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Substance abuse, or addiction to drugs or alcohol, is a recognized medical brain disorder. This psychiatric illness refers to the abuse of illegal or legal substances such as alcohol, opiates, cocaine, marijuana, and so on. Substance abuse causes serious problems at work, school, in relationships, and with the law.

These behaviors likely signal a problem with drug or alcohol abuse:

  • Getting high or drunk on a regular basis
  • Lying, especially about how much you are using or drinking
  • Avoiding friends and family members
  • Giving up activities you used to enjoy, such as sports or spending time with non-using friends
  • Talking or thinking a lot about using drugs or alcohol
  • Believing you need to use or drink to have fun
  • Pressuring others to use or drink
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Taking risks, such as sexual risks or driving under the influence of a substance
  • Diminishing work performance due to substance abuse before, after, or during working or business hours
  • Missing work due to substance use
  • Feeling depressed or hopeless, or having thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Though the exact cause of substance abuse and dependence is unclear, it likely involves a mix of genetic, environmental, and emotional factors. However, while the first use of drugs or alcohol is voluntary, continued use quickly causes changes in the brain so that a person no longer has control. This brain disease results in the compulsive need for the substance.

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is most often accompanied by additional mental health diagnoses including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Treatment for substance use disorders may incorporate a combination of group, family, and individual therapy targeted at medical stabilization, reducing the severity of the patient’s symptoms, and providing tools, ongoing support, and resources to prevent relapse and address co-occurring symptoms.


You may find these organizations useful for more information on addiction:

Treatment at McLean

For more than 40 years, McLean Hospital has been providing care for patients with substance use disorders with and without other co-occurring psychiatric conditions such as major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Signature Recovery Programs
Our 30-day, self-pay programs—Fernside and Borden Cottage—offer evaluation and individualized drug and alcohol treatment for adults with substance use disorders and co-occurring psychiatric conditions.

An insurance-based treatment program in Ashburnham, Massachusetts providing care for adults with substance use disorders that may be complicated by other psychiatric conditions.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Inpatient Program
Short-term inpatient detoxification and treatment for adults with substance use disorders who require a secure environment.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Partial Hospital Program
A program for individuals with substance use disorders who need intensive treatment but do not require the security or structure of inpatient care.