What is Addiction?

One of the most heartbreaking things you can experience is watching a loved one’s life slowly become ruined due to the devastating effects of alcoholism or drug addiction.  Most likely you feel inadequate to help the person. And you may be understandably scared for the person’s health and safety (as well as the safety of others around him) if he continues down this path of self-destruction.  It can be maddening, frustrating, and gut-wrenching to deal with the person.  And while you may feel very alone in trying to understand and cope with an addict, you are definitely not alone…

Some Brief Statistics…

• Over 4 out of every 10 adults in the U.S. are related to someone who is, or was, an alcoholic
• In the U.S., nearly 14 million individuals are alcohol-dependent; some research indicates nearly 20 million people have an addiction to alcohol and / or drugs.
• At least 6.6 million U.S. children (age 17 or younger) live with an alcoholic parent
• In 2005, well over $200 billion was spent on alcohol abuse or addiction
• When it comes to addictions to drugs or other sub-stances, nearly 5 out of every 10 people in the U.S. have a loved one struggling with a drug problem.
• Roughly 4 out of every 5 crimes in the U.S. are associated with alcoholism or drug addiction.
• For those over the age of 60, approximately 3 million are either alcoholics or abuse alcohol.

Understanding Addiction

For someone who has never struggled with an addiction, it can be both frustrating and baffling to understand why an alcoholic or addict does the things he does. You wonder why he can’t just stop. It makes no sense (from your perspective) as to why he continues drinking or using even though it is destroying his finances, his relationships, his health and / or his job. In fact, you may have tried confronting him only to feel you are beating your head against a wall. Needless to say, significant conflicts between couples and within families occur every single day due to this issue. And as many eventually realize, it is a futile battle.

Alcoholism and addiction are not merely bad habits which a person can discontinue at any given time. In fact, one of the hall-marks of dependency on a substance is that the person usually does desire to stop and has tried to stop or cut back, only to realize that it is not something he can control. Sadly, this often creates the vicious circle in which the person feels guilty and ashamed that he can’t stop, and quickly reaches for the substance as a way to alleviate or numb those painful feelings.

While many people picture an addict or alcoholic as someone who can’t keep a job, who is always dependent on others, or who has lost everything and is living on the street, that is often not the case. There are many addicts and alcoholics who are very high functioning. They may be highly educated and hold prestigious jobs. They are especially adept at hiding their addiction and giving the appearance that everything is fine.

Some can live like this for many years without anyone (or, if married, sometimes only their spouse) realizing they are addicted. It is not uncommon for people in high-powered (and thus high pressured) careers to struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction. Sadly, their condition often goes undiagnosed, and because they are so good at fooling others, their own denial is perpetuated and they never get treatment.

Indicators of Addiction (also known as Dependence)

Whether it is alcohol or another substance, there are several key indicators that indicate when a person has become addicted to or dependent upon a substance.

These are:

Tolerance – the need to use more and more of the substance in order to get high, intoxicated, or achieve the desired effect

Craving – a very powerful urge or need to use or drink

Inability to control use – the person can’t stop using or drinking even though he wants to and tries to