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Alcoholism, which is sometimes called alcohol addiction or further minimized using the term alcohol use disorder, is a chronic disease with genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors which influence its development as well as its manifestations. It is characterized by either continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, a preoccupation with the alcohol, use of alcohol in spite of adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notable, denial. Alcoholism is often a progressive and fatal disease.

Often progressive and fatal means that the disease persists over time and that physical, emotional, and social changes are often cumulative and may progress as drinking continues. Alcoholism causes premature death through overdose, organic complications involving the brain, liver, heart and many other organs.

Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, in spite of harmful and unpleasant consequences. Its classification as a brain disease is due to the fact that drugs change both the structure of the brain and how it works. The changes can be short- or long-term, and they frequently lead to harmful and self-destructive behaviors.

Almost all addictive drugs target the brain's reward system, either directly or indirectly, by flooding it with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the parts of the brain which regulate emotion, motivation, cognition, movement, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system produces the euphoric effects which are sought by those who use drugs. Given that alcohol is a drug, it can be said that alcoholism is a type of drug addiction, and the symptoms, criteria, and treatment are virtually the same for alcohol as for drugs.

Symptoms may include erratic changes in personality and behavior, preoccupation with thoughts about the substance which blocks out all other thoughts, inability to meet obligations or work responsibilities due to drug use, and continuing to use the substance in spite of adverse consequences. Additionally, failing attempts to stop using the substance, doing things which you would normally to do, and going through withdrawals when the substance is not available.

Over time, alcohol ravages both the brain and the body. Liver disease and central nervous system dysfunction are not uncommon, nor are gastrointestinal and digestive health problems.

While people of any sex, age. or economic status may become addicted to alcohol or drugs, there are specific risk factors which can, to a certain extent, predict who might become addicted. Some of the risk factors for substance addiction include a family history of addiction; other mental disorders like ADHD, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder; early drug use, which can quickly cause changes in developing brains, making them more susceptible to addiction; and using very addictive medications or drugs.

There are numerous types of treatments for alcohol and drug addiction, and an addict or alcoholic should try to find the type which will work best for him or her.

Most treatment programs begins with detox or medically managed withdrawal, which are nearly universally thought of as the first stage of treatment. While important in order to avoid dangerous and potentially fatal effects of stopping drugs or alcohol, detox does not deal with the psychological, behavioral, and social problems which are related to addiction. Those are for the next stage of treatment.

There are both in-patient, also called residential, and out-patient alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs. The former, referred to as the therapeutic community model, provides highly structured treatment and support 24 hours a day, and are generally long-term, between 6 and 24 months. These programs address the resocialization of the addict, including psychological counseling, accountability, and simply re-learning how to live without drugs.

Short-term inpatient or residential treatment lasts for 28 days. Generally, 28 days is not enough time to effect a lasting change for most patients, it does serve to get the addict out of whatever adverse situation he or she is in, be it legal or living situations.

Outpatient treatment usually cost less and are appropriate for people with social supports in place and/or a job. Group counseling is generally pat of the outpatient models.

Treatment can be highly individualized, but because there are some basic problems which plague all addicts and alcoholic, those are simply tweaks to the existing system offered by a treatment program.

In any event, the recidivism rate in most cases is very high and it behooves anyone working toward sobriety and personal freedom to attend 12-step programs or ongoing therapy sessions and to keep trying even after a failure.



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