Q: What are addictions?
A: Addictions are compulsions to use and abuse things to an excessive and destructive extent. People most often become addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling and food. These compulsions are very powerful and produce a life-threatening and self-perpetuating process that can end in disability or death for the sufferer, as well as cause family members and loved ones pain and suffering. Addictions can produce major life consequences, such as loss of a job and financial trouble, worsening of negative personality traits, loss of other interests, and repetitive relapsing, possibly ending in death
Q: What is alcohol and/or drug addiction?
A: Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the individual who is addicted and to those around them. Addiction is a brain disease because the abuse of alcohol/drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Although it is true that for most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated abuse can affect a person’s self control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time send intense impulses to take drugs or drink alcohol. These changes in the brain are what make it so challenging for a person who is addicted to stop abusing alcohol/drugs.
Q: What is the difference between addiction and abuse?
A: Drug or alcohol addiction is a diagnosable disease characterized by several factors including a strong craving for drugs/alcohol, continued use despite harm or personal injury, the inability to limit drug use/drinking, physical illness when using stops, and the need to increase the amount used in order to feel the effects.
Abuse is a pattern of drug use/drinking that result in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships or ability to work. Certain manifestations of abuse include failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school or home; using/drinking in dangerous situations such as while driving; legal problems associated with drug/alcohol use, and continued use despite problems that are caused or worsened by drug use/drinking. Abuse can lead to addiction.
Q: Is alcoholism or drug addiction a disease?
A: Yes, alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. The craving for alcohol or a drug can be as strong as the need for food or water. Persons dependent on alcohol or drugs will continue to use despite serious family, health, or legal problems. Like many other diseases, alcoholism and drug addiction are chronic, meaning that it lasts a person's lifetime; it usually follows a predictable course; and it has symptoms.
Q: Can alcoholism and drug addiction be cured?
A: No, there is no cure for these diseases at this time. However, alcohol and drug dependence can be treated successfully. While there is no “single” or “right” path to recovery, most people benefit from clinical treatment services, including medication as appropriate; peer and self-help support groups; faith-based approaches; non-clinical services such as linkage to and coordination among a variety of social services and community resources; or a combination of these and other methods.
Q: Why do some people become addicted while other do not?
A: No single factor can predict whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Risk for addiction is influenced by a person’s biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that drinking alcohol or taking drugs can lead to addiction.
Q: What is a substance use disorder?
A: The phrase substance use disorder refers to conditions arising from the abuse of alcohol and/or psychoactive drugs. Substance use, like many human behaviors, occurs along a broad continuum from no use to extremely heavy use. The continuum includes substance use, substance abuse, and substance dependence or addiction.
Q: How do I know is i have a substance abuse problem?
A: Drug/alcohol use is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a substance problem, consult your personal physician.
Q: How do I know if someoone else is a to alcohol/drugs?
A: If a person is compulsively seeking and using alcohol/drugs despite negative consequences, such as loss of job, debt, physical problems brought on by drug abuse, or family problems, then he or she may be addicted. Seek professional help to determine if this is the case and, if so, work to get that person into the appropriate treatment.
Q: Does treatment really work?
A: Yes, research shows that the success rates for addiction treatment are equal to the success rates for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Approximately 40 – 60% of individuals who complete chemical dependency treatment and attend self help groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) are likely to remain abstinent from alcohol or other drugs.
Q: Is addiction to alcohol and other drugs more prevalent in certain groups of individuals?
A: No, anyone may become addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs. Addictions affect people of all ages, all income groups, all ethnicities, all religious groups, urban and rural, male and female. No one is immune to an addiction.
Q: What happens to your brain when you take drugs?
A: Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Researchers have found that using drugs (or alcohol) for a long time changes the brain in important, long-lasting ways. It is as if a switch in the brain turned on at some point. This point is different for every person, but when this switch turns on, the person crosses an invisible line and becomes dependent on the substance. People who start using drugs or alcohol early in life run a greater risk of crossing this line and becoming dependent. These changes in the brain remain long after a person stops using drugs or drinking alcohol.
Q: What are the physical signs of abuse or addictions?
