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Are Drug Addiction & Alcoholism Different?

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Is the junkie shooting dope that much different than the alcoholic who drinks a bottle-a-day? Does the addicted brain treat alcohol and drugs the same, or is it a different problem altogether? How much of a similarity exists between a person who abuses alcohol and another who abuses pills, powders, illegal drugs, etc.?This post explores the lengthy controversy over whether drug addiction and alcoholism are the same or different.

Cultural Divide

Perhaps the biggest difference between drug addiction and alcoholism is that alcohol is legal and socially acceptable. Humans have been drinking alcohol, to excess, for thousands of years. While alcoholism isn’t socially approved, it is certainly not as taboo as drug addiction. While drugs like cocaine or amphetamines may make the user more social, they are certainly looked down on by the majority of our society. Because of the illegality of drug usage, finding drugs dealers, buying drugs, and using drugs is more riskier and even dangerous than going to the liquor store or bars.In treatment centers and in 12 step programs, much effort is spent classify someone as an addict or alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that drug addiction shouldn’t be mentioned at meetings. The truth is that the issue of “addict or alcoholic” may not be as important as it seems.

Drug addiction and alcoholism can take people to similar places. They can lead to jail, bankruptcy, divorce, and homelessness. Addicts are prone to overdoses, alcoholics are prone to accidents. A person at the advanced stages of alcoholism sitting next to a seasoned addict would often fool the casual observer.

Scientific Similarities


When we look at alcoholism and drug addiction from a medical point of view we see their core reflections. Don’t forget, alcohol is a drug. Just like caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and heroin. More specifically, alcohol is a Central Nervous System depressant. It causes the CNS to decrease activity, slowing certain brain functions. Alcohol lowers our reaction time, lowers our inhibitions, and decreases anxiety. It acts much like other depressant drugs like sedatives and benzodiazepines.

The reason people become alcoholics is the same reason people become addicts. The most supported theory is that alcoholics and addicts disorder originates in thebrain’s reward-pathways. Dopamine releasing drugs, including alcohol, affect the addicted brain differently than a normal person. This leads to a mental and sometimes physical dependence upon the substance. When we compare alcohol and illegal drugs from a medical and scientific standpoint we see more similarities than differences.

Human figure made out of pills running in fear from a monster made of pills. The monster is symbolic of the epidemic of overmedication, addiction to pain medications and the stronghold of pharmaceutical companies. Commentary on doctors’ willingness to prescribe drugs even when not necessary. Could show breaking free from the addiction.

Addiction comes in all shapes and sizes.

Treating Addiction & Alcoholism


I believe that alcoholism and drug addiction are the same disorder, caused by the same disease of addiction. The differences that occur from drug addiction and alcoholism are just the different side-effects of the specific drug. Addiction affects everyone differently. Some people are able to function fairly well and maintain a decent life. Other people end up dead or homeless before age 30. These are the individual differences between each person and their situation. While their are some general differences between drug addicts and alcoholics, there are certainly no absolutes.

After detox, which is specific to the type of drug abused, treatment begins. Experience and evidence has shown that the treatment for drug addiction and alcoholism is practically identical. Whether you opt for addiction therapy or 12 step groups, the methods are very similar. Overcoming addiction is about coming to terms with your inability to drink or use drugs successfully. It is then followed by a dedication to sobriety. It requires a change in habits, perspective, and action. Regardless of drugs or alcohol, the path to recovery is the same.


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