Many of us don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs and alcoholics lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their substance use simply by choosing to. In reality, addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.
Most people follow one of three patterns of alcohol abuse:
they drink and become intoxicated daily
they drink at specific but predictable times
they stop drinking for extended periods that end in binges of constant drinking that can last for several days, weeks, or months.
Chronic alcoholism is a progressive disease that develops in stages. The first stage involves using alcohol to relieve tension. It is during this time that physical dependence on the drug begins. During the second stage, the person becomes more and more preoccupied with obtaining alcohol. He or she may lose control when drinking, suffer blackout, or forget alcohol-related events.
In the third stage, behavior and personality changes start to take place. These include aggressive behavior and a complete lack of insight into the problem. Finally, in the late stage, persistent use of alcohol affects the person's physical and emotional health, causing serious deterioration in the ability to function.Physical complications can include inflammation of the stomach, inflammation of the liver, permanent nerve and brain damage (forgetfulness, blackouts, or problems with short-term memory), and inflammation of the pancreas.
Long-term abuse of alcohol can increase the risk and severity of pneumonia and tuberculosis; it can damage the heart, leading to heart failure; and can cause cirrhosis of the liver, leading to liver failure.
Alcohol intoxication is a major cause of motor vehicle collisions and other injuries, often with fatal consequences. Alcohol consumption by pregnant women can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause mental retardation.
Withdrawal from alcohol carries its own risks, including restlessness, agitation, hallucinations, delirium, and seizures. In its most severe form, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening and require hospitalization.
Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. It tricks the brain into thinking that drugs are essential despite negative consequences. Addiction compels individuals to go to great lengths to acquire their drugs of abuse.
Drugs affect the brain’s reward system by producing an excess of dopamine, the chemical responsible for pleasurable feelings. Our brains are wired to make sure we repeat rewarding activities, including those associated with drug use. Feelings of pleasure from drug use cause the brain to associate drugs with rewards, which causes cravings.