Understanding Substance Abuse and Chemical Dependency

Who are the Chemically Dependent people and why don't they stop?


Chemical Dependency has since grown to be one of the number one problems in the United States according to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It has also grown to be one of the greatest destructive forces of lives and property in existence.

Alcoholics used to be viewed as people who lacked the strength of will to stop drinking. In l956, the American Medical Association first recognized alcoholism as a disease, but it wasn't until 10 years later that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare decided that alcoholism should be treated as a disease. Since that time legislators and community organizations have increased their efforts to fight alcoholism through research, educational programs and public awareness.

Most alcoholics begin as social drinkers, but somewhere along the way, their drinking patterns change.

With the disease, there exists a physical and/or psychological addiction to a mood altering chemical which, when removed, results in withdrawal symptoms and an obsession with obtaining more of the substance. Chemicals most often observed to be addicting are prescribed drugs (such as Valium, barbiturates and pain killers) and illegally obtained substances (such as cocaine, marijuana or heroin).

With Chemical Dependency, many myths abound. Many describe the alcoholic as a "skid row" individual. This is not the case. Less than five percent of the alcoholic community can be placed in this category.

The disease process is similar for each set of chemicals. The dependency interrupts a person's ability to function on a day to day basis. Once the addictive process begins, it soon becomes self perpetuating, with the dependent person unable to stop, even though the chemicals are destroying his life socially, economically and physically.

The dependent person is more susceptible to infections, anemia, diseases of the liver, heart, brain and organs, and to cancer, particularly of the liver and throat. Many dependent patients require permanent institutionalization because of brain damage; for example, forty percent of all male admissions to state mental hospitals suffer from alcoholism.

Unfortunately, most Chemically Dependent people are totally unaware of how substance affects them. Once the person loses control over his behavior, from then on his illness cannot be arrested without treatment. Because of the deceiving nature of alcoholism, as well as most substance abuse, the alcoholic is often the last to see the deterioration. Although the alcoholic will put up a front and refuse to admit he is troubled, he is a frightened, sick individual.

There is a tremendously high cost to society due to substance abuse.
Statistically, alcoholics and abusers of soft poly type drugs:

1) die more violently,
2) suicide rate is 58 times that of non alcoholics,
3) are involved in more traffic deaths and automobile crashes,
4) have a 45% greater chance of dying in auto accidents than non alcoholics.

The cost to industry amounts to over 25 billion dollars yearly in terms of absenteeism, accident rate, workmen's compensation and claims for annual medical benefits.

To fight Chemical Dependency and addiction alone is almost impossible. Yet too frequently the dependent person is left to his lonely battle condemned as a moral weakling and overprotected if an adolescent. Fortunately, Chemical Dependence is a treatable disease if symptoms are identified and the dependent person seeks help. Successful recovery depends on abstinence and the development of a healthy approach to life's problems. Even though chemically dependent people generally have a relapse rate of over 50%, many patients achieve long periods of sobriety sufficient to maintain jobs, families, and health.

Signs and Symptoms

Physical

  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Complaints of vaguely defined illness
  • Chronic medical problems (colds, flu, stomach aches)
  • Sleepiness, exhaustion, fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady movements & shaky hands, the “Monday morning shakes”
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unusual weight gain or loss
  • Evidence of alcohol or drugs i.e., odor of alcohol on the breath
  • Heavy use of perfume or mouthwash
  • Wears long sleeves inappropriately

Emotional/Mental

  • Irritability or argumentative
  • Over reactive to criticism
  • Depression
  • Suspicious or paranoid attitude
  • Emotional behavior
  • Mood swings after lunch or breaks
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty remembering things or events

Social Habits

  • Talking about financial problems; borrowing money excessively
  • Avoidance of family & friends
  • Frequent complaints about problems at home and/or work
  • Arguments or trouble with co-workers, family, and/or friends
  • Excessive talkativeness or acting withdrawn
  • Unwillingness or inability to communicate feelings
  • Gets intoxicated at work or social functions


Just as one would not withhold treatment for a cancer which was likely to recur despite treatment, the approach to the substance abuser should be one of similar patience, persistence and understanding.

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