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Alcoholism is a dependency on or addiction to alcohol that is characterized by uncontrollable cravings for alcohol and the persistent consumption of alcohol in detrimental quantities. Alcoholism is often progressive, meaning it gets worse with time unless proper treatment is received. Alcoholism is also considered to be chronic, meaning that people who have alcoholism are always at risk of a relapse, even if they receive effective treatment. The large amount of alcohol consumed by alcoholics can contribute to emotional distress, intense mood swings, and “black-out” episodes in which intoxication causes memory loss. When alcoholic patients go without alcohol, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, tremors, irritability, and headache. Feelings of withdrawal and an inability to control alcohol consumption separate alcoholism from its close relative, alcohol abuse, which is defined as the use of alcohol despite interferences with professional and personal life.
An estimated 15 million people in the US suffer from alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Specific statistics on alcoholism are difficult to determine because of its close relationship with alcohol abuse and the reluctance of sufferers to be diagnosed.
Drug abuse is the consumption of drugs or controlled substances in quantities that are detrimental to health as well as personal and professional life. Drug addiction occurs when individuals are unable to control their consumption of drugs and experience withdrawal symptoms when not using drugs. The effects of any drug are caused by a chemical reaction between the brain and the drug. The initial reaction between a drug and the brain typically produces feelings of relief, euphoria, and altered perception of reality collectively referred to as a “high”. After the drug wears off, however, these feelings can fade or worsen into feelings of depression, emptiness, and exhaustion. It is easy for the brain to then crave the next high, ultimately leading to abuse and dependency. Because of the wide variety of drugs available, drug abuse and addiction can occur in almost any population, people, or place.
Commonly abused drugs include:
Drug abuse typically arises as a coping mechanism for another problem. In the case of prescription medicines, drug abuse may begin with a medically necessitated prescription. The use of the drug provides temporary relief from the problem at hand but not a solution, causing the person to continue using it. Repeated chemical interactions between the drug and the brain seen during drug abuse can eventually cause physical changes in the brain that lead to an increased dependency or addiction (including alcoholism). Once physical changes occur in the brain, it is very difficult to discontinue drug use, as users experience symptoms of withdrawal. The specific chemical interactions that occur in the brain vary from drug to drug due to the different chemical compositions of various drugs.
Common triggers of drug abuse/addiction include:
There are several factors that can increase your likelihood of drug use/addiction. These include:
Diagnosing alcoholism is difficult because alcoholics often underreport their drinking habits. Many times, it takes family members or loved ones to recognize the problem and talk to the person about seeking help. There are several surveys available to health professionals to help diagnose mental health disorders, the most common of which being the CAGE test. The cage test asks four questions:
There are also a number of medical tests that can help confirm suspicions of alcoholism. These include blood tests to check for high levels of CDT (carbohydrate-deficient transferring) and GGT (gamma-glutamyltransferase) which are found in high levels in the blood of alcoholics. Other blood tests may be done to determine the extent of damage done to the liver by checking for the presence of certain proteins.
The DSM-V, the latest diagnostic manual for mental health disorders lists the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) as follows. The term alcohol use disorder encompasses alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The presence of 2-3 symptoms indicates mild AUD (mild alcohol abuse), 4-5 indicates moderate AUD (moderate alcohol abuse/borderline alcoholism), and 6 or more indicates severe AUD (alcohol dependency/addiction)
As with alcoholism, drug abuse can be difficult to diagnose due to the patient’s reluctance to report drug use. The DSM offers the following criteria for substance use disorder, a term combining both drug abuse and drug addiction. The presence of 2-3 symptoms indicates mild AUD (mild drug abuse), 4-5 indicates moderate AUD (moderate drug abuse/borderline addiction), and 6 or more indicates severe AUD (drug dependency/addiction):
The following may be signs of alcoholism, drug abuse, or drug addiction:
The following may be signs of drug/alcohol withdrawal:
Prognosis for alcoholism and drug abuse varies from case to case. Because of the complicated nature of drug dependency and the physical changes that occur in the brain, it is often impossible to get rid of a drug addiction, especially in cases where it has existed for long periods of time. Recovery may take time, and may occur in stages, as 50-90% of people relapse into drug abuse after their first attempt at recovery. Only about 1/3 of patients recover fully from alcoholism. The number of full recoveries from other abused drugs varies. Finding the proper rehabilitation method is key to a successful recovery.
