Addictions: Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Basic Information

Symptoms and Treatments for Alcoholics

Since the beginning of human history and before, people have found ways to alter their bodies and their consciousness by taking substances such as herbs, alcohol, and drugs. Out of this practice has sprung many important contributions to science and culture, prominent among them being the development of modern medicine and the medical profession and the making of fine wines and liquors. Some religions have found uses for mind-altering drugs as a way to aid communion with the divine principle. For all the positives that mind and body altering substances have brought us, one fact is clear. There have always been people who were unable to restrict their use of mind and body altering substances to culturally prescribed limits, and who have fallen into the trap we know today as addiction.

Addiction usually does not happen overnight. Rather, people who become addicted to drugs (such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc.) are gradually introduced and desensitized to them...

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is alcohol and substance abuse?

  • There have always been people who were unable to restrict their use of mind and body altering substances to culturally prescribed limits, and who have fallen into the trap we know today as addiction.
  • Addiction usually does not happen overnight. Rather, people who become addicted to drugs (such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc.) are gradually introduced and desensitized to them over a period of time.
  • Some people are able to keep using drugs on an occasional basis, but many other people are not so lucky.
  • For these unlucky others, their use of drugs begins (gradually in some cases, abruptly in others) to increase, and the amount of attention they spend thinking about getting high, purchasing drugs, preparing drugs and taking drugs increases until it becomes the center of their lives.
  • As dependence increases, tolerance to the drugs increases as well - meaning that it takes more and more of the drug to get the same 'high' or 'buzz' effect. As most drugs (with the exception of alcohol) are illegal, they may become increasingly involved in criminal activities (buying drugs is a criminal activity, as is driving while intoxicated).
  • No one knows exactly why some people get addicted to drugs while others do not. However, some contributing factors are clear.
  • There is likely a strong genetic component to some forms of addiction (meaning that vulnerability to becoming an addict can run in families, and be inherited from your parents and grandparents).
  • There is also much evidence suggesting that whether or not people develop addiction problems has a lot to do with experiences they have in childhood and as they are growing up.
  • Help for addiction is available. For all the many people out there who are actively using drugs and alcohol, there are many others who have struggled with addiction and won a personal victory, on a day by day temporary basis to be sure, but a victory never the less.
  • Help is available in the form of medical attention, medications, psychotherapy, self help groups, and spirituality.

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What are the signs that someone may have a drug or alcohol problem?

  • The diagnosis of a substance use problem (abuse or dependence) is important because it helps justify getting an addicted person into treatment.
  • People with drug and alcohol problems are often secretive about their use, or blind to the idea that a problem exists.
  • It is helpful then to have a list of behaviors that one can look for that, when present, may suggest that someone has a substance use problem.
  • Behaviors to look for include:
    • A repeating failure to meet social, occupational or familial duties
    • Repeated lateness or absence
    • Poor work performance
    • Neglect of children, etc.
    • Bizarre or lame excuses for social, occupational or family failures
    • Borrowing (or stealing) money without good reasons.
    • Uncharacteristic mood or personality changes.
  • Physical signs may include:
    • Puncture marks, or long thin lines along the arms or legs (IV drug use such as heroin)
    • Skin Infections
    • Nose and throat problems (snorted drugs such as cocaine)
    • Bloody nose
    • Nasal and/or sinus infections
    • Coughing
    • Loss of the sense of smell
    • Drowsiness, or loss of coordination (depressant drugs such as alcohol)
    • 'Pinned' (tiny, constricted) pupils in the eye (secondary to opioid abuse)
    • Red or bloodshot eyes (secondary to smoking marijuana)
    • Drug-related smells on clothing (drugs that are smoked)
    • Drug-related paraphernalia (pipes, 'works', pill bottles, small plastic bags or vials, lighters, etc.)

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What drugs can someone become addicted to?

  • Drugs and medications of abuse can be grouped together into categories based on similarities between how they work and what effects they will produce in the human body and brain.
  • Central Nervous System Depressants - Alcohol, Barbiturates ['ludes, sleepers, downers, tranquilizers] and Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Librium, Xanax) [sleepers, downers, tranquilizers].
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants - Cocaine (Crack, Blow, Nose, Snow, Toot, White, Rock, Flake), Amphetamine & Methamphetamine (Ritalin, Meth, Uppers, Bennies, Crank, Crystal), Caffeine (Coffee), and Nicotine (Cigarettes, Chew).
  • Opiates - Heroin (Horse, Junk, Smack, Snow, "H", Brown, Black), Morphine, Codeine (OxyContin, Tylenol with Codeine), and Methadone, LAAM
  • Cannabinols - Marijuana (Marinol, Pot, Grass, Weed, Brick, Joint, Thai Stick, Mary Jane) and Hashish (Hash, Ganja, Rope)
  • Hallucinogens - LSD (Acid), Mescaline (Cactus), Psilocybin, ('Shrooms, Mushrooms) and MDMA (Love Drug, "X", Esctacy)
  • Solvents - Aerosol sprays, Glues, Paint Thinner and Gasoline
  • Other Drugs of Abuse - PCP (Angel Dust)

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How is addiction treated?

  • Treatment of Substance Abuse and Dependence disorders is a complex endeavor that usually involves the piecing together of medical, psychological and social treatment components.
  • Components Of Substance Abuse Treatment include the following:
  • Medical and Biological Treatments:
    • Detoxification - before any actual drug treatment can occur, it is necessary that drug dependent people be 'detoxified' (meaning that all drugs they are addicted to get physically removed from their bodies). 
    • Diet and Nutrition Concerns - it is not uncommon to find that people presenting for drug or alcohol treatment are moderately to severely undernourished and lacking in the proper vitamins and nutrients.
    • Medication (Symptom Reduction) - recovering drug or alcohol dependent persons often complain of mood and anxiety problems. 
    • Medication (Relapse Reduction) - there are several medications that physicians can prescribe for their recovering patients which can help to minimize their chances of relapsing. 
    • Drug Screening - drug testing is helpful (even indispensable) as a way of motivating drug and alcohol dependent people to remain clean and sober.
  • Psycho-Social Treatments:
    • Psychotherapy - a variety of psychological and social (psychosocial) strategies for treating drug and alcohol dependence have been developed, each offering a different level and type of support to persons recovering from drug or alcohol dependence
    • Relapse Prevention is a type of coping-focused psychotherapy or psycho-education that strives to teach drug or alcohol dependent persons coping skills to help them avoid relapsing back to using drugs and/or alcohol.
    • 12 Step Programs - most all drug or alcohol dependent persons who enter treatment are referred to what are known as "Twelve Step" groups.
  • Levels of Care Available (from most intensive to least intensive):
    • Hospital Care
    • Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Programs
    • Partial Hospitalization/Intensive Outpatient Programs
    • Residential Centers And Halfway Houses
  • Putting It All Together - an idealized treatment program for someone who is alcohol dependent might look something like this.
  • Substance-Specific Concerns:

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