Collegiate Chemical Dependency

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Nov 16, 2011 in , , | No Comments

When does drinking or taking illegal drugs move from “fun” to chemical dependency?

Binge drinking and illegal drugs on college campuses are as commonplace as textbooks–probably more so. But when does it move from experimentation and “having fun” to chemical dependency? Would you know if you, or your roommate or friends, were developing a serious problem?

In this blog I am not judging anyone for their decision to party by getting drunk or taking illegal drugs. Rather, I’m presenting known facts to help you decide if you, or those you know, have stepped over an invisible line.

What is Chemical Dependency?

It is classified as a “disease”, and can be diagnosed by it’s symptomatology–a list of distinct characteristics of the disease–enabling professionals to recognize it’s presence and effects. One symptom of alcoholism, for example, is a compulsion to drink inappropriately, unpredictably, excessively and constantly. An alcoholics behavior fluctuates, with many extremes, which confuses and upsets those around them. Often, alcoholics are unaware they have a problem, even when confronted. Basically, they have to drink and might even protest that they possess control over whether they want to drink or not. But the reality is they don’t have control. This same scenario holds true for drug addicts.

Physical and Psychological Toll

An estimated 25-50% of admissions to hospitals and mental institutions are alcohol related. The physical tolls read like a laundry list: gastritis, cirrhosis of the liver, deterioration of blood vessels to the brain, breakdown of esophagus lining, alcoholic myopathy (muscle weakness), impotence in men and menstrual difficulties in women, mental deterioration, and alcohol-related heart disease, to name just a few.

Predictable and Progressive Course

What the experts mean when they refer to chemical dependency as being progressive is that if it goes untreated, it always gets worse. There isn’t a magic pill to take, and all the love in the world won’t cure an addicted person of their addiction. There may be times when they slow down, or speed up their usage, but this disease is multiphasic–affecting them on all levels–physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

This disease is chronic in nature, they don’t wake up one day and decide not to be addicted. It’s permanent, unless the person seeks help and then with proper care, can live a productive life if they abstain from mood-altering chemicals. But without proper help and abstinence, this is a fatal disease. Insurance statistics show that an alcoholic who continues drinking has an average life span shorter than a sober person by as much as 15 years–in the best case scenario.

It’s Treatable

The media is flooded with celebrities who have gone into rehab, some multiple times, seeking treatment for their addictions. Often they’ll appear on talk shows, or write a book, or become the poster child of the month for their addiction. Through their graphic testimonies, we can learn even the most addicted person can turn their life around. However, there isn’t a cure because addicts will fight their urges on a daily basis and use the word “recovering” to describe their state.

Some addicts can go into rehab and never go back again, others make repeat visits to finally get it right. The important thing is, they are getting help.

Starting Point

There are different theories about where it all starts–some say it’s hereditary–others say it’s a learned behavior in a family where addiction is present. I once saw a brain scan of a 35 year old alcoholic father and his 8 year old son. The scans were nearly identical. Even though the boy had never touched a drop of alcohol, he had a similar brain scan. People who are predisposed to becoming alcoholics (because it “runs in their family”) are wise to never touch alcohol. In some cases, they can become addicted instantly after taking their first drink.

But what of people who don’t have chemical dependency in their family? They can still become alcohol or drug addicted.

One contributing factor to alcohol or drug abuse may be peer pressure in school. Numbers of children in elementary school experiment with addictive substances, setting themselves up for full blown addiction before they leave high school. Then, they arrive on a college campus. Living life on their own for the first time, they find their new freedom and the availability of their substance of choice to be a kind of “heaven”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for heaven to turn into hell.

Then there are people who think they can forget their loneliness, fears, disappointments, lost loves, lousy parents and financial troubles by drinking or taking drugs. What usually happens is drugs and alcohol can actually magnify those issues.

What to do?

People who are chemical dependent need help now. Seek out those who can assist you with an intervention, or who can talk directly to the addicted person. The problem of chemical dependency won’t go away, and it won’t get better without professional help.


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