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Chemical Addiction and Chemical Dependency Treatment Centers

Table of Contents

A chemical addiction or dependency treatment center is a facility that offers a safe and supportive environment for anyone addicted to or dependent on drugs or alcohol. If you or a loved one abuses substances, a treatment center can help you begin the journey of recovery.

Understanding Addiction

A chemical addiction is a chronic brain disease that is characterized by continued drug use in spite of significant adverse consequences to a person’s health, social, or occupational functioning. Chemical dependence is long-lasting and can lead to a variety of negative outcomes.1

In most cases, physical tolerance develops first, which is when your body adapts to the presence of a drug and needs more and more of that substance to achieve the same high you experienced when you first started using. Dependence is a different condition, the hallmark of which is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop using your drug of choice. This usually occurs when you chronically use certain drugs; it can even develop when taking prescription medications as prescribed.1
chemical effects of drugs on the brain

Potential Causes

In years past, many held the belief that addiction reflected a lack of moral fortitude or willpower, yet research into the condition as well as personal accounts have countered this belief have debunked this myth. Addiction is a complex disease that takes more to overcome than simply a desire to. Drugs are chemicals that change the way the brain works which, over time, can make it very difficult for someone to stop using them even when they are strongly motivated to do so.2

So, if chemical addiction and dependency involve more than just willpower, why do some people become addicted while others do not? Researchers do not yet fully know the answer to this question, but certain factors can increase a person’s risk for developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol:2

  • Starting early: Experimenting with drugs at an earlier age makes it more likely that the use will progress to addiction as the person ages. It is believed that the chemicals in certain substances affect various aspects of a young person’s physical, mental, and emotional development.
  • Biology: Genetics account for about half of the risk that someone will become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Environment: Factors such as substance abuse in family members, living in a dangerous neighborhood or community, or strong pressure to use at school all influence a person’s chances that they will experiment with or abuse drugs, which could lead to chemical addiction.

Substances People Commonly Abuse

The following is a list of commonly abused chemical substances:3
Potential substances of abuse Cocaine, Alcohol, and Scattered Pills on the table.

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • MDMA or ecstasy
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl and other painkillers
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioid painkillers
  • Marijuana
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • Inhalants
  • Hallucinogens
  • LSD
  • Prescription stimulants

While this list is not exhaustive, each of these substances have high potential for abuse, meaning once a person starts to use them, it becomes very difficult for them to stop. Most of them carry the potential for physical chemical dependence as well.3

Stages of Dependency

When someone uses drugs, their brain’s communication system is affected, specifically in the way it sends and receives information. Different substances work in different ways—in some cases, drugs diminish signaling or otherwise interfere with the brain’s communication system; other times, drugs imitate the brain’s natural chemical messengers. No matter the precise mechanism of action, one of the ways many drugs elicit their powerfully reinforcing high is through the overstimulation of the reward circuit of the brain via increased activity of a signaling chemical known as dopamine.4

Because the brain is wired to seek out and repeat activities that produce pleasurable feelings, it can be exquisitely hard to stop using drugs once someone starts.4 After the brain is regularly exposed to chemicals, it begins to adjust to the constant stimulation and its ability to feel pleasure in the way it used to is diminished. The person then needs more of the drug to achieve a high, which is called tolerance.4

Eventually, drug use can also cause significant changes in the brain, which can persist even after the person no longer uses the drug. These brain changes can also make it very difficult to stop using, which is why appropriate chemical addiction and dependency treatment is needed at this point.4

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse can vary depending on the chemical used and the person using it, but in general some of the signs of a chemical addiction or dependence include:5

  • A deterioration of physical appearance.
  • Unusual body odors or smells on clothing.
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
  • Difficulties in personal relationships because of use.
  • Frequent legal trouble.
  • Giving up important social or recreational activities to use.
  • Continued use to avoid unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • Inability to control drug or alcohol use.
  • Continuing to use in spite of adverse physical or health consequences.
  • Periods of increased activity.
  • Sudden mood swings.
  • Unexplained changes in personality.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Appearing tired or “strung out”.

If you or someone close to you is exhibiting many of these signs, it might be time to speak with a doctor or professional chemical dependency counselor about treatment options.

Negative Consequences

Drug abuse can negatively affect every area of a person’s life, including their:4,6

  • Physical health: People who are addicted to drugs are often at increased risk for other health problems, such as cancer, hepatitis, liver damage, HIV/AIDS, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.4
  • Mental health: Addiction often impacts psychological health, such as triggering or worsening depression, psychotic disorders, aggression, and anxiety. Substance abuse and mental health disorders frequently co-occur.4
  • Social relationships: Using drugs can lead a person to give up activities that they once enjoyed and may negatively affect relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. Sometimes people who use drugs engage in social unacceptable (or illegal) behaviors, such as acting out in aggression or stealing, which create conflicts in their interpersonal relationships.6

Fortunately, there are many treatment options for anyone suffering from chemical addiction or dependency and its negative effects.

Treatment Options

It is important to keep in mind that no one treatment is ideal for everyone since addiction is complex, so treatments should take into account things like addiction severity, strength of support network (or lack thereof), and other individual details.7 A person’s path to recovery may consist of some combination of the following, commonly used treatment elements:7,8

inpatient doctor shakes mans hand

  • Detoxification and withdrawal: The first step of treatment is detoxification, which may or may not be medically supervised, depending on the type and severity of addiction. When medical interventions are used in detox, their purpose is to help suppress or manage withdrawal symptoms so a person can safely and comfortably stop using drugs.
  • Residential treatment: This type of long-term therapy takes place in a non-hospital medical setting and may last as little as 1 month or as long as a year or more. Care is provided 24 hours a day to give the person constant support and guidance toward recovery. Many long-term residential treatment centers offer comprehensive treatment with a range of services, such as family counseling, employment assistance, and medical evaluations.
  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is available for people who have more support in the community and less-severe addictions. They may also have jobs or school that they cannot put on hold while they get clean. Outpatient treatment can involve a variety of services, including case management, vocational training, medical management, and more.
  • Medical maintenance: Medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of certain types of drug dependence and addiction. They are useful in managing withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapse and can be helpful in treating co-occurring mental disorders. Certain medications reduce cravings for drugs, making it more likely that a person can attain long-term sobriety.

Choosing a Treatment Location and Provider

Consider the following when choosing the right treatment center or provider for you:9

  • Is the program flexible and able to be tailored to your unique needs?
  • Does it use evidence-based treatments? Effective treatments are those that have been scientifically studied and determined to be useful for the treatment of chemical dependency.
  • Is there a diverse range of services offered? What you need when you begin your journey into a sober lifestyle will probably be different than what you will need later on. Treatment plans should adjust to address your needs as they evolve.

Finding the right chemical dependency treatment program or center can help you or your loved one quit using drugs and lead a productive life at home, work, and in the community.

Recovery from Addiction

Recovery from chemical addiction
can take much longer than the stay in a chemical dependency treatment program. Most people have to continue attending therapy sessions on an outpatient basis after they have checked out of the rehab center. Without this kind of follow-up treatment, the risk of relapse rises significantly.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Commonly Abused Drugs Charts.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Indian Health Service. (2017). Warning Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction.
  6. DEA: Just Think Twice. (2018). Social Consequences Of Using Drugs.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: Types of Treatment Programs.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What To Ask.

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