Welcome to the second part of a nine-part series on the big areas of life that addiction/alcoholism and recovery can and need to have(for the recovery part)on our life in general. Please go into whatever archives exist on the site you are reading this to find the article from May of this year so you can get caught up on the main four areas. For the sake of bringing some people up to speed and for a quick reminder for those who read last month’s article, the main or fabulous four areas of life are: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual. Again, see the archives for a detailed breakdown of these areas. This month, we are going to take a closer look at some of the ways that addiction and alcoholism affect the physical part of our lives. Of course, there is so much information on this that it would literally take us at least a few years of daily articles to cover it all. Since you have no desire to spend that much time reading and ditto for me typing, we will cover some basics. As with all articles, I encourage you to do as much further research as you can/want on the subject.
How does addiction work? I get this question a lot and to keep it simple, we will look at some of this info using layman’s terms so we all can be on the same page. Basically, the part of the brain affected by drugs can be referenced as the “rat brain”(a shout out to the fact that our brains function similar to that of a rat and the fact that many early forms of drug addiction testing was done on rats). The “rat brain” tells us as people that we need basically three things. To eat food, to drink water, and to procreate. What a drug addict or alcoholics brain tells them due to the addictive nature of the drug combined with the brain chemistry of the user, is that the drug or alcohol of abuse is as important or as a life essential as the three main functions that part of the brain is responsible for. When testing was done on rats by injecting certain drugs into their midbrains, the rats who were made addicted by hitting a button until they got a dose of their drugs, would hit that button until their death. They would not eat, they would not drink, they would not procreate. They would simply hit the button until they died of exhaustion or starvation. This effect, although not as exact in humans, shows just how powerful the drug can be physically on the brain. More on the mental side later.
What can drugs or alcohol do to the body? Many negative things from a physical standpoint. Alcohol(which has the scientific composition of a type of poison)alone can contribute to gastrointestinal problems, blood thinning, bursting of blood vessels, heart issues, bloating, rapid increase in appearance of age especially in women, libido or sexual health issue, any number of other issues and of course the big two, cirrhosis of the liver and wet brain. Cirrhosis of the liver, if not treated immediately(and even then if it is in late stage)is almost always fatal and wet brain is when your brain reverts to an almost infantile or lower status of functioning. A person with a wet brain will never live independently again and would be full reliant on caretaking for the rest of their life. Other drugs have different effects but almost all of them are pretty brutal. Crystal Meth can and usually leads to loss of teeth and facial, self-inflicted picking scars and wounds. Cocaine use can ruin and eliminate all the cartilage in a person’s nose. Heroin use can cause jaundice of the liver, marijuana can cause harm to the lungs, and on and on. Again the list is long but you get the point. Drug and alcohol use, especially long-term and frequent will lead to negative physical consequences. It is not a matter of if, only when. This is why many in the field refer to addiction and alcoholism as a fatal disease.
What about detox or quitting? Well, while most drugs will cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms(heroin or opiate abuse being the most famous), there is actually little documented danger in coming off of most drugs(do not confuse this with medical advice. I am not a doctor. Please at least consult a doctor prior to stopping any drug use). What many people don’t know however, because of its effects on the body and brain, is that alcohol detox can be fatal. An alcoholic or a suspected alcoholic should always be evaluated by a medical doctor before attempting to stop using alcohol. Benzodiazepines such as valium or Xanax are the other class of drugs that absolutely require medical supervision to come off of. Please remember this when helping yourself or a loved one.
As you can see alcohol and drugs can take a major toll on our physical well being. We didn’t even brush the surface of how poorly addicts and alcoholics maintain a healthy diet or any exercise regiment. You can use your best thinking to figure out, it’s not very good. Taco Bell at 4 am 5 days a week and running from the police is not what we have in mind when we mention a healthy diet and exercise! Again, please use the internet, talk to professionals, and access other sources of information to learn what you can do to help your loved one in their physical recovery. I can’t wait until next month when we can talk about some of the positives that recovery has on our physical selves.
Try to stay cool and have a great summer!