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March 20, 2018  |  Login
Substance Abuse
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Substance abuse is a dependency-whether psychological, physical, or both-on drugs (including on prescription medications and alcohol). No one knows why some people develop such a dependency while others don't, but evidence indicates that genetics, environment, and individual psychology all have roles to play in the illness.

Drugs and alcohol can cause severe damage to almost every system in the body. Both of them have a toxic effect on the liver, an organ whose functioning is crucial to many bodily systems. Obviously, brain damage is always a concern. Aside from the very real possibility of a fatal overdose-the likelihood of which increases if drugs and alcohol are mixed-abusing drugs can create several life-threatening conditions.

The free radicals in these substances are carcinogenic, and addicts experience a high rate of breast, mouth, esophageal, and liver cancers. Cocaine and heroin can severely damage the heart. Shared needles can lead to AIDS and hepatitis transmission. Drugs can also cause mental disorders, such as anxiety, panic, and depression; kidney failure from excessive urine production (this is especially a problem for alcoholics); stroke and impotence, as a result of a depressed central nervous system; and a host of other disorders that result from a suppressed immune system. Substance abuse is the leading cause of traffic fatalities and plays a significant role in homicides, suicides, spousal and child abuse, and other violent acts.

Effective treatment begins when an addict makes the decision to give up drugs or alcohol. The process, however, rarely ends there. Many people suffer from withdrawal symptoms, which include heart problems, sweats, tremors, dehydration, seizures, and hallucinations. It is often a good idea to have medical supervision during this period. In addition, most serious users will need to address the psychological components of their addiction and may benefit from therapy or from a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. Spiritual support is also strongly advised.

Biochemical imbalances can predispose one to drug dependency. For example, people who are prone to biochemical depression may use alcohol or drugs as a crutch. People with alcoholism often have a blood-sugar imbalance and candidiasis (see the candidiasis page for more information), which increase their alcohol cravings. Other nutrient deficiencies may worsen their susceptibility to becoming addicted.

Complementary therapies for drug dependency and withdrawal focus on balancing the body's systems and address underlying emotional, mental, and spiritual disorders. Detoxification using natural therapies improves the person's vitality.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Substance Abuse

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