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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “alcoholic” or “addict?” Do you think of simply a social outcast; or do you think of anyone who may be affected by addiction, from teens to college students; from homemakers to licensed professionals from every walk of life?
Well, if you can envision a chronic brain disease that can affect anyone at any time - you can understand what addiction looks like today. It is a disease of epidemic proportions that kills more people than all other chronic illnesses put together.
We all know that addiction is a serious disease, that it can strike anyone, and that it destroys lives and families. But how do you know if you or someone you care about has crossed the line and needs help? When do change from just being a user of a substance to being an addict? To answer this we asked Dr. Scott Davis, the Inpatient Medical Director at the Betty Ford Center. He provided seven important warning signs that suggest a problem with addiction may exist, and I’d like to share them with you now.
1) INCREASED TOLERANCE- By “tolerance” we mean that as one becomes accustomed to drinking more or using more drug over a longer period of time, the body quickly adapts to it. It takes more and more just to reach the same high. As tolerance to a drug grows, problems also develop in a person’s relationships with family, friends, and in their workplace.
2) WITHDRAWAL- A person’s body may become so dependent on alcohol or other drugs such as tranquilizers or painkillers that it actually needs them to function normally. In these cases, when the drinking or drug use is stopped, physical signs of withdrawal can be seen. A person can look tired or sleepy- as in withdrawal from cocaine or amphetamine. Withdrawal from alcohol, tranquilizers, and opiates can cause very dramatic signs, such as tremors of the hands and tongue, sweating, pinpoint-sized pupils, and excessive yawning. Stomach problems such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping can be part of this picture.
3) Drinking or drug use in much larger amounts or for longer time than intended. Here as a person becomes more tolerant to the effects of alcohol or a drug, they lose that ability to set limits on how much they will use.
4) A persisting desire to cut down or control the use of the drug, usually unsuccessfully. This is akin to an alcoholic or addict pushing down on the brakes of a runaway problem. They just can’t stop.
5) Much more time is spent getting the drug, using it, or recovering from the effects of it. It comes to consume a person’s life.
6) Activities that the alcoholic or addict once enjoyed are given up and replaced by their drinking or drug use. We know that continued drinking and drug use can cause many very serious physical and psychological problems; even heart attacks, strokes, depression and suicide.
7) The drinking or drug use continues despite these serious physical and psychological problems developing because of it. A person’s health literally takes a backseat to their runaway addiction.
Addiction is a very serious, and often deadly, chronic disease. But with early recognition, as we have discussed, very effective treatment is available today. Depending on the type and severity of the addiction, treatment options can range from individual therapy, to intensive outpatient programs; even to residential inpatient treatment facilities designed to treat more advanced cases. If you see any of these seven warning signs, please seek help immediately from your primary doctor or an addiction specialist experienced in diagnosing and treating alcoholism and other addictive disorders.