Addiction is defined as the continued use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs (ATOD) despite negative consequences, characterized by compulsive use, loss of control over use, increasing tolerance to the substance, and the presence of withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped.
Concepts of Addiction
While most health professionals believe that addiction is a disease, as it is chronic and worsens over time without treatment, there are other ways professionals view alcohol and other drug addiction. These include moral, temperance, psychological or characterological, and social education models.
Causes of death related to addiction range from general physical decline due to substance use to overdose to life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and tuberculosis, which are not uncommon among addicted populations.
Many believe that addiction is incurable, but can be brought into remission through abstinence and a rigorous recovery program that addresses the addicted person’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Causes of Addiction
Addiction is a complex problem, affecting not only the physical and mental health of individuals, but also their families and social environment. While there is no way to determind exatly why someone becomes addicted, these factors may be involved:
- Genetic predisposition: Some people’s bodies metabolize alcohol and other drugs in a way that makes them much more susceptible to addiction. This is often inherited.
- Environmental factors: Parental substance abuse, easy neighborhood access to ATOD, poverty and poor coping skills may contribute.
- Belief systems: Values and attitudes about alcohol and other drug use vary from culture to culture
Commonly Used Addiction Terms
- Tolerance occurs when the body adapts to the effects of a drug so that larger and larger doses are needed to achieve the desired effects.
- Cross tolerance means that tolerance to a drug extends to all other drugs in that class. The classes of drugs include opiates, sedative-hypnotics, stimulants and hallucinogens.
- Withdrawal symptoms happen after a drug is stopped, indicating the body had adjusted to its use. These symptoms are different depending on what kind of substance and how much is being used, but can include tremors, irritability, nausea, insomnia and chills.
- Denial, a common component of addiction, means that the addict is incapable of seeing his own addiction, and believes his use of ATOD is not a problem.
- Relapse describes a slip from sobriety into active addiction. People in recovery are taught to identify their triggers; the people, places and things that cause cravings in them, and how to avoid them.
Treatment of Addiction
Treatment for addiction begins with a drug and alcohol evaluation, which is administered by a Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC), a therapist who specializes in addiction. The CAC will recommend a level of care based on the outcome of the evaluation. The levels of care include:
- Inpatient: For people who are very likely to use alcohol or drugs without around-the-clock supervision, inpatient rehabilitation is usually recommended. Clients live at the treatment center for seven days up to several months and participate in group and individual therapy, educational classes, and 12-step meetings (i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous).
- Partial Hospital: Clients who need slightly less supervision, possibly because they have strong support from family or friends, are placed in a partial hospital program. They receive the same types of treatment as those in inpatient, but do not stay overnight.
- Intensive Outpatient: This level of care includes five to ten hours per week of individual and group therapy and educational classes. Clients are also encouraged to attend as many 12-step meetings in the community as possible.
- Outpatient: Outpatient treatment is the lowest level of care, consisting of one to five hours of therapy per week. While some clients start out with outpatient counseling, many graduate to this level after successfully completing other levels of care.
The goal of drug and alcohol treatment, no matter what the level of care, is to provide the tools for changing behaviors and habits and for the client to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Overcoming addiction can seem impossible to the client whose drug or alcohol use is out of control, but help is available and treatment works.
Links to Online Resources
Campaign to Stop Opiate Abuse– Designed to educate Pennsylvanians about the risks of prescription painkiller and heroin use and how to access help.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism– A catalog of publications (most are free), databases and research news, along with other online services, are also available. The NIAAA frequently asked questions page provides information to better understand the health consequences of alcohol abuse and dependence (alcoholism).
Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association
The Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Association is a professional organization which is working to address the DUI problem in all of its many stages — from prevention to enforcement up to, and including, adjudication and rehabilitation. This link to their website highlights the effects of alcohol and other drugs on the human body.
The Mayo Clinic
The Mayo Clinic’s mission is to empower people to manage their health by providing useful and up-to-date information and tools that reflect the expertise and standard of excellence of the Mayo Clinic.
National Clearinghouse for Drug & Alcohol Information
Tons of information from the federal government on the treatment and prevention of substance abuse; downloads, brochures, fact sheets, reports, and videos are available to the public. Most of it is free and available in quantity.
National Institute on Drug Abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A catalog of publications (most are free), databases and research news, along with other online services, are also available.