People who suffer from addiction or alcoholism are not merely being weak-willed: they’re being tormented by a serious, progressive and fatal disease. Unfortunately, if you’ve never experienced addiction personally or witnessed its effects on someone you love, it can be difficult to understand how a substance can have such immense power over a person. However, once you take a close look at what addiction is and how it happens, it’s easy to see that this menacing disease can affect any person from any walk of life. It’s a universally human disease, and it kills. Understanding addiction is the key to triumphing over it.

Addiction or alcoholism has to have at least one trigger event to occur- meaning something that leads a person to drink or use drugs. This can be in the form of peer pressure, depression, a family history of drug use, as a performance enhancer, due to chronic pain, or as any type of self-medication. Whatever the reason may be, once a person starts using, they will eventually become addicted with continued use. Once addiction has set in, it becomes a lifetime condition for which there is no cure. However, there is treatment and management, and millions of people in recovery live satisfying and productive lives free from drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is a physiological process that starts with tolerance. Tolerance refers to the body’s mechanism for combating the effects of foreign substances in the blood. But while tolerance works to minimize these effects, it usually means that a person will simply use more of the substance in order to achieve the desired effects, i.e. to get “high.”

With continued use tolerance will become physical dependence. This occurs when the body can no longer function normally without the drug. It is a real, physical symptom of impending addiction, because by this point a person can no longer just stop using and hope to return to normal immediately. Because the body requires the substance in order to maintain normalcy, powerful urges will occur that spur people to go to great lengths to obtain and use more of the drug.

Physical dependence causes neurological pathways to be constructed in the brain that allow the cyclical processes of tolerance, dependence and addiction to occur. The very presence of these pathways is not only what allows addiction to be easily classified as a disease, but also causes the life-long effects of the condition. Once constructed these pathways remain forever and can sometimes lead a person to relapse when the urge to use the substance surfaces periodically.

Once a person is suffering from outright addiction, they cannot simply stop using on their own. Detoxing from drugs or alcohol can be dangerous and should always be done in a professional medical facility. Pain and discomfort from acute withdrawal symptoms can be properly managed and treatment therapies can be initiated. But detox is only the end of active addiction- for many people treatment and relapse prevention therapies will continue for some time afterward.

Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate – it can and does happen to people everywhere. In fact, with the extreme potency of today’s drugs, addiction can happen after just a few uses. So if you think that addiction can’t happen to you or someone you care about, you’re wrong.

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Author's Bio: 

RJ Hudson is a highly trained and versatile professional writer and editor.