Alcoholism/Chemical Dependency/Addiction: What Is It?

The alcoholic, like the non-alcoholic, is influenced in the way he/she drinks—how much and how often—by numerous psychological, social, familial, or cultural factors. Alcoholics and non-alcoholics may change their drinking behaviors because of life changes:

  • death of a loved one,
  • divorce,
  • job loss, or
  • family trauma.

Loneliness, depression, fears, and insecurities may affect the way a person drinks or uses other drugs. The alcoholic appears to be using alcohol to solve problems: to drown depression, forget stress, obliterate loneliness and insecurities, to ease mounting tensions.

It is important to remember an abnormal physiological reaction to alcohol is causing the alcoholic's increasing psychological and emotional problems. There are predisposing factors that explain the alcoholic's vulnerability to alcohol and the onset of alcoholism.

Accumulated evidence clearly indicates that the predisposition to alcoholism is hereditary. Alcoholism is defined by the National Council on Alcoholism and the American Medical Society on Alcoholism as a "chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal disease characterized by tolerance, physical dependency, and/or pathological organ changes, all of which are the direct or indirect consequences of the alcohol ingested."

Chemical dependency is a broad term that refers to addiction to alcohol as well as other drugs. While scientific data supports a genetic predisposition toward alcohol addiction, the addiction to other drugs is less easily defined and/or recognized. However, the identifying symptoms are likely to be similar. An addict is an addict.

There are many drugs, or chemicals of choice, hence the term "chemical dependency." Drugs of choice may include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, other stimulants, or narcotics. The list is long. Nor is it unusual for the addict to be a multi-drug user.

Addiction is not defined by the drug of choice, but rather by the behavior and resulting consequences caused by the drug use. Individuals who are at risk to develop alcohol or other drug dependence are, or believe themselves to be, disadvantaged. Without doubt, being catastrophically injured, or being the caregiver for such an individual, could be construed as a disadvantage.

The injured person may become susceptible to dependency on painkillers or other mood altering drugs. They are available through prescription and used in treatment of injury- related pain, whether physical or emotional. The caregiver, too, may begin to use or abuse these medications because they are available.

Or, the injured person (and caregiver) could just as easily use or abuse alcohol. It too is readily available. The development of alcoholism relies as much upon genetic predisposition as use patterns.

The extreme stress felt by both the patient and the caregiver can exacerbate the development of chemical dependency, whether to alcohol or other drugs. Coping through drinking or other drug use might gradually increase tolerance, as well as the symptoms of withdrawal. In an effort to cope with the symptoms of withdrawal, the individual drinks or drugs more.


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