Certain substances are recognized by the scientific and medical communities as having addictive properties. Four of the leading and most common addictions are alcohol, nicotine, food, and drugs.
Alcohol: One of the Common Addictions
The legal use of alcohol and its general acceptance contribute to making alcohol one of the most common addictive substances. Transitioning from using alcohol occasionally to addiction is a process that usually develops over a period.
Alcohol is a powerful drug, though it is often not regarded as such. Signs of addiction include craving for a drink, loss of control over how much to consume, and the need to drink more to achieve intoxication. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that it can affect these areas of the body:
- Brain – By interfering with the communication pathways, alcohol can affect the way the brain functions. Changes in behavior and mood can result from the interference. Also, it affects the ability to think clearly and to move with normal coordination.
- Heart – While research indicates that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol may resist the onset of coronary heart disease. However, addiction impacts the heart negatively. An irregular heartbeat, arrhythmias, may occur as well as cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart muscle to stretch. Also, high blood pressure and stroke may result from addiction to alcohol.
- Liver – Processing alcohol is a function of the liver. Excessive alcohol use can lead to fatty liver, fibrosis, cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis.
- Pancreas – Toxic substances that the pancreas creates in response to alcohol can eventually result in inflammation that inhibits proper digestion.
- Cancer risk – Some types of cancer are associated with alcohol addiction, including esophagus, mouth and throat, breast and liver.
- Immune system damage – Research shows that excessive consumption of alcohol weakens the immune system and makes the body more susceptible to disease.
Addiction to Nicotine
Another of the most common addictions is smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars. This is a convenient and socially acceptable way for nicotine addicts to get satisfaction. However, their use is restricted to many public and private areas today. About 2 milligrams of nicotine enters a smoker’s bloodstream with each cigarette and makes its way to the brain and causes a release of adrenaline. Some effects on the body include an increase in heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that tobacco contains at least 19 chemicals that are related to cancer, among more than the 4,000 others. Addiction to nicotine produces different effects on different individuals, including these:
- decreased appetite, a condition that encourages some to start smoking and others to resist quitting
- increased blood pressure by as much as 5-10 mmHg
- increased heart rate by 10 to 20 beats every minute
- increased production of phlegm and saliva
- stimulation to the brain that improves alertness
- mood elevation
- increases in intestinal activity
Researchers believe that nicotine and tar in tobacco lead to a risk of increased health problems. These are two of the most common addictions that cause dangerous health problems.
Addiction to Food
An NIH study implicates addiction to food as a possible cause of chronic cravings, binge eating, compulsive overeating, and obesity. Foods that were identified in the study as likely to have addictive properties include sweets, fats, carbohydrates, processed foods and those containing high levels of salt.
Signs of food addiction include eating at times when hunger is not present, eating differently when other people are around, following a routine of binging and purging, heart problems, diminished energy level, sleep disorders and much more. When addiction to food results in obesity, the body experiences far-ranging negative effects that include these:
- Joint damage – Hips, and knees, as well as the lower back, endure stress when supporting the greater than normal weight of an obese person. The Mayo Clinic reports that the incidence of osteoarthritis increases as a result of obesity. The wear and tear on the protective cartilage that pads the ends of bones disintegrate eventually as a result of undue pressure.
- High blood pressure – The heart must work harder than normal to circulate the high requirement for oxygen and nutrients to fat tissue. Circulating the increased quantity of blood required by an obese condition increases the workload on the heart as well as the pressure on arterial walls.
- Heart disease – Hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis, occurs at a rate that is 10 times greater than normal in obese people. The buildup of fat deposits narrows the arteries that feed the heart muscle and leads to coronary artery disease. The reduced flow of blood to the heart can cause angina as well as a heart attack. Also, blood clots that cause strokes are more likely to occur.
- Diabetes – Obesity is a major cause of the common form of diabetes known as type 2 diabetes.
Addiction to Drugs
Drugs that lead to addiction include cocaine, heroin, marijuana, meth, and others. Impact on the body from certain drugs includes these:
- Cocaine – Heart damage that results in death can occur from addiction to cocaine. Its use can lead to heart failure, stroke, heart attack and arrhythmia.
- Heroin – The most serious negative effect of heroin is that an overdose can cause death. In addition, using shared equipment that is not sterile can cause kidney and liver disease, lung problems and infection of the lining of the heart.
- Marijuana – Some researchers suggest a link between addiction to marijuana to lung cancer, but it is not proven. Low testosterone levels and sperm count are more frequent among addicts than among non-addicts.
- Meth – Addiction to meth has long-term effects that include weight loss, anxiety, dental deterioration, paranoia, delusions, and insomnia. The body experiences an increase in negative responses that include rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and increased respiration.
A variety of other addictions can also wreak havoc in a person’s life such as:
There seems to be no limit to the types of things a human can become obsessed with. Regardless of the substance or behavior involved, there are effective treatment programs available to help anyone overcome these common addictions.