There is a common misperception that some addictions are more “serious” than others, that alcohol addiction isn’t as serious as an addiction to heroin, crack, or methamphetamine.
Common stereotypes paint images of alcoholics getting drunk at home and heroin addicts as engaged in criminal behavior, unemployed, homeless, or giving up on life. After all, alcohol is a legal and socially acceptable substance here in the U.S. Thus, it is perceived as less serious.
But the reality is that substance addiction is just that, a substance addiction, regardless of the substance. In the case of physical dependence on a substance, a person is unable to stop using despite negative consequences. Substance use and dependency are characterized by the symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance. Prolonged use of alcohol or drugs will result in a biochemical imbalance in the brain which can cause behavioral changes.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine has recently revised and expanded their definition of addiction beyond the symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance.
They identified five additional aspects of addiction to alcohol and drugs:
- Inability to abstain consistently
- Impairment of behavioral control
- Diminished recognition of significant problems
- Dysfunctional emotional responses
“Alcoholism is an addiction—it’s just one type of addiction,” according to Dr. Sharp. “When you break out the specific things that someone who is suffering from alcoholism contends with—impaired control, preoccupation with a drug, using despite adverse consequences, distortions in thinking, most notably along the lines of denial—they are no different from any other type of addict.”
When the brain reacts in an addictive way to one substance, it is likely to react the same to any other addictive substance. When some people quit one drug, they begin using another drug. They are often described as having an addictive personality. The harsh reality is that a person can become addicted to anything and that addiction can destroy their lives.