It is estimated that on average five other people will be affected when one individual becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs. Those whose lives get caught up in the downward spiral of the addiction are most usually friends and family members. As well as these individuals who are most affected by the destruction of substance abuse there is also a wider impact on society as a whole. The reality is that addiction can negatively touch upon the lives of everyone in a community. It is therefore arguably a concern for everyone.
The word addiction tends to be overused in the media. It can sometimes be used to refer to almost anything that people like to do excessively, even if it is not causing too much harm. This means that there can be confusion as to what it actually means to say that somebody is addicted. A clearer way of describing this condition would be to say that it is a compulsive need to use a habit-forming substance. This compulsion is accompanied by increased tolerance for the substance and the experience of withdrawal symptoms should the substance be stopped.
Another way to define addiction would be to say that it is a physical and psychological dependence on a psychoactive substance. A psychoactive substance is any chemical that alters the way the brain works. Psychological dependence is a mental craving to use the substance. The individual feels that they are unable to cope if they do not have their drug. Physical dependence refers to changes that occur in the body. It means that the individual will suffer withdrawal symptoms if the level of addictive substance falls in their blood stream.
The most obvious impact of addiction occurs to the individual who is directly caught up in this abuse. Nobody begins using these substances with the expectation that they are going to develop a problem. Alcohol and drugs can appear to have many beneficial effects in the beginning. The fall into substance dependence occurs without the individual realizing what is going on. These are some of the signs and effects of dependence:
* The individual becomes obsessed with alcohol or drugs and they neglect other areas of their life. Things that were once important to them no longer matter. The only thing they now care about is maintaining their addiction. The life of the addict tends to be unfulfilling and meaningless. During their saner moments the addict realizes this and feels full of despair.
* Their addiction will have an impact on their physical health. Most addicts will feel ill on a regular basis and the substance abuse will cause damage to body organs. If the abuse continues, the individual can develop serious conditions such as alcoholic liver disease or wet brain syndrome. If the individual fails to make it into recovery from their addiction they will be facing an early death. This is a waste of a life.
* Addiction also has a destructive impact on mental health. Many addicts end up dealing with depression or other types of mental illness. Drug use can lead to psychosis or the individual can completely lose touch with reality. There is a high risk that these individuals will choose suicide as a means of dealing with their inner turmoil.
* The addict will usually suffer from a lack of self-respect. They get caught in a vicious circle where they keep messing up their life because of their addiction, but keep on abusing these substances in order to cope with the pain of their mistakes. In the beginning of their addiction it may have felt like alcohol or drugs gave the individual confidence; later people find that it robs every ounce of their self-respect.
* The longer people stay addicted to alcohol or drugs the more they will lose from their life. This loss not only includes property but also their career, family, friends and hobbies. All that is left in the end is the individual and their addiction.
Family members can be hugely impacted when one of them becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs. These are some of the negative impacts addiction:
* The addict will be a hard individual to live with. They may be physically or verbally abusive to members of the family. Their behavior is erratic and can cause a great deal of pain and sadness.
* Some addicts are high functioning, but most will be poor providers. This means that the family will suffer financially.
* If people are addicted to alcohol or drugs, they will be unable to provide proper care for their dependents. The addict is too wrapped up in their own world to be a responsible parent. This neglect can have a traumatic impact on children. Addicted parents also set a bad example for their children. This can mean that their offspring grow up to believe that substance abuse is normal behavior, and they follow their parents into addiction.
* The addict may steal from their family in order to supply their habit. They can also manipulate their loved ones into giving them money.
* If a family member becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, it causes a great deal of stress and pain for everyone else. The rest of the family will want to help the addict but they may have no idea about how to do this – they can end up feeling completely helpless. Eventually family members may decide that their only option is to break off contact with the addict. This can lead to further guilt.
Some high functioning addicts do manage to build a successful career, but even these high-fliers eventually burn out because of the substance abuse. The impact of addiction on the work environment includes:
* If people are abusing alcohol or drugs they will tend to have a poor attendance record at work. They may miss many days from work, often with flimsy excuses.
* Substance abusers tend to be poor time keepers.
* The behavior of these individuals can make them hard to work with. Addicts tend to be self-absorbed and completely unreliable. They can also suffer from mood swings and may easily become aggressive.
* This individual will regularly appear at working suffering from the effects of the night before. Colleagues may be forced to take up the slack created by this individual’s lack of productivity.
* The addicted employee may steal from their employer or their customers if they need money to feed their habit.
* As the individual falls further into addiction they will find it harder to maintain steady employment. They may reach a stage where they are considered unemployable.
The impact of addiction on society includes:
* Addiction is closely related to criminal activity. In the United States, half of the prison population could be described as meeting the criteria for drug or alcohol dependence. Many of these people will have been high or drunk when they committed their crimes.
* Illegal drug use has allowed a criminal underworld to prosper. Gangs earn money from selling these drugs, and then they use this cash to finance other types of criminality.
* Addiction can be a drain on health care resources. The individual who abuses alcohol or drugs not only damages their health but is also far more at risk of accidents or becoming the victim of crime.
* Dealing with addiction is a drain on the economy. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that $67 billion is spent each year on dealing with this problem.
* Substance abuse can destroy communities.
* Those people who become addicted to alcohol or drugs could be productive members of society. Many of those who do manage to get sober go on to live highly productive lives; some even become pillars of the community. Those addicts who never manage to escape their addiction are a loss for society. Their potential for greatness is wasted.