If you drink alcohol or use drugs on a regular basis, you may have, at one point or another, questioned whether you are addicted. You may have concern over the effect these substances are having on your body, your mind, and your life. Casual use evolves into full-blown addiction, often without the user realizing it has happened.
What is Addiction?
For a long time, addiction carried a stigma of being either a moral issue or a sign of weakness or laziness. The addicted individual was viewed as someone who was unwilling to make the changes necessary to address their substance abuse. However, things have changed. Addiction is now viewed as a medical disease that can affect many parts of a person’s life. The key to understanding addiction is to learn to recognize the differences between a habit and an addiction. The most striking difference is that a habit is a choice that is made and can be changed. An addiction has a physical or psychosomatic element that made the addicted person unable to control his behavior.
Stages of Addiction
Addiction is not spontaneous and is typically developed through a process of abuse. In the beginning, you may feel you are in complete control of your substance or alcohol use, but over time, as you become more physically or emotionally dependent on the substance, you will have less control over your choices whether to use or not.
Stage One: Experimentation
Experimentation precedes a dependency or addiction. It is the beginning of use, in which you will try new substances, and will usually decide on one as your substance of preference. As the drug (or alcohol) of choice evolves, you will likely move to the second stage of addiction.
Stage Two: Steady Use
As steady use progresses, it will become a habit and you will use on a regular basis. Your life will remain in order, but problems are beginning to take shape regarding your substance use. Many users will remain at this stage for the majority of their substance use.
Stage Three: Dependence
This is the stage in which you now feel you need the drug or a drink just to make it through the day. The ramifications of your substance addiction have increased, but so will your hesitance to give it up.
Stage Four: Addiction
Addiction is when you are physically and psychologically dependent on the substance. Your tolerance for the drug or alcohol has increased, and you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop for a period of time.
Signs of Addiction
Substance abuse can present itself in many ways, depending on the individual. It is important to consider that some people engage in ill-conceived behavior without touching a drop of alcohol or taking a drug, while others may appear to lead productive lives while in the midst of full-blown addiction. You will want to recognize multiple signs that are not part of your typical behavior pattern. These signs may include:
- Unprotected or promiscuous sex
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Job performance or the inability to maintain employment
- Ignoring responsibilities at school or on the job
- Stealing to support your addiction
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Inability to cope with issues unless under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Crumbling relationships with family or friends
What Causes Someone to Become Addicted?
Addiction is complicated, and the reasons behind substance dependence can vary from individual to individual. However, there are several factors that will increase the likelihood of addiction. These include:
- Family members who have struggled with substance addiction
- Use of substances at a young age
- Mental health problems such as depression
- Childhood abuse or neglect
What to Do for Overcoming Your Addiction
If you feel you may be addicted to alcohol or drugs, you are not alone. Therefore, you don’t have to tackle the problem alone. There are places to go for help, but the biggest factor is understanding that you may have an addiction. For the most appropriate and effective care, ask your family physician to recommend a treatment program and take the first steps on the road to recovery.