For many people, the facts about addiction are not clear. What is addiction, exactly? How does it differ from alcohol abuse? When should a person seek help for a problem related to his or her drug use? Find out more about both addiction and alcohol abuse, the symptoms of each, when and where to seek help, treatment choices, and additional helpful resources. |
For most people who drink or use drugs, it can be a pleasant accompaniment to social activities. Moderate alcohol use, up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and seniors, is not harmful for most adults. Nonetheless, a large number of people get into serious trouble because of their drinking and/or using. Currently, nearly 14 million Americans; 1 in every 13 adults; abuse alcohol or drugs or are addicts or alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky behaviors that can lead to addiction problems. These patterns include drug binges and heavy drinking on a regular basis.
In addition, 53 percent of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their friends or relatives have a drug abuse or drinking problem. The consequences of alcohol and drug misuse can be life threatening. Heavy drug use or heavy drinking increases the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). They can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. In addition, using increases the risk of death from automobile crashes as well as recreational and on-the-job injuries. Furthermore, both homicides and suicides are more likely to be committed by persons who were under the influence. In purely economic terms, substance abuse-related problems cost society approximately $185 billion per year. In human terms, the costs cannot be calculated.
Alcoholism and/or Addiction include four symptoms: Cravings: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink or use. Loss of control: The complete inability to limit ones intake on any given occasion. Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, and anxiety, occur when substance abuse use is stopped after a period of heavy use.
Tolerance: The need to use greater amounts of substances in order to get high.
People who are not addicted rarely understand why an addict or alcoholic can't just use a little willpower to stop. However, addiction has little to do with willpower. Alcoholics and addicts are in the grip of a powerful craving, or uncontrollable need, that overrides any ability to stop. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.
People are able to recover and stay sober without help, but others need assistance. With treatment and support, many individuals are able to stop their destructive behaviors and rebuild their lives. Many people wonder why some individuals can use without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do with genetics. Scientists have found that having a family member that is or was an alcoholic or addict makes it more likely that you too may develop addiction. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact, scientists now believe that certain factors in a persons environment influences whether a person with a genetic risk for addiction ever develops the disease. A persons risk for developing addiction can increase based on their environment, including where and how he or she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it is to get drugs or alcohol.
Substance Abuse differs from addiction in that it does not include the extremely strong craving for drugs, loss of control over use, or physical dependence. Substance abuse is defined as a pattern of using that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period: Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities; Using drugs in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery; Having recurring drug-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence or for physically hurting someone while under the influence. Continued use despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drug use. Although substance abuse is different from addiction, many effects of substance abuse are also experienced by addicts and alcoholics.
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