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Substance Abuse and Addiction

Substance abuse and addiction are long-lasting diseases and not a matter of choice. While at first, your use of alcohol or drugs might have been voluntary, continued drug or alcohol use may change the way your brain functions, making you feel dependent on these substances. However, just as with other chronic diseases, proper treatment can help people successfully overcome the condition.

Signs of Addiction

The first step is to determine if you are addicted. If you continue to use drugs or drink alcohol at the risk of your relationships, your job or your health, it is time to consider getting treatment. You might notice that you need more drugs or alcohol to get the same buzz or high that you would get when you started using. Or, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you decrease or stop using the drug.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you think you might be addicted to alcohol or drugs:

  • Are you irritable, or depressed?
  • Do you find that you’re constantly thinking about when you can have your next dose or drink?
  • Have your personal relationships suffered?
  • Have friends or family expressed concern for your wellbeing, or suggested that you are drinking or using too much?
  • Are you having legal trouble or problems at work?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, it might be time to get help.


Alcohol is the most commonly abused legal drug. While some have a personal or family history of drinking problems, others can develop dependence late in life. Someone who used to be a casual drinker may start drinking more regularly or drinking higher quantities. Sometimes, major life changes can trigger dependence in someone who never had a drinking problem before.

Drinking alcohol can impair judgment and memory and, even, lead to birth defects. Over time, excessive drinking can cause damage to the liver, heart and nervous system. There are also risks to the user and others if he or she drives after drinking.

Illegal Drug Addiction

Illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin, can have severe effects and cause serious problems for the user. Smoking these drugs can lead to respiratory problems, such as asthma. Intravenous use of cocaine or heroin puts users at risk for infectious diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C.

  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. Although it has been decriminalized in some places and is considered legal in others, it is still illegal throughout much of the country. While marijuana is often considered one of the more harmless illegal drugs, it is possible for users to develop dependence similar to that of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • Cocaine is most commonly used in crack form, and all forms of cocaine are more commonly taken during binges. This is extremely risky and, at its most extreme, can lead to psychosis.
  • Heroin is an illegal opiate that can also be snorted, smoked or injected. Heroin is very physically addictive and overdoses are common and can suppress breathing and lead to hypoxia. Heroin addiction has been on the rise in recent years and has been declared an epidemic in many communities.

Opiate Addiction

Legal opiates, such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, are intended for pain relief. Unfortunately, many cases of opioid addiction start with a patient overusing or abusing their pain medication.

Often, abuse starts with simply taking a prescribed drug in a higher dose than is originally prescribed. More people die from overdoses of prescription opioids than from all other drugs combined, including heroin and cocaine.

Xanax Addiction

Benzodiaxapines, more commonly recognized by the names Valium and Xanax, are typically prescribed to treat anxiety, stress and panic attacks. Others, like Halcion, are prescribed for short-term treatment of sleep disorders.

These are all considered central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which is a broad range of drugs that also contains sleep medicines like Ambien, as well as barbiturates. CNS depressants inhibit brain activity, which induces a drowsy, calming effect and are only intended for short-term use.

Using these drugs in higher doses, or for longer than prescribed, can result in physical dependence and withdrawal, and stopping abusing such medications should be done under medical supervision only.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Opiate and heroin withdrawal symptoms can appear within a few hours of last use of the drug, and can include cravings, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, and vomiting. Symptoms usually last about a week, peaking between 48 and 72 hours after last use.

Alcohol withdrawal also creates symptoms that appear between six and 48 hours after a decrease in heavy consumption. These symptoms may include headaches, tremors, sweating, nausea and vomiting, and in some cases hallucinations.

Those who are dependent on cocaine may also experience withdrawal. While they don’t usually display physical symptoms, people in withdrawal from cocaine use can experience a crash that features depression, craving, irritability or paranoia.

Benzodiazepine dependency also can cause a withdrawal with symptoms that include agitation, anxiety, increased pulse and blood pressure, and even confusion and seizures.

Depending on the specific drug and how it is taken, symptoms and their duration can vary somewhat.

Treating Substance Abuse and Addiction

Substance Abuse Outpatient Services

The Crozer Health Recovery Center is committed to delivering high quality, comprehensive professional services to all people who are suffering from the disease of addiction and associated behaviors, including co-occurring disorders.

Detoxification and Rehabilitation

At the First Steps Treatment Center, Crozer Health provides comprehensive services for the detoxification and rehabilitation services for those suffering from addiction.

Detoxification is the process of caring for and monitoring a patient as the alcohol or drugs leave their body. Inpatient or residential detox is typically recommended to safely help patients avoid relapse in a medical setting.

Our inpatient rehabilitation program is tailored to your personal situation, including the substances you’re abusing, your medical history or other issues such as mental health problems or pregnancy. Patients benefit from comprehensive, 24-hour medical services and have access to the extensive resources within Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Nearly every drug an expectant mother uses passes to her unborn baby through the placenta. If the mother uses opiate or narcotic drugs for any reason, the baby can become physically dependent and will go through withdrawal at birth. Some infants experience withdrawal symptoms that are bad enough to require hospitalization and treatment.

It is important for families to be honest with their doctors about the medications they take during their pregnancy in an effort to prepare a family for the possibility of NAS.

Behavioral Health

Crozer Health employs Delaware County’s largest staff of board-certified and board-eligible psychiatrists. We offer a comprehensive range of services in the areas of mental health and substance abuse, including emergency care, outpatient counseling and inpatient psychiatric treatment.