Addiction is caused by a combination of physical, mental and environmental factors. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease of the brain that leads the person to feel compelled to take addictive substances despite being aware of the negative consequences of doing so.
Substance abuse can lead to dependence, characterized by the brain being altered in such a way that it can no longer function normally if the addictive substance is not present.1 Attempts to cease or decrease taking alcohol or drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms once dependency has developed.
People who abuse drugs or alcohol may struggle to quit taking these substances even if they are not addicted. Most people become addicted from continued abuse. However, some drugs are so powerfully addictive that addiction may develop after very few doses. Drinking responsibly, avoiding illegal drugs and sticking closely to doctors’ instructions for the use of prescription drugs are the best ways to avoid addiction.
The Danger of Addiction
Addiction can dominate a person’s life in many ways. People become obsessed with finding the next fix of alcohol or drugs. When they are not getting high or drunk, they are trying to work out ways to achieve that state. Everything else in their lives can become secondary to the need to get high or drunk.
People who suffer from addiction can end up losing their jobs as their performance worsens. People in school may drop out of college or flunk exams because they are too absorbed with addictive substances to study or attend classes.
Many people with addiction will end up facing criminal charges for a variety of reasons. They may engage in theft to get funds to feed their drink or drug habit. They may become involved in violence when their ability to think clearly is warped by alcohol or drugs, or they may find themselves imprisoned because they were caught driving under the influence or committing other crimes.
Signs of Addiction
- Cannot control drug or alcohol use. Examples include being unable to resist taking substances, and drinking or using more of a drug than intended
- Continuing to use substances when they are damaging health
- Missing work, school or social engagements due to being under the influence
- Taking risks, such as buying illegal drugs, to get high
- Experiencing unpleasant symptoms when stopping
What to Do If You Think You May Be Addicted
If you think you may be addicted, talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist. The earlier you seek help, the easier you will find it to recover. Recovery is possible, and there are many resources available to help you get clean.