Substance Use & Addiction FAQs

Substance Abuse & Addiction Questions

Substance use, which can lead to addiction, affects both adults and adolescents. Find answers to frequently asked questions about substance use and addiction.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a treatable chronic brain disease. People who have addiction problems use dangerous substances and engage in risky behaviors that become compulsive over time. However, prevention efforts and effective treatments for addiction can help people overcome their disease.

The best way to identify whether someone with substance use disorder is to see if any common symptoms or lifestyle changes have developed. Signs and symptoms of substance abuse can include:


  • Behavioral symptoms, such as missing work, social isolation or unexpected changes to sleeping patterns.
  • Emotional symptoms, such as irritability, depression or blame-shifting.
  • Physical symptoms, such as weight loss, slurred speech or change of energy levels. 

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, chronic use of some substances can lead to long-term or short-term changes in the brain, which can cause mental health problems.


People addicted to drugs and alcohol are nearly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. Learn more about co-occurring disorders and substance abuse.

There’s no short answer to this question. Your genetics, history of mental illness, home environment, anxiety levels and character can make you more or less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. The more substance use risk factors a person has, the higher their chances become of developing an addiction over time. 

Psychoactive drugs are chemical substances that alter your brain’s proper functioning. Since alcohol is considered a depressant, it falls under the category of psychoactive substances. Long-term alcohol abuse can change your mood, state of mind and general disposition, which sometimes causes a disorder to arise. 

Heavy alcohol drinkers are not necessarily addicted by definition. Heavy drinking is a somewhat ambiguous term that could refer to binge drinking or chronic drinking. Some people may even use the term interchangeably with alcoholism.

However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines heavy drinking for men as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

Those with alcohol use disorder experience a higher buzz tolerance for alcohol and persistent cravings, which create a physical dependence cured only through treatment. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines dual diagnosis as a term for when someone experiences a mental illness alongside a substance use disorder. This is also sometimes referred to as a co-occurring disorder. Approximately 9.2 million people in the US suffer from dual diagnoses. 

Substance Use Information

At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of inpatient & outpatient substance abuse treatment services, including: Mercy offers support groups in many communities based on needs and availability. You might find it helpful to also pursue programs and resources offered through reputable mental health agencies.