Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol – A Disease?

Is addiction to drugs and alcohol a disease?  Most authorities on the subject answer this question in the affirmative.  

Alcoholism and drug addiction are chronic, long-term, often progressive diseases with symptoms that include a strong need to take the drug or to drink in spite of detrimental consequences such as serious job, relationship, financial, or health problems.

Alcoholism, Tolerance, Withdrawal and Physical Addiction

Physical addiction takes place when an individual’s body actually becomes dependent on a particular substance.

Not only this, but it also means that a person develops a tolerance to that particular substance, meaning that the user requires a larger dose than before to get the same “buzz” or “high.”

When a person who is physically addicted stops using a substance such as alcohol or drugs, unfortunately, he or she typically suffers from withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal is defined as any physical or emotional disturbance experienced by an addict when deprived of the particular drug or substance.

Withdrawal symptoms vary from drug to drug. The seriousness of withdrawal symptoms is highly dependant on the drug or drugs that were abused by the addict.

Withdrawal symptoms for many individuals, are similar to having the flu.  Typical withdrawal symptoms include mood swings, sweating, depression, diarrhea, shaking, muscle aches, and craving for drugs or alcohol.

Some Basic Addiction and Dependency Facts

Like many other diseases, drug and alcohol dependency have recognizable symptoms, a fairly predictable course, and are influenced by environmental and genetic factors that are becoming better defined and understood every year due to research and case studies.

Addiction means a person has no control over whether he or she uses drugs or alcohol.  A person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol has grown so used to the substance that he or she simply “needs” to have the substance in order to “feel right” or to function.  Addiction can be psychological, physical, or both.

In Canada, an estimated 4% of the population over the age of 15 is dependent on alcohol and there are twice as many male alcoholics as female alcoholics.  The highest rate of alcoholism in Canadians occurs between the ages of 20 and 24.  In Canadian surveys, about 20% of the current and former drinkers stated that their alcoholic drinking negatively affected them, usually affecting their finances or their jobs.

The Dangers of Psychological Addiction

Psychological addiction occurs when the cravings for a drug are psychological or emotional. People who are psychologically addicted feel overcome by the desire to have the drug in question. These feelings are so strong that in many instances psychologically and physically addicted individuals will do almost anything for their next “fix” including lying, stealing, and in some instances, killing.

Many times people abuse drugs or alcohol in order to have “fun” or to get a “buzz.”  Many individuals, in fact, report that having a few drinks makes them feel more comfortable in social situations.  The danger, however, is this: repeated drug or alcohol abuse can result in addiction.

When person is addicted, he or she no longer takes drugs or alcohol to have fun or to get high.  Rather, the addicted person needs the drugs or alcohol in order to function on a daily basis.  In fact, in many instances, the addicted person’s everyday life centers around satisfying her or his need for the substance to which she or he is addicted.

As far as the validity of blood alcohol tests is concerned, they are the most accurate method in use today for testing a person’s blood alcohol content. Blood alcohol tests have the following characteristics: they are the most intrusive method for testing blood alcohol concentration (BAC); they are the most accurate method for testing a person’s BAC; they are the most expensive method to testing a person’s BAC; and due mainly to their high cost and to their intrusiveness, blood tests are the least common method for testing a person’s BAC.

Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol – A Disease:  Conclusion

It is truly unfortunate that the “fun” and the “buzz” that many people experience when drinking often motivates them to drink more each time they drink and to drink more frequently.  At some point, however, the line between alcohol abuse and alcoholism gets fuzzy as the person gradually becomes more reliant on alcohol until he or she simply needs to drink in order to function.  Is addiction to drugs and alcohol a disease?

Once a person loses control over the frequency and the amount of alcohol he or she drinks, the answer is unfortunately, “yes.”  In fact, not unlike silent killers

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such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, realizing the effects of alcohol dependency may come too little, too late.

The following represents mild to moderate physical withdrawal symptoms that typically occur within 6 to 48 hours after the last alcoholic drink: enlarged or dilated pupils, pulsating headaches, tremor of the hands, loss of appetite, vomiting, clammy skin, abnormal movements, sweating (especially on the palms of the hands or on the face), rapid heart rate, looking pale, involuntary movements of the eyelids, sleeping difficulties, and nausea.


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