Alcohol or Drug Dependence (addiction) occurs when an individual develops a particular neurochemical response to a mood-altering substance. It should not be confused with the chemical effect that each different drug has on an individual.
Chemical addictions (to mood-altering drugs) include:
There are 4 categories of chemical addictions
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The addiction cycle
Nobody who starts using alcohol or drugs thinks they will develop an addiction.
The cycle of alcohol and drug addiction begins with a problem, discomfort or some form of emotional or physical pain a person is experiencing and becomes difficult to deal with. Operating on the premise that people are basically good, then individuals seek a way to solve the problems they might be facing. At some point, a drug enters the picture and provides a temporary, synthetic relief, and for a moment seems to act as a solution to the problem.
This false idea of a solution is carried for a period of time and when a similar problem is encountered, then the same substances are used to deal with them. This repetitive process often ends up as alcohol and drug addiction, as the person is now mentally and/or physically dependent on the drugs or alcohol.
Once they’ve developed an alcohol or drug addiction, the individual’s problems not only don’t go away, but their physical and mental wellbeing continues to diminish from the immediate and long-term adverse effects of the drugs, often damaging not just the person’s health, but also their relationships, ability to hold a job or even make pro-survival choices in life. Every aspect of life becomes affected by the addiction.
The good news is that alcohol and drug addiction is not a brain disease that one has to fight and learn to live with forever or treat with other drugs. Alcohol and drug addiction can be overcome and the individual can return to leading a happy, healthy, productive and responsible life once again.
Addicts are vulnerable not just to their drug of choice (DOC), but to all mood-altering chemicals or behaviours. Substitution occurs when the addict moves on to another chemical (due to denial and then relapse, or unavailability of the first chemical etc). This chemical then either becomes the new drug of choice or takes the addict back to their drug of choice).
DSM-IV criteria for substance dependence (addiction)
A person may be substance-dependent if substance use over a 12-month period results in three or more of the following:
- Cannot fulfil major responsibilities at home, school or work
- Continues using substance even when it is physically dangerous
- Repeated legal problems because of substance use
- More substance is required to produce the same effect
- The substance is required to relieve withdrawal symptoms
- The length of use or amount of use of substance is greater than intended
- Repeatedly tries but fails to limit substance use
- Much time is spent using, recovering from, or obtaining the substance
- Even knowing the physical or psychological problems of using does not stop the use of the substance
Signs and symptoms of substance abuse or addiction
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for if you are concerned about the possibility of a loved one being involved with substance abuse of any kind. Different drugs produce different effects, resulting in slight variations in outward indications. Some signs and symptoms are specific to opiates and narcotics and distinct from those experienced with central nervous stimulants such as cocaine or depressants like alcohol. Signs and symptoms of addiction include:
- Change in friends
- Hanging out with a new group
- Reclusive behaviour – long periods spent in self-imposed isolation
- Long, unexplained absences
- Lying and stealing
- Involvement on the wrong side of the law
- Deteriorating family relationships
- Obvious intoxication, delirium, incoherency or lack of consciousness
- Changes in behaviour and attitude
- Decrease in school or work performance?
Always remember that any one of the above signs may not be enough to indicate substance abuse but should be enough to suggest that there may be a problem. There are several other signs and symptoms that relate more specifically to the mental and physiological effects of substance abuse:
- An obvious sign of opiate and narcotic abuse is the tracks of needle marks normally found on the upper arms of users. These needle marks often turn into skin abscesses that may leave visible scars. People who use this type of drug often cover up their arms even when the weather suggests more appropriate wear.
- Opiate and narcotic abusers will experience an accelerated heart rate, constricted (pinpoint) pupils and a relaxed or euphoric state that may lead to a dangerous level of respiratory depression, resulting in coma or death.
- Other signs and symptoms of drug abuse are dilated pupils, restlessness, hyperactivity, euphoria, slurred speech, disabled coordination, decreased attention span and impaired judgment.
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How do I get help for myself or my loved one?
The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A psychologist with specific training in the treatment of anxiety disorders can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have an addiction problem, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you.
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