By Barbara Radin Fox for The Island Connection
Lots of people suffer from addictions, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not. There are many addictions: alcohol and other legal and illegal drugs, shopping, gambling, sex, sugar, nicotine, caffeine and codependency – and they can all affect the addict’s health in many ways and can certainly affect the health of family and friends of the addict.
There is a lot of ignorance about addictions, even in the medical community. The first “big question” is what is the use, abuse or addiction to. A person, for example, may just use alcohol or may abuse it or may be addicted to it. Same with anything else like gambling, food, sex, shopping, use of any other substance.
The use of alcohol, for example, would be having an alcoholic beverage for a special occasion. A person who abuses alcohol gets “drunk” or “buzzed” because that is what happens when alcohol becomes toxic in the body. A person who is addicted to alcohol cannot function without it and shows a loss of control, although many people who are alcoholic say they can stop anytime, they just don’t want to. There is a more clinical definition that healthcare professionals use.
Some doctors have told their patients who are having health problems, “Just drink 1 or 2 scotches per day and you’ll be fine.” In previous columns I have written about the recommendation by the American Heart Association to prevent heart disease- drink no more than 2 alcoholic beverages daily. This recommendation, though, doesn’t apply to someone who has a health condition or has the disease of alcoholism, which is never mentioned with the recommendation.
Let’s take gambling as an example. Betting on occasion can be a fun activity for lots of people, but gambling so much that a person loses money that would go for food, clothing or shelter would constitute an “abuse” of this activity. A person who cannot control their desire to gamble would be an “addict”. Same with sex, shopping, food, etc. When a person persists in an activity of any sort that has negative aspects or consequences and that person cannot stop doing that activity even when they try, then that person would be considered to have an addiction. It is also rare when someone has just one addiction.
The next “big question” is why does a person becomes an addict.
An addiction is a disease and although there is disagreement on the root cause, most addiction treatment professionals believe that it starts with a genetic predisposition. So, in short, it’s an inherited disease, which most diseases are. In fact, there are genetic groups that have much more predisposition to these inherited diseases, including addiction. The genetic predisposition to an addiction then often needs a stressful precipitator, but some addicts inherit so much of the chemistry that they don’t need much stress to get the addiction started.
Addictions are chronic conditions and unfortunately thrive on denial, so they are not easy to treat, but the good news is that with the right motivation and the right treatment, they can go into remission. These treatment options will be discussed in the next column.
Contact Fox by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by letter to 2045 Maybank Hwy., Charleston 29412 if you have a health related question or comment on the column.