Alcoholism and Other Substance Use Disorders
Someone can suffer from alcoholism and other substance use disorders at the same time, but there are options for treatment and recovery.
What Is the Relationship Between Alcoholism and Other Substance Use Disorders?
Any substance use disorder is a heavy burden for a person to bear. Alcoholism by itself is likely to have serious repercussions for someone’s health, mind, and wellbeing, but the negative consequences of alcohol abuse become even worse when other substance use disorders also come into the picture. Alcoholism and drug addiction can be co-occurring disorders. Anyone who is struggling with alcoholism and addiction to another substance faces a significant challenge. Fortunately, there are paths to recovery.
Addictions to alcohol and other drugs often exist simultaneously because addiction itself is a disease that exists in the brain. Therefore, all forms of addiction originate from the same source: a person’s mind. Mental health experts widely agree that some people are more psychologically vulnerable to developing addictions. There are several risk factors which contribute to an addictive personality. These factors include a family history of drug abuse, the age at which a person begins to use drugs or alcohol, and possibly even genetics. Many people are susceptible to social pressure to drink alcohol or use addictive drugs. Some people also use alcohol or drugs to try to manage mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, or to cope with distress during difficult life events.
In general, when someone has a tendency toward addiction, there is not necessarily a limit on the number of substances to which they may become addicted. For this reason, people who are inclined to drink too much alcohol are sometimes also inclined to repeatedly use drugs. The same factors (genetics, family history, social pressure, etc.) which cause alcoholism are also capable of causing other forms of substance abuse.
How Alcoholism and Other Substance Use Disorders Sustain Each Other
The lifestyles and settings which promote alcoholism often promote using drugs, which is the first step toward drug addiction. For example, someone who spends time at night clubs or attends “raves” is going to be enticed to drink alcohol and experiment with party drugs. Alcoholism and drug addiction so often combine into co-occurring disorders because they “happen” at the same places.
Furthermore, alcohol and some drugs cause similar effects, so people who use one substance may use the other interchangeably. Prolonged alcohol abuse also builds a tolerance to alcohol’s effects. Some alcoholics respond to tolerance by drinking more alcohol or drinking harder liquor. Other alcoholics will try drugs which have alcohol-like effects or which promise new and more powerful sensations.
Finally, alcohol and drug abuse are often reactions to negative emotions and states of mind. Someone who is already addicted to alcohol may try drugs when they find that drinking ultimately makes them feel worse, not better. Someone who has a drug addiction might also become an alcoholic for this same reason. Since substance abuse is never the answer to sadness, anger, or mental illness, people who are drinking, smoking, or injecting to feel better may alternate between alcohol and drugs in search of that one drink or that one drug which they think will make them happy. This search will never succeed and will only lead to greater addiction and more unhappiness.
The Health Risks of Co-Occurring Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Any substance use disorder can involve at least two forms of substance abuse. Alcoholism with drug addiction is by far the most prevalent combination. Once someone is living with alcoholism and addiction to another drug, the two conditions may combine to cause major problems. Both alcohol and addictive drugs have immediate and long-term consequences for a person’s health. Alcohol damages a variety of organs, especially the brain, the heart, and the liver. It also increases the likelihood of cancer and heart disease. Many addictive drugs cause seizures and fatal overdoses.
When someone abuses alcohol and drugs together, the health risks of both substances blend together. The co-occurring disorders place the person at even greater risk than if they were abusing alcohol alone. Furthermore, some drugs react dangerously with alcohol or aggravate the negative side effects of alcohol. For example, combining marijuana with alcohol might increase the risk of alcohol poisoning, while combining alcohol with prescription painkillers may inflict liver damage.
The Legal Dangers of Alcoholism and Other Substance Use Disorders
Alcohol and drug abuse also pose serious legal risks. Drinking too much alcohol impairs a person’s judgment and sometimes results in aggressive behavior and reckless decisions which may attract the attention of law enforcement. Additionally, driving under the influence of alcohol is a felony which endangers lives and carries severe penalties. Studies have shown that a majority of violent crimes and cases of domestic abuse involve alcohol. Drug abuse is also likely to jeopardize a person’s freedom. Most addictive drugs are either illegal altogether or illegal to possess without a prescription. Additionally, in many states, it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs, including marijuana. Furthermore, there is a correlation between drug abuse and crimes ranging in severity from petty theft to murder. In fact, about 60% of criminals test positive for drug abuse when they are arrested.
Overall, about 80% of criminals have a history of substance abuse, while about 50% of prison inmates in the United States have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol, or both. People who have an addiction to both alcohol and illegal drugs are compounding their legal risks. While alcoholism by itself makes it more likely that a person will start building a criminal record, an additional drug addiction makes this even more likely. Even if this co-occurring disorder never results in a criminal conviction, a combined addiction to alcohol and another substance will almost certainly strain relationships and prevent success at work or in school.
How to Get Treatment
The consequences of co-occurring alcoholism and drug addiction have the potential to destroy a person’s life. If you or someone you know is struggling with this disorder, contact a dedicated treatment provider today for information about your treatment options. There are many treatment facilities throughout the country which offer programs to help people who want to get sober. In recent decades, rehab centers and treatment professionals have become more aware that alcohol and drug addiction are not unrelated disorders. As a result, many treatment centers now specialize in treating co-occurring disorders, not just alcoholism. The treatments for alcohol and drug abuse include detoxification, inpatient and outpatient rehab, therapy, medications, and support groups. One phone call can make the difference between a life of addiction and a life of fulfillment, so call today to learn more about your steps forward.
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