Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a disease. It is not something to be ashamed of. Understanding the medical science behind the disease helps many people understand addiction and provides a smoother path to recovery.

Why do some people get addicted to alcohol or drugs and some people don’t? While addiction can happen to anyone at anytime, there are many factors that contribute to addiction.

  • Family History of Alcohol or Drug Abuse
  • Mental Illness
  • Traumatic Childhood Experiences
  • Early Drug Use

Addiction is not a weakness or a personality flaw, it is a physical reaction that causes changes in the brain. Depending on the drug, the use usually causes a rise in dopamine in the brain, which makes the user feel pleasure. The brain recognizes the feeling and craves more. If a person is addicted, the physiological need for the drug is equated with a basic survival need such as food and water. The changes in the brain prevent the user from thinking clearly. Judgement is skewed. The need for the drug becomes more important than anything, or anyone, else. The brain sends rationalization messages that create a lack of control.

Addiction can be passed through the umbilical cord, so it is vital for pregnant women to get help immediately. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a devastating disease resulting from using drugs or drinking during pregnancy and can be tapered by early intervention.

While most experts agree that alcohol and drug addiction is a disease of the brain that doesn’t mean there is no way to treat it. The physiological and psychological changes associated with addiction can be treated, and in some cases reversed, with medicine, therapy and other treatment.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Commonly Abused Drugs:

Alcohol: Slurred speech, headache, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, blackouts

Marijuana: Euphoria, loud talking/laughing, drowsiness, slow reflexes, blood shot eyes, dry mouth, increased appetite, paranoia, memory loss, wandering conversation, skewed time perception

Crystal Meth & Other Stimulants: Dilated pupils, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, unpredictable or violent behavior, tremors, dry mouth, cracked lips,  jaw clenching, repetitive behaviors, restlessness, irritability, fatigue, sleeplessness, skin problems, wandering conversation

Depressants: Similar to alcohol symptoms, little or no facial expression, slurred speech

Inhalants: Symptoms similar to alcohol abuse: slurred speech, nausea, vomiting as well as hallucinations, facial rash, runny nose, watery eyes, marks around nose/mouth (from sniffing substance), chemical odor

Hallucinogens: Dilated pupils, disorientation, paranoia, nausea, convulsions, excessive sweating, chills, dizziness, skewed time perception

Heroin and other Narcotics: Drowsiness, foggy, nodding in/out of sleep, slowed breathing/heart rate, constricted pupils, itching, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, needle marks, skin problems

Pain Killers: Slow reflexes, jerky movements, small pupils, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle spasms