What is Addiction to a Substance?

An addiction, whether physical, emotional, or cognitive, is determined by losing control over one’s actions, whether through alcoholism, drug addiction, or both. People addicted crave, seek, or obsess over a thought or substance no matter the outcome of the addiction. Sadly, as one grows more dependent upon the element of the addiction (the drug, the alcohol, the computer, the thought process), one’s behavior impacts a range of people in the addict’s sphere of influence (family members, co-workers, schoolmates, and the community at large).

According to the National Institute of Health (a government agency), researchers are studying addiction’s biology. What they have repeatedly found thus far is that “addiction is long-lasting and [a] complex brain disease.” Treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction works, but constant attention to the cravings, and the triggers (people, places, and things) is required to maintain abstinence and sobriety. Treatment must reteach the addict healthy life skills, and skills to manage cravings, etc. To do the work of recovery these skills must be strong and regularly used—that is why quality treatment programs are imperative.

Addiction causes changes to the brain messaging system, those transmitters that control the fight or flight response, the rewards system, motivation, and other functions (central nervous system) for the body to remain healthy. A substance interferes with the normal release of chemicals that return the body to stasis (a state of equilibrium). Once the body has adjusted to receiving the substance (including thoughts), it will require more and more to feel the satisfaction of the original feeling.

What is Alcoholism?

This term, Alcoholism, encompasses alcohol misuse, abuse, and addiction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (published by the AMA), several questions can assess a person’s symptoms and severity of Alcoholism. 

  • Do you drink more than you intend to
  • Have you tried to cut down or stop drinking but were unable to
  • Do you spend a lot of time drinking regardless of how sick you get
  • Do you get into trouble when you drink
  • Do you drink despite family and friends asking you not to
  • Do you experience depression or anxiety when drinking
  • Do you black out (loss of memory of activities while drinking)
  • When you try to drink, do you have withdrawal symptoms

These are only some questions that can be asked to determine how alcohol impacts your life.

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder (SUD), is a brain disease that impacts every aspect of a person’s well-being. Whether the drug(s) is prescribed by a physician or is gotten illegally on the street, the use of the drug(s) can oft-times lead to addiction. 

Today, we hear a good deal about the opioid epidemic; opioids are powerful narcotics properly used short-term to treat pain. The risk of developing a dependency and addiction to this class of drugs is significant and happens faster than with other drugs, regardless of being prescribed or bought illegally.

Like the discussion about alcohol (also classified under the term SUD), drug addiction can start slowly or rapidly. The rate of addiction depends upon the drug(s) and the amount of usage. Either way, over time, the need to consume more drugs is required to 1) stop withdrawal symptoms from the beginning and 2) satisfy the need to consume more significant amounts. This need for more is ongoing. It is sometimes referred to as chasing the first high. 

Symptoms of drug addiction:

  • Need to use the drug daily or several times a day
  • Intense urges for the drug that interferes with other thoughts
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug than intended
  • Not living up to daily responsibilities
  • Continue use despite problems caused by using
  • Spend large amounts of time and money trying to find the drug
  • Failure to stop using when intended

Drug Addiction and Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)

It is difficult to talk in generalities about drug addiction because each drug impacts the body differently and the rate of addiction varies depending upon the drug. Often, when a drug addict enters treatment, he/she/they will probably be using more than one drug. Indeed, alcohol may be part of the mix, as well. 

There are three types of drug categories:

  • Depressants: drugs that slow or depress the function of the central nervous system
  • Hallucinogens: drugs that distort one’s sense of reality
  • Stimulants: drugs speed or stimulate the central nervous system

It is important to remember that once a person is seeking drugs, he/she/they may consume various drugs to satisfy the craving.

Researchers now understand that alcohol and drug addiction usually go hand in hand. This combination of substances is also called co-occurring disorders. Sadly, psychiatric disorders usually plague drug users simultaneously. Sometimes drug or alcohol use will be forward an underlying psychiatric disorder—AND it will worsen the condition. Additionally, the combination of alcohol and drugs can lead to fatal poisoning.

“Individuals who experience a [SUD] during their lives may also experience a co-occurring mental disorder and vice versa. Co-occurring disorders can include anxiety disordersdepressionattention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)bipolar disorderpersonality disorders, and schizophrenia, among others.” 

Alcohol is a known depressant; it can damage the heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system. As a substance, it also profoundly impacts the central nervous system. It is responsible for many neurological diseases such as stroke, brain tumors, MS, and Alzheimer’s Disease, to name a few. According to a study in Alcohol Health and Research World, “one out of every three alcoholics has experienced episodes of intense depression and /or severe anxiety.” Drinking heavily over time reduces the size of the brain and the size of the cells within the brain.

“An alcohol-dependent person who demonstrates such psychological symptoms needs more intense intervention and support than may otherwise be provided, and if not appropriately treated, the symptoms may carry a worse prognosis for alcohol-related problems. High levels of depression are especially worthy of concern, because the risk of death by suicide among alcoholics, estimated to be 10 percent or higher, may be most acute during these depressed states.”

Drugs alter the brain’s ability to timely send appropriate messages through neurotransmitters and the chemicals they release to send the message. At times the drugs chemical structure mimics the neurotransmitter. This means the on/off mechanism built into the neurotransmitters is controlled by the drug. Under the influence of drugs, breathing slows, and brain function can slow. Over time, drug use can also damage the brain, throat, stomach, lungs, liver, pancreas, heart, and nervous system. Either way, an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or both, is devastating to the body.

Treatment Works!

One of the best ways to treat SUDs is to receive a comprehensive evaluation (physical, emotional, and cognitive) at the point of detox. It can be perilous to try to detox without medical assistance, especially if you or a loved one is addicted to multiple substances and has mental health disorders. Sometimes, detoxification can bring episodes of psychosis or paranoia or extreme depression, which must be professionally managed. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, or both, the detoxification process is necessary before treatment can begin.

After completing detox, the person suffering from SUDs needs to move immediately into a licensed treatment facility that includes medical personnel, addiction therapists, and certified addiction staff. AN individual treatment plan is formulated on best practices, including several treatment modalities (approaches). A person suffering from alcoholism alone may need to learn the triggers, cravings, and other symptoms related to alcohol addiction. A person suffering from multiple drug addictions and alcohol must have a treatment plan that addresses the issues raised by the combination of substances and the associated behaviors.

Call Coastal Detox now if you or a loved one is suffering from SUD. It is never too late to regain control of your body and life and learn how to live drug and alcohol-free. Our trained, compassionate staff can handle all your questions.