A lot of the time, people considering entering rehab will be reluctant to enter a facility which caters for people suffering from addiction to different substances than themselves. For example, many alcoholics feel that they will not have anything in common with heroin users. In this situation I always tell the person concerned that whilst the substance may be different, the behaviours around the substance are likely to be the same; both people are likely to feel ashamed, be secretive about their substance use, will have lost things important to them as a result of their substance use etc. In this way, I am able to demonstrate why it is that residential rehabilitation centres are able to cater for a multitude of addictions and still produce successful results.
However, I have recently had a discussion with a friend in the field that highlighted the differences between those who abuse alcohol and those who abuse other substances. This led me to do more research and to discover that it is estimated that only 10% of our population possess the physical propensity towards alcoholism, just about anyone can become addicted to certain other substances. This is also possible to happen over a very short period of time; I recently bought some over-the-counter painkillers for tension headaches which clearly displayed they were not to be taken for more than three concurrent days due to the possibility of addiction. The same is not true of alcohol. The majority of people will experience ill-effects if they drink a vast quantity of alcohol; the liver will recognise that the level of toxins within the body has reached unacceptable limits and the person will vomit. Upon vomiting, most individuals will give up on their evening and go home to bed. Not so with a true alcoholic; a chronic alcoholic will not let vomiting stand in the way of seeking another drink after occurring.
In cases of alcohol addiction, the person is also likely to have experienced black-outs, whereby they experience an amnesia-like state that prevents them remembering events that have occurred whilst inebriated. This is fairly uncommon with a number of narcotics. Those using substances may be perturbed by their actions when under the influence, but alcohol is destructive in the fact that once the person comes round from their black-out, they are likely to want to drink again immediately.
Now in no way am I saying that having an alcohol addiction is any better or worse for a person than having a substance abuse problem; I recognise that both have the potential to ruin a person’s life and the lives of those around them. However, I think the media can often have the tendency to demonise drug addiction, and I think it is important that people are also just as aware of the dangers of readily available legal substances such as alcohol when considering substance abuse vs alcoholism.
What do you think? Do you see one addiction as any more dangerous than another? Should all addictions be treated in the same manner? Let us know your thoughts.