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Addiction and Substance Abuse

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Addiction and substance abuse are some of the deadliest, and costliest, diseases in the world today. And listen up guys - on average, men are five times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than women.

When most people hear the word "addict" they think of illegal drug use. However, there are literally dozens of other types of addictions. For example, people can be addicted to prescription drugs, sex, exercise, club drugs, stealing and shop lifting, television, alcohol, gambling, work, nicotine, the Internet, risk-taking, foods, steroids and even sugar.

What is Addiction?

It doesn't matter whether the addictive substance or behavior is legal or illegal, all addictions are basically the same: an uncontrollable urge to do something orconsume something, regardless of the harm it causes.

When you take drugs or drink alcohol or engage in certain activities, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that create a wave of positive feelings ranging from pleasure to invincibility. The brain and body enjoy those sensations so much that they "demand" them again, by creating a craving for thesame substance or behavior. But this time, it'll take a little bit more to get the same rush.

Over a very short period of time, the neurotransmitters actually make permanent changes to the structure of the brain. Satisfying the cravings becomes moreand more important, and not satisfying them causes physical pain. The consequences can be devastating to the addict, his family, his friends and his community. Relationships are destroyed, life savings are spent, people end up in prison, and lives are lost.

Of course, not everyone who tries a particular drug or engages in risky behavior becomes an addict. But in many cases even one time use can be harmful or even deadly.

Symptoms of an Alcohol Problem Include:

  • Personality changes
  • Blackouts
  • Drinking more and more for the same "high."
  • Denial of the problem.
  • Gulping or sneaking alcoholic drinks.
  • Drinking alone or early in the morning.
  • Suffer from the shakes.
  • Family, school, or work problems or trouble with the law because of drinking.

Drug Abuse Symptoms Include:

  • Cycles of increased energy, restlessness, and inability to sleep (often seen in stimulants)
  • Abnormally slow movements, speech or reaction time, confusion and disorientation (often seen in opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates)
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Cycles of excessive sleep
  • Unexpected changes in clothing, such as constantly wearing long sleeved shirts, to hide scarring at injection sites
  • Suspected drug paraphernalia such as unexplained pipes, roach clips or syringes
  • For snorted drugs, chronic troubles with sinusitis or nosebleeds
  • For smoked drugs, a persistent cough or bronchitis, leading to coughing up excessive mucus or blood.
  • Progressive severe dental problems (especially with methamphetamine)

For more information, go to: Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers, or Overeaters Anonymous.

Remember, there are many support groups catering to a variety of addictive and compulsive behaviors. Speak to a mental health care professional to find out what group might best serve your needs.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times