During the hot summer months, it’s not uncommon to pull out a “cold one” to refresh ourselves from the summer heat. However, the problem is that is sometimes it’s hard to stop with just “one.”

Substance abuse and addiction affect an estimated 25 million Americans. This includes alcoholism, which afflicts 10 million adults and 3 million children, and 12.5 Americans who are addicted to other drugs such as sedative-hypnotics, opiates, sedatives, hallucinogens and psychostimulants.

For most Americans, moderate amounts of alcohol are not harmful. However, nearly 14 million Americans (1 in every 13 adults) abuse alcohol. Overuse of alcohol can affect memory, distort mental perceptions, affect social relationships or job/school performance, interfere with physical coordination and have adverse effects on many organ systems in the body. Heavy drinking is also associated with increased risk of cancer, liver cirrhosis, heart disease and pancreatitis. And, even moderate consumption of alcohol can cause harm to the drinker and others. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, her developing child may suffer physical damage, referred to as fetal alcohol syndrome.

When combined with prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, the negative effects of moderate or severe drinking can be intensified. Drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, recreational accidents, on-the-job accidents, homicide and suicide. Alcoholism is an illness, and as such, can be effectively treated.

What is addiction?

Most people don’t set out to become alcoholics. Often times, alcohol is used as a way to relax or to socialize after a long day or week. However, addiction can happen quickly as the body and brain begin to crave alcohol and/or as the individual uses alcohol as a way to cope with problems or emotions. Addiction is a chronic, progressive, relapsing disease that can be characterized by one or more of the following:

  • Craving: a strong need or compulsion to drink or use drugs.
  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking or drug use on any given occasion.
  • Physical dependence: The occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety when alcohol or drug use is stopped.
  • Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of alcohol or other drugs in order to get “high.”

What is abuse?

Abuse differs from addiction in that it does not include an extremely long craving for a substance, loss of control, or physical dependence. It is also less likely to include tolerance. Abuse is described as a pattern of drinking or using other drugs, accompanied by one or more of the following in 12-month period:

  • Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities.
  • Situations that are physically dangerous, such as driving a car or operating machinery while under the influence of substances.
  • Recurring substance-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or physically hurting someone else while being drunk.
  • Continued drinking despite having on-going relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol.

Why do people abuse alcohol or other drugs?

Abuse of alcohol and other drugs is caused by biological, psychological and social factors. Research has shown that some people have a biological disposition to alcohol/drug addiction.

Psychological and social factors can influence a biological disposition and can effect whether or not a person becomes dependent on alcohol or drugs. Negative factors include traumatic or stressful events; childhood neglect; mental health disorders; disabilities; parental alcohol/drug addiction; traumatic experiences; and other adverse events.

Warning signs of alcohol/drug addiction:

  • Using the substance on a regular basis (daily, weekends, or in binges).
  • Tolerance for the substance.
  • Failed attempts to stop using the substance.
  • Physical and/or psychological dependence.
  • Withdrawal symptoms (trembling, hallucinations, sweating or high blood pressure).
  • Dementia.
  • Often people with depression or bipolar “self-medicate” with alcohol or drugs.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your local physician, mental health center, counselor or other mental health or medical provider. The sooner a person gets help, the better the chances for recovery.

For mental health care, contact Cedar Crest Hospital, 3500 IH-35, Belton, (254) 939-2100 or Cedar Crest Outpatient Clinic, 3106 S. W.S. Young Drive, Suite B-201, Killeen, (254) 519-4162.

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