Not everyone who drinks or uses, or even gets drunk or high, is an addict. So what’s the difference between someone who uses or abuses substances and someone who has an addictive disorder? And if addiction is a disease, how can we tell if someone’s got it?

Addictive disorder is an illness of the brain and body, with behavioral symptoms. Below are some of the signs that you or your loved one might not just like to use sometimes, but might have an actual illness that requires treatment.

  1. Loss of control over substance use. This is the most important and earliest indicator that someone’s use may be the symptom of a disease. A person with an addiction probably knows his or her limits—but they can’t seem to stick to them. The resolution that someone won’t drink or smoke or shoot up tonight turns into excuses and justifications why it’s really okay to do it after all. If someone is in the early stages of an addictive disorder, they are no longer choosing. The disease is taking over.
  2. Constant thinking about their alcohol or drug. Another of the signs of addiction as a disease is that the person thinks about using all the time. They make plans, friends, and choices based on whether alcohol or drugs will be available. They think about where they can keep supplies so that they can access them easily, and they think about the reasons they will give if someone notices their using, or desire for it. Getting and using drugs and alcohol becomes a priority.
  3. Continuing to use even in the face of negative consequences. Of all the signs of addiction, this is the one where the most damage is done to the addict, his or her family, and his or her life. But negative consequences don’t stop an addict, even if he or she knows they should stop them. They aren’t in control of their drinking or drug use anymore, even when it starts to ruin their life.
  4. Problems with thinking and reasoning. Over time, alcohol and drugs actually cause brain shrinkage—tissues die and the brain becomes smaller. That means a long-term user has less ability to solve problems, can’t accurately perceive what’s going on around them, loses IQ points, can’t comprehend what they are reading or hearing as well as others, and loses large portions of their vocabulary, making it more difficult to find the right word to communicate. The signs of addiction as a disease are mental damage, personality damage, and relationship damage, and it all starts in the brain.

There are still some people who doubt that addictions should be called diseases, but the signs listed above show that it has a physical component and many unintended effects on people’s lives. As with most diseases, there are treatments available, but the sick person has to go to them and apply them to his or her life. If you need help finding a treatment plan for the disease of addiction, the staff at Treatment Now can answer questions and provide guidance 24/7. Just call us at 844-438-8689.

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