A: The physical signs of abuse or addiction can vary depending on the person and the drug being abused. For example, someone who abuses marijuana may have a chronic cough or worsening of asthmatic symptoms. Each drug has short-term and long-term physical effects. Stimulants like cocaine increase heart rate and blood pressure, whereas opiates like heroin may slow the heart rate and reduce respiration. In addition, in some cases a person may experience withdrawal symptoms from a physical need for the substance upon stopping use. These symptoms vary as well, but may include nausea, sweating, shakiness, and extreme anxiety.
Q: What are the symptoms of substance use disorders?
A: One of the most important signs of substance addiction or dependence is continued use of drugs or alcohol despite experiencing the serious negative consequences of heavy drug or alcohol use. Often, a person will blame other people or circumstances for his or her problems instead of realizing that the difficulties result from use of drugs or alcohol. These false beliefs are called DENIAL, and denial is part of the illness.
Other important symptoms of subtance use disorders include:
- Tolerance—A person will need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol or drugs to get high.
- Craving—A person will feel a strong need, desire, or urge to use alcohol or drugs, will use alcohol or a drug despite negative consequences, and will feel anxious and irritable if he or she can’t use them. Craving is a primary symptom of addiction.
- Loss of control—A person often will drink more alcohol or take more drugs than he or she meant to, or may use alcohol or drugs at a time or place he or she had not planned. A person also may try to reduce or stop drinking or using drugs many times, but may fail.
- Physical Dependence or Withdrawal Symptoms—in some cases when alcohol or drug use is stopped, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms from a physical need for the substance. Withdrawal symptoms differ depending on the drug, but they may include nausea, sweating, shakiness, and extreme anxiety. The person may try to relieve these symptoms by taking either more of the same or a similar substance.
Q: What is withdrawal? How Long does it last?
A: Withdrawal is the variety of symptoms that occur after use of some addictive drugs is reduced or stopped. Length of withdrawal and symptoms vary with the type of drug. For example, physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include: restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes. These physical symptoms may last for several days, but the general depression or dysphoria (opposite of euphoria) that often accompanies heroin withdrawal may last for weeks. In many cases withdrawal can be easily treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction.
Q: What is detoxification, or "detox"?
A: Detoxification is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of a drug while managing the symptoms of withdrawal. It is sometimes the first step in a drug treatment program and should be followed by treatment with a behavioral-based therapy and/or a medication, if available. Detox alone with no follow-up is not treatment.
Q: Does alcohol affect older people differently?
A: Alcohol's effects do vary with age. Slower reaction times, problems with hearing and seeing, and a lower tolerance to alcohol's effects put older people at higher risk for falls, car crashes, and other types of injuries that may result from drinking. Older people also tend to take more medicines than younger people. Mixing alcohol with over-the-counter or prescription medications can be very dangerous, even fatal. In addition, alcohol can make many of the medical conditions common in older people, including high blood pressure and ulcers, more serious. Physical changes associated with aging can make older people feel "high" even after drinking only small amounts of alcohol.
Q: Does alcohol affect women differently?
A: Yes, alcohol affects women differently than men. Women become more impaired than men do after drinking the same amount of alcohol, even when differences in body weight are taken into account. This is because women's bodies have less water than men's bodies. Because alcohol mixes with body water, a given amount of alcohol becomes more highly concentrated in a woman's body than in a man's. In addition, chronic alcohol abuse takes a heavier physical toll on women than on men. Alcohol dependence and related medical problems, such as brain, heart, and liver damage, progress more rapidly in women than in men.
Q: If a pregnant woman abuses drugs, does it affect the fetus?
A: Many substances including alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs of abuse can have negative effects on the developing fetus because they are transferred to the fetus across the placenta. For example, nicotine has been connected with premature birth and low birth weight as has the use of cocaine. Whether a baby's health problems, if caused by a drug, will continue as the child grows, is not always known. Research does show that children born to mothers who used marijuana regularly during pregnancy may have trouble concentrating, even when older. Our research continues to produce insights on the effects of drug abuse on the fetus.
Q: Is it safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy?
A: Any pregnant woman who drinks alcohol is at risk of having a child with an FASD, regardless of her education, income, or ethnicity. Pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant should not drink. Pregnant women who are drinking should stop at once to reduce the risk of harming their fetus. Alcohol can harm a fetus at any time, even before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Women who are nursing also should not drink. Alcohol can pass through breast milk to the baby. No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy or nursing.
“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders” (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with lifelong implications. The term FASD is not intended for use as a clinical diagnosis. It refers to conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorder (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).