Addictive substances are chemicals that affect the body’s functioning. A person who is addicted focuses only on the rewards of the substance. He is likely to shirk personal and professional responsibilities, and avoid family and friends because he wishes to focus only on the habit. This addiction gradually affects his work and close relationships.
Other problems that can be caused by substance abuse and addiction include:
Vulnerability to psychotic disorders, mental and behavioral problems
General health problems: liver damage (alcohol abuse), lung cancer (tobacco abuse), and damage to the nervous system (drug abuse). Alcohol and tobacco users are at a greater risk of developing cancer and other non-communicable diseases.
Toxicity, the risk for which increases when a person is addicted to both alcohol and tobacco
Risk-taking behavior due to intoxication: this could include violence, reckless driving or sexual behavior, causing domestic violence, accidents and injuries.
Sexual exposure (particularly among young women) and the possibility of contracting sexually transmitted diseases
Sepsis, infections and other transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS, in the case of injected drugs. Many people believe that using the same needle repeatedly does not cause any infections because it isn’t shared with others. However, this is not true. Using the same needles without sterilizing them can cause infections.
Social isolation or withdrawal due to the obsession with the substance
Problems with the law: caused by impaired judgment and risk-taking behavior, or due to exploring illegal means to get hold of their next dose.
Note that these problems could be caused by consuming a particular substance, even if a person is not addicted to it.
How can you tell if someone around you has a substance abuse problem?
Disturbed sleeping patterns
Sudden weight-loss or gain
Smelling of alcohol or drugs
Lack of coordination, clumsy movements
Increase in injuries
Decreased interest in activities
Neglect in responsibilities at home, school or work
Getting into financial problems
Getting into fights
Doing suspicious things. Not revealing where they’re going, who they’re spending time with, how they got hurt (in case of injury)
Being more insistent on their privacy, keeping doors locked more often or refusing to say what they’re doing; avoiding interaction with family and friends
Avoiding social situations
Changes in personality: irritable, stressed, restless
Sudden mood swings
Lack of motivation
Difficulties with concentration
Loss of memory, particularly for periods when they were under the influence of the substance
Withdrawal symptoms are the physical and behavioral changes that occur when a person stops using a substance that they are dependent on. There are two types of withdrawal symptoms: physical withdrawal symptoms and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Common physical withdrawal symptoms include tremors, sweating, variation in heart rate, nausea, digestive problems and seizures (in very severe cases). Emotional withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, decreased concentration, social withdrawal, irritation and restlessness.
Treatment for substance abuse or addiction typically involves medication that can help the patient manage their withdrawal symptoms too. If you’re trying to get over an addiction and are having trouble managing the withdrawal symptoms, contact a doctor or a counselor.
A person who is addicted to a substance fears the withdrawal symptoms, and the mere thought of not getting their next dose can be threatening. This is because the addiction has altered their motivations to become their top priority, more important than food, drink or sleep. As a result, the idea of going without the substance is unimaginable, even if the person desperately wants to quit. They are aware that their addiction is causing harm to them physically and mentally, but are still unable to stop using. The prospect of living without using the substance may fill them with terror. They are worried about constantly having to fight their cravings, withdrawal symptoms and the urges to use the substance. This may also make them postpone their plans to get over the addiction and promise themselves they’ll quit tomorrow.
There are several questionnaires that can help a person understand whether they have an addiction.
The Cage Questionnaire, a screening test for alcohol related problems (a modified version of which can be used to assess nicotine dependence)
The Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST)
The Fagerstrom Test For Nicotine Dependence
The 4Cs assessment, based on the guidelines of the DSM-IV
Some of these tests can be self-administered, while some others require a psychiatrist or a trained mental health professional to administer them. If you administer these tests yourself and think you may have a substance abuse problem, remember that diagnosis is only the first step. Contact a psychiatrist or de-addiction center for holistic treatment.
In most cases, it is a friend or family member who identifies that their loved one has an addiction, and encourages them to seek help. If you are seeking help for a loved one, you can approach a psychiatrist or a counselor for an assessment of the situation, and a referral to the specialist. The specialist then conducts thorough interviews with the patient and their friends or family to understand the severity of the problem and then create a treatment plan.
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