The majority of the population has a challenging time understanding the nature of addiction, and what makes someone vulnerable to addiction. Symptoms of addiction may appear baffling to the average temperate drinker, who is able to control and enjoy his or her drinking. Sociability, conviviality, and celebration are typical associations with the moderate drinker’s experience with alcohol and/ or recreational drugs like marijuana, which has now been legalized in several states; however, the alcoholic or addict, who suffers from a grave, progressive malady, does not exhibit the same effects produced in the average person. Broken homes, strained relationships, lost jobs, compromised health, damaged social standing, and financial hardship are all common burdens associated with the advanced stages of alcoholism and addiction. In light of these astonishing repercussions, it becomes apparent that these individuals are suffering from a serious, life-threatening disease, that requires further understanding and investigation.
Approximately 7.4% of the adult population in the United States meets the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. New data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that nearly 10% of Americans qualify as addicts (including alcohol). More than one half of American adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism. 10% of the population experiences this serious affliction to the mind, body, and spirit. Why?
In 1991, The American Medical Association (AMA) declared that alcoholism is a disease, both medical and psychiatric in nature. As early as 1956, The AMA declared that alcoholism was an illness. In consideration of these statements, the nature of alcoholism and addiction can be understood from three primary factors: biological, sociological, and psychological.
Biologically, those afflicted with addiction may be genetically predisposed to developing an addiction in their lives. Those with a family history of alcoholism or drug addiction are much more likely to develop an addiction themselves. Current evidence suggests that both men and women are 50-60% genetically determined, before ever even having taken a drink or drug.
Sociologically, the introduction of alcohol is a vital catalyst in signaling the start of full-fledged addiction. Continued exposure to an environment that encourages a high frequency of drug and alcohol use influences the advancement of the disease along a scale that includes increased amount of usage, and negative consequences directly related to alcohol and/ or drug use. Peer groups and environmental factors may seriously impact the occurrence and advancement of addiction. Habitual drinking may influence a person’s drive to repeat a pleasurable experience in the reward center of the brain, furthering the escalation of repeated use and rapidity of use. Quality of life may be severely compromised, encouraging one in the throes of addiction to pursue better feelings, both mentally and physically.
Psychologically, The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited alcoholism and drug addiction as dependence, recognizing dependence as a disorder of the brain. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism considers alcoholism a disease, meaning it is chronic, lasts a person’s lifetime, follows a predictable pattern, and has symptoms. One who suffers from addiction no longer enjoys control or power of choice in his or her ability to consume damaging, mind-altering chemicals, as a result of this dependence. Some addiction experts believe that self-medication through the use of drugs and alcohol is practiced in an effort to alleviate intense psychological pain and suffering. Qualified therapists at a veritable treatment center are able to diagnose these psychological challenges and assess the proper methods of treatment to combat anxiety, depression and other disorders.
If a mere moral code or philosophy were strong enough to make a person impertinent to the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol, the need for medical intervention and treatment would not be necessary. As we have witnessed in popular media and in our own family circles, addiction is a serious illness, which requires treatment and further understanding from the community, to promote recovery and healthy living.