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Help With Addiction and Substance Use Disorders

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Addiction is a complex condition, a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

  • Feb 12, 2016
Psychiatrists and Psychologists: Understanding the Differences

People often confuse psychiatrists and psychologists. There are similarities—both psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to help people with mental health problems. But there are also important differences. If you need help with a mental health concern, who should you turn to, a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

  • Jan 27, 2016
Quitting Smoking and the Use of e-Cigarettes

The New Year heralds a flurry of resolution-making, much of which centers on improving health. One common resolution is quitting smoking — an excellent goal that promises numerous health benefits if it can be sustained long-term.

  • Dec 08, 2015
Preventing Anxiety in Children of Parents with Anxiety

An estimated 18 percent of adults experience anxiety disorders, and children of parents with anxiety are more likely to develop anxiety disorders. But new research offers the possibility of not just treating, but actually preventing anxiety or reducing the severity of symptoms in this high-risk group of children.

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What can you do to prevent relapse?

Preventing relapse to substance use is mainly a matter of becoming aware of the triggers to relapse and either finding ways to avoid or cope with them. Triggers can be external, for example being in places where substances are being used. Stress of any kind (job stress, financial stress, arguments with important people) can also be an external trigger. Triggers can also be internal such as craving, depressed mood, anxiety, hunger or fatigue. The key is to anticipate triggers ahead of time so they don’t come as a surprise and use a plan or coping strategy to deal with the triggers. Usually professional help is needed to gain awareness of and plans to deal with triggers to relapse. There are also very good medications for alcohol, opioid and tobacco use disorders that effectively reduce craving and can help prevent relapse. More

I live with pain and I want help, but I’m worried about becoming addicted to pain medication. What can I do?

Opioid type medications that have potential to lead to addiction are only one way, and probably not the best way, to help manage chronic pain. So the best plan is to try all the alternatives first.

Non-medication interventions such as graded exercise programs, physical therapy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai-chi and a form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) all take some effort but often work very well. Acupuncture may benefit some people living with pain. Many medications that do not have addiction potential can also be helpful for chronic pain. These include anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen; antidepressants like nortriptyline or duoloxetine; or medications often used for seizures like gabapentin or pregabalin.

If you or someone you know does require opioid pain medications to help manage chronic pain, it is reassuring to know that the majority of people who take these medications for chronic pain do not become addicted to them, although anyone who takes these type of medications for more than a few weeks is likely to have some tolerance (less effect of the medication over time) and withdrawal symptoms if the medications are stopped abruptly. More


About the Expert:

Andrew Saxon, M.D.
Professor and Director, Addiction Psychiatry Residency Program
University of Washington
Director, Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education (CESATE)
VA Puget Sound Health Care System
Seattle, Wash.

Keith’s Story


Keith, a 45-year-old plumber, was referred for a psychiatric evaluation after his family met with him to express their concern about his heavy drinking. Since making the appointment three days earlier, Keith denied having a drink. More

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APA Resources

Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5

Understanding Mental Disorders is a consumer guide designed to promote education and understanding among anyone who has been touched by mental illness.

 Editor's Choice
  • December 10, 2015

Wilderness therapy could battle addiction

One approach to battling addiction and other behavioral health issues lies just outside our front doors. The program uses wilderness as a catalyst for healing, Dee said. Natural challenges, silence and a sacred process emerge when immersed in the outdoors. Dee said these things can redirect someone’s life. More

  • December 8, 2015

Drug may give those leaving jail a better shot at recovery
The Boston Globe

The adoption of Vivitrol for departing inmates illustrates the intensity of concern about an epidemic of opioid use that resulted in more than 1,200 fatal overdoses in Massachusetts last year. Although private doctors have been slow to adopt the medication, criminal justice authorities view it as a powerful weapon to combat both opioid abuse and high incarceration rates. More

Physician Review By:

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
July 2015