A definition of addiction is the use of mood or behavioral-modifying drugs that begin to interfere with normal functioning. Alcoholism or addiction to other substances is generally classified as chemical dependency. It is considered a disease because it starts a tolerance to the substance, meaning that a person’s body can consume more of the alcohol or drug than the general population. This causes an abnormal absorption of the substance in the body. It can never be cured, but it can be arrested. It is one of the most untreated diseases in America today. Some judgmental attitudes view it as a weakness, a moral or ethical problem, the lack of willpower or just a bad habit. There is nothing shameful about having a physical allergy, nor is it possible to predict who will acquire it.
About 43 percent of adults in the United States have been exposed to chemical dependency in their families. They grew up with it, married someone with it or had blood relatives with the disease. It is described in the basic textbook of Alcoholics Anonymous to be a “physical allergy coupled with a mental obsession” that results in the desire to consume the substance beyond the ability to control it. The course of the disease is progressive, causing recurring relapses and can be lethal if left untreated.
Alcohol consumption is a widely accepted way of life for many people. Substances prescribed by physicians also can result in addiction. Other substances include cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens, amphetamines or inhalants. Any mood-altering substance can have the potential to be habit-forming, addictive or affect your daily living. If a person is unable to or does not recognize the need to stop when other family or friends express concern, it is difficult to get that person to want to seek treatment.
Education about chemical dependence is useful for understanding and to reinforce ways to deal with this deadly disease. Support meetings for addiction of substances include Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous or any of the other Anonymous meetings for the specific drug of choice. The meetings are free and open to anyone with a desire to stop. In addition, treatment centers also are available for help. Some people require a safe, medical detoxification from their chemical followed by extensive exposure to education about the disease. These rehabilitation centers offer an environment that protects the alcoholic or addict from access to using alcohol and drugs while they learn how to begin a plan to recover and live a new life without the influence of alcohol or other drugs. All these programs provide the basic tools; how to use healthier coping skills and plan for continued ways to live substance-free.
Opportunities are available and accessible to help yourself or those around you to start living free of alcohol and/or drugs. The journey begins with putting down the drug of choice. The destination is to learn how to live a happy, hopeful life, free from the despair of alcoholism or addiction. There is hope. There is help. Recovery is an ongoing change in behavior and thinking. Living without alcohol or drugs is not always easy, but the rewards are endless.
CJ Tulloch is the benefits manager in the Blount Memorial Emotional Health & Recovery Center.