Living with alcoholism or drug abuse can be disruptive to your personal and professional life. The following tips can help guide you on the path to recovery:
Most primary care doctors will have patients fill out a survey that includes questions about drug use, which are aimed at identifying substance abuse problems. However, because of the patients’ reluctance to report their drug use, drug use is often underreported. Screening is therefore done in many practices, but is not very effective at identifying drug abuse in many cases.
The following steps can be taken to help prevent drug abuse:
Treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse aims to completely eliminate the use of the targeted drug. Especially in the case of prolonged abuse, complete elimination of drug use can be very difficult. Many choose to enter a rehabilitation clinic or work with a personal therapist in order to help them recover.
There are three basic steps to drug rehabilitation:
Detox. During this phase, the body is ridding itself of the chemical substances of the drug. This phase can cause very serious side effects as the body adjusts to being without the drug, including:
Rehabilitation. During this phase, patients adjust to living without the drug and learn how to restructure their lives in the absence of the drug. Psychological therapy or counseling is used by many during this phase to help determine the underlying causes of drug addiction. Prescription medications can be used at this point to help control cravings for drugs. These drugs include:
Maintenance. This can be one of the most difficult phases of recovery, as it never truly ends. Once patients learn how to live without the drug, they must continue their sobriety in their daily lives. Unexpected stresses, life events, and problematic environments can make it easy to relapse. Patients are encouraged to use support systems during this phase to help them through moments of craving or weakness. Family, friends, and drug rehabilitation support groups can be great sources of support.
The following treatments may be helpful in drug/alcohol abuse recovery:
Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine that uses hair-thin needles to target specific points along bodily energy channels. Acupuncture can help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal, as well as post-detox drug cravings and overall stress levels.
Dietary supplements. Many supplements can help along the detox, rehabilitation, and maintenance phases. These include:
Herbal medicines. The following herbs may be helpful in treatment and recovery:
Caring for a loved one who is undergoing drug detox, rehabilitation or maintenance can be a challenging experience. The following tips can help you maximize your potential as caregiver:
If you or a loved one show any symptoms of drug abuse, contact a doctor or mental health professional. He or she will be able to help you find the right treatment method for you.
If you or a loved one show signs of severe drug withdrawal, call emergency services. These include:
You may want to ask your doctor or therapist questions about your treatment and recovery. Example questions may be:
For more information on drug abuse, visit The National Institute on Drug Abuse
For more information on alcoholism and alcohol abuse, visit The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
For more information on drug abuse prevention strategies, visit Surgeongeneral.gov
For more information on starting the road to recovery, visit www.recovery.org and www.alcoholrehabguide.org
For more information on alternative treatments for drug addiction, click here
For more information on treatment facilities and drug addiction support groups, visit Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association
For more information related to alcohol and drug addiction treatment centers in New York City, visit Project Know
AddictionCenter.com is a professional webguide that can connect addicts and families with recovery and treatment options. As you may know, over 1.9 million New Yorkers have a substance abuse problem. Our goal is to help these individuals and loved ones by providing them with information on state treatment options and substance abuse information.
7 Best Women’s Alcohol and Drug Rehab Centers
Drug Rehab Connections is a community made up of those who want to help and give back. We are here to share our stories of recovery and hope as we begin the steps together towards rehab and recovery.
The Recovery Village Alcohol Abuse and Addiction page is a valuable resource with facts about the dangers of alcohol as well as advice about how to get help.
Substance Abuse in College
A College Student’s Comprehensive Guid to Drug Abuse
A Guide to Common Recovery Terms
Key Facts Regarding Substance Abuse on College Campuses
Relapse Warning Signs
Drug Rehab Centers
Drugs, Vaccines, and Biologics, Drugwatch.com
Alltreatment.com, All Rehab Centers Near You
Blood Alcohol Content Calculator
The Disease of Addiction
Alcohol Self-Assessment Test
Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
Abbeycare Foundation: Helping You Beat Drug & Alcohol Addiction
How to Pay for Addiction Treatment
Where to Get Support for Drug and Alcohol Addicted Students
Insomnia During Drug and Alcohol Recovery
How Online Rehab and Virtual Recovery Works
Virtual Support Meetings
How to Find a State-Funded Rehabilitation Center
24/7 helpline for drug and alcohol addiction
10 Best Alcohol Detox and Rehab Centers in the U.S.
Finding Employment in Recovery from Addiction: A Step-By- Step Guide
Alcohol and Drug Addiction Hotlines
The Recovery Village
Substance Abuse and Addiction Hotline
Online Addiction Counseling
Addiction Resources for Parents
How to Build a Sober Support Network
How to Reduce Stress and Boost Your Immune System While Social Distancing
Extreme Exercise and Heart Health
Travel in the Time of COVID
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