The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that addiction is a disease – a chronic one that affects the brain’s reward structures, memory and the neurotransmitters. Impacts on these neurological components affect the way the individual using drugs or alcohol behaves, as well as his or her mental and physical health.

As is the case with other chronic diseases, substance abuse problems can be treated and the individual can lead a sober-life with support, self-management and professional care. Understanding how to recover from drug or alcohol abuse and maintain a healthy, sober life can help you or someone you love who’s dealing with addiction.

How the Disease Works

Alcohol and drug abuse cause changes to the brain’s structure, explains the National Library of Medicine. The brain’s pleasure centers alter from associating pleasure with every day things, such as achievement at work or school, or a good workout, to the use of drugs or alcohol.

Characteristics of a Substance Abuse Problem

  • Inability to Abstain.

    With continued use, the individual will be unable to abstain from substance abuse. As use continues, he or she will need more to achieve the same feelings.

  • Unable to Control Behavior.

    Most of us can rein in our behaviors, choosing what to do or not do. But the need for drugs or alcohol supersedes rationale and sound judgment, negatively impacting the ability to control yourself.

  • Increased Cravings.

    The frequency and amount of alcohol or drugs used will increase over time. This is necessary for someone in order to achieve the same rewards or feelings attained with use.

  • Does Not See Associated Problems.

    Normally, a person is able to see the consequences of negative behavior and make a better choice. But substance abuse leads to the inability to see consequences or problems associated with abusing drugs or alcohol.

  • Emotional Responses to the Issue are Dysfunctional.

    When called on the carpet for negative behavior or choices, most people feel guilt and remorse. With a substance abuse problem, you or someone you love is likely to become angered and defensive.

Symptoms and Risks

  • Behavioral Changes.

    Certain symptoms and signs point to a substance abuse problem. It’s common for someone abusing drugs or alcohol to lose interest in favorite activities, drop good friends for new friends who encourage substance abuse, and demonstrate a decrease in performance at work or school.

  • Physical Signs.

    You or a loved one can experience a loss of appetite and inability to sleep. Sweating, tremors and bloodshot eyes are also common physical signs of substance abuse.

  • Socio-Economic Risks.

    A drug or alcohol habit impacts those who surround the individual using them. Relationship problems, domestic abuse, loss of employment and trouble with the law can happen as the result of substance abuse. Despite these risks, it’s difficult for the person to stop.

Addiction Is a Disease that Can Be Treated

Acknowledging that you or a loved one suffers from drug or alcohol abuse can be scary. The emotions, fears and concerns can be overwhelming, and it’s common to feel that the situation is hopeless.

But there is hope; healing can be found through professional treatment, finds the American Society of Addiction Medicine. On behalf of yourself or someone you care about, reach out to a counselor or addiction specialist for the support and care that can help your family heal from the effects of substance abuse.