It can be hard to identify the point where recreational drug or alcohol use crosses over into addiction, even for professional counselors and doctors. But it isn’t hard to recognize the damage that these substances can cause to a person, a family, or a community.
There is no one exact cause of drug addiction, but according to the National Institute of Health, there are a number of factors that may make some people more vulnerable to addiction than others, such as:
- Mental disorders, like schizophrenia, depression, or generalized anxiety.
- A low sense of self-worth combined with tendencies to give in to peer pressure.
- High stress levels caused by personal, professional, or financial issues.
- Environments where drug use is accepted and drugs are readily available.
Drug addiction doesn’t happen overnight. You may start off with a little at first and before long, you can find yourself spending more and more time thinking about getting drugs, where you can go to take them, and how you’ll pay for them. Here is a brief analysis of the stages of drug dependence:
- Tolerance. Your body gets more and more used to the drug and you find yourself needing more of it to satisfy the same needs.
- Psychological dependence. You’ve gotten so used to the sensations that a drug generates that you feel disoriented or perhaps unable to function at full capacity without it. While you may not necessarily be physically dependent on the drug, it may still feel that way.
- Physical dependence. When physical dependence occurs, your body ceases to function correctly when you stop using the drug. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, shaking, and seizures.
- Addiction. This is generally defined as a compulsive need to seek and obtain a certain drug. It is also defined by the dangers that it poses to the user, including the danger of physical illness, exposure to crime, the destruction of personal relationships, and the loss of personal integrity.
By the time you reach the addiction stage, you may have stopped caring as much about the effects the drugs are having on your body, or you may be terrified about the damage you are doing, yet still feel powerless to stop. Depending on the type of drug used, addiction may cause irregular or rapid heart rate, heart failure, hepatitis, HIV, high blood pressure, impotence, memory issues, lung damage, and seizures, among others. If you’re pregnant, it can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, and withdrawal symptoms in your newborn baby.
Alcohol is the most popular drug in the world, so much so that the World Health Organization estimates over two million deaths each year from drinking, either through illness, overdoses, or accidents.
The stages of dependence are the same as in the case of drugs and the effects alcohol has on one’s body can include:
- Liver disease
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure or strokes
- Damage to the brain, especially in areas relating to movement, mood, thinking, and judgement
If you are pregnant, the effects of alcohol can also extend to the developing fetus and include miscarriage, premature delivery, cerebral palsy, learning problems, poor muscle tone, poor growth, heart or kidney defects, and more.
Drug abuse can take a terrible toll on one’s body and life. Whether you’re in the early stages of dependence or already addicted, it’s never too early or too late to seek help. Things can always get worse, so do something before they do.