance use disorder.

Some common risk factors for substance abuse include a family history of addiction, peer pressure, early use of drugs and alcohol as well as mental health disorders. Substance abuse problems occur more frequently with certain mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Addiction 

Alcohol or drug addiction is much easier to spot if you know what common signs and symptoms to watch out for. Addiction symptoms or behaviors can include, among others: 

  • Drugs or alcohol are taken in larger amounts over a long period of time
  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to reduce and control drug or alcohol use
  • An inordinate amount of time spent trying to get and use drugs or alcohol
  • An inordinate amount of time spent recovering from the effects of drugs or alcohol
  • Drug or alcohol use results in a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home
  • Relationships with friends, family or co-workers are fractured by the effects of drugs or alcohol
  • Recurrent drug or alcohol use at times where it’s physically dangerous, such as drunk driving
  • Drugs or alcohol taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

At Mercy, there’s hope and healing for people struggling with a substance use disorder. If you or a loved one suffers from drug or alcohol dependency, consult a Mercy behavioral health professional for further assessment and treatment options.

Substance Use Disorder Diagnosis & Treatment

All too many people and their families have felt the devastating impact of addiction and substance use disorder. Mercy can help you overcome substance dependency with a compassionate, personalized program of treatment and support. Our caring approach brings together a variety of specialists and services that focus on treating the whole person – body, mind and spirit. 

We have helped thousands of people break free from addiction to lead better, fuller lives – and we can help you as well.

Substance Use Assessment

Your Mercy doctor will likely conduct a blood, urine or saliva test to gauge the level of dangerous substances in the body. In addition to this screening procedure, they’ll also take a look at your medical and family history to determine whether certain risk factors are present. 

Recognizing a problem and seeking help is an important step for anyone looking to beat their drug addiction.


A toxicology test or screening may check for up to thirty different drugs at once. These may include prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs and illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Testing is often done on urine or saliva instead of blood because many drugs will show up in a urine or saliva sample.


However, medical tests alone can’t diagnose an addiction. They can only establish the nature and level of drug use. Other tests may be performed alongside your physical exam to check for co-occurring diseases that may impact your susceptibility to addiction. 

Understanding one’s own harmful alcohol abuse is no small feat. But once a problem is identified, your Mercy doctor will likely want to conduct a physical exam and some lab tests to diagnose your disease.


And while no single test can diagnose alcoholism, abnormalities from results may suggest the presence of a disorder within the body. For instance, organ damage from excessive drinking may be determined based on the results of your test. Your Mercy doctor may also suggest a psychological evaluation to determine your feelings toward alcohol use. 

Substance Use & Addiction Treatment

While substance use dependency can be a frightening reality to confront, it’s important to keep in mind that all types of substance use are treatable with the right plan in place. The best treatments should be comprehensive, as substance dependency impacts all areas of one’s life. A variety of treatment approaches currently exist, and programs can be customized based on specific needs. 

At Mercy, we offer a variety of substance dependency recovery services for both adults and adolescents. While not all programs are available in all communities, your Mercy physician can help connect you with available resources to support your recovery journey.

An intervention is usually done after consultation with a Mercy doctor or behavioral health professional. During an intervention, friends and family members of the person struggling with substance dependency gather to confront them about their disorder. Toward the end, they discuss what treatment option is best given the circumstances. 

Detox is often the first step to treating patients recovering from moderate or severe forms of substance dependency. It can help people safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol until those substances are no longer in their systems.


Detoxing from certain drugs may require medication-assisted therapy to help ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms. In such cases, prescribed medications are closely monitored during detox to gradually reduce use and dependence. 

During inpatient rehab, patients live in a substance-free facility, receiving round-the-clock medical care and therapeutic support. Structured treatment programs designed to help with all facets of addiction are offered. Inpatient rehab is the best option for people battling chronic addiction, as well as those suffering from a co-occurring mental or behavioral disorder. 

During outpatient rehab, patients receive many of the same treatments and therapies as inpatient rehab programs while living at home. Patients can continue to work and care for their families while still attending treatment sessions each week.


Since outpatient rehab programs don’t separate patients from their home environment, the risk of relapse is greater. Outpatient rehab is best suited for people with mild addictions who have a firm commitment to recovery.

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