Addictions: Alcohol and Substance Abuse
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Introduction to Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Treatment for AlcoholicsSince the beginning of human history and before, people have found ways to alter their bodies and their consciousness by taking substances such as herbs, alcohol, and drugs. Out of this practice has sprung many important contributions to science and culture, prominent among them being the development of modern medicine and the medical profession and the making of fine wines and liquors. Some religions have found uses for mind-altering drugs as a way to aid communion with the divine principle. For all the positives that mind and body altering substances have brought us, one fact is clear. There have always been people who were unable to restrict their use of mind and body altering substances to culturally prescribed limits, and who have fallen into the trap we know today as addiction.

Addiction usually does not happen overnight. Rather, people who become addicted to drugs (such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc.) are gradually introduced and desensitized to them over a period of time. They may initially enjoy the use of drugs in a recreational sort of way. For instance, someone might get into the habit of having a beer or some wine after work as a way of releasing the days' stresses. Someone else may use marijuana on an occasional basis as a way to share special time with friends or as an aid to appreciating food, music, or sex. Another person may start using cocaine as a way of staying up late at night to study for exams.

Some people are able to keep using drugs on an occasional basis. Many other people are not so lucky. For these unlucky others, their use of drugs begins (gradually in some cases, abruptly in others) to increase, and the amount of attention they spend thinking about getting high, purchasing drugs, preparing drugs and taking drugs increases until it becomes the center of their lives. Other responsibilities - work, friends and family, and community - fall by the wayside. As their consumption of drugs rises, users may become physically dependent on their drug to the extent that if they do not take it on a particular day, they get sick. As dependence increases, tolerance to the drugs increases as well - meaning that it takes more and more of the drug to get the same 'high' or 'buzz' effect. As most drugs (with the exception of alcohol) are illegal, they may become increasingly involved in criminal activities (buying drugs is a criminal activity, as is driving while intoxicated). If the process continues long enough, it may become impossible for the addict to hold a job - they may lose their relationships, their income and their marriages. They may resort to criminal activity (such as robbery, prostitution and drug dealing) in order to gain continuing access to their drugs. They may also kill or injure other people (through driving and firearm accidents) while intoxicated, and may get and pass along to others infectious diseases (like AIDS and Hepatitis). Ultimately, they may end up killing themselves (through suicide, malnutrition, overdose, or drug related physical degeneration and disease). A grim picture that is all the more tragic because no one who starts out experimenting with a drug ever really believes that they would ever experience any of these awful things.