The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that affects the circuitry of the brain and has social, psychological, biological, and spiritual consequences.
But many addicted people are seemingly apathetic towards these consequences. This is largely due to the impaired executive functioning of the brain caused by addiction, which skews perceptions, interferes with emotional responses, and causes problems with judgment, all of which reduce the ability to recognize destructive behaviors and identify significant problems with interpersonal relationships.
Denial is Central to Addiction
According to addiction and codependency expert Darlene Lancer, denial is a core symptom of addiction due to this distorted perception of reality, and even though others may be able to clearly see the consequences of your addiction on your physical, mental, and social health, you may not.
But Lancer and scores of other addiction experts cite the acceptance of reality as the catalyst for change. You may be having difficulties seeing the consequences of your addiction, but once you are able to acknowledge that your addiction is causing problems in your life – and will continue to do so as long as it remains untreated – you will begin to see that you are not powerless against it, and you can begin the hard work of reversing the consequences of your addiction and preventing those that haven’t yet occurred.
The Cost of Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction has negative consequences for both the individual and society. The total cost of substance abuse and addiction in the U.S. exceeds $600 billion every year, but that bottom line doesn’t begin to describe the deeply personal consequences of addiction related to physical and mental health, the disintegration of familial and social relationships, and the reality of the legal and financial hardships associated with addiction.
The National Institutes on Drug Abuse cites a long list of physical health problems that are directly associated with drug and alcohol addiction, including cancer, stroke, heart attack, hormonal imbalances, musculoskeletal problems, respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal effects, and damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and heart.
Other medical problems associated with substance addiction include an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis and an increased risk of death due to overdose.
Mental Health Consequences
The brain changes caused by addiction lead to problems with memory, decision making, learning, and attention (4). These changes are also associated with the onset of or worsening of various mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and personality disorders, and they can lead to aggression, paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis.
The far-reaching effects of addiction on families is devastating. According to a study published in the journal Social Work in Public Health, every family member of an addicted person is affected by the addiction. These negative impacts include attachment problems and unmet developmental needs of children, emotional chaos, disruption of routines and rituals, and financial hardship.
This study also notes that parents who have a substance abuse problem are three times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child, and these children are 40 percent more likely to commit a violent crime and over 50 percent more likely to be arrested as juveniles.
Regardless of the presence of abuse, children of addicted individuals are more likely to develop a substance use disorder themselves.
The legal consequences of drug abuse – DUI arrests, charges of drug possession, custody battles, and other legal problems – cause further breakdown of the family, put a strain on other social relationships, and increase financial hardship due to job loss and legal costs. Additionally, a criminal record may result in a loss of social status and the inability to find employment in certain fields later on.
There is Hope
Beating an addiction and reversing or preventing its consequences is hard work, but a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program that takes a holistic approach to recovery can lead to successful long-term sobriety, repaired relationships, and overall higher quality of life for all involved.