Addictive behaviors/dependencies are a complex condition, which is manifested by the compulsive use of substances – alcohol, drugs or tobacco – despite their harmful effects on health. People with addictions feel an intense craving for a certain substance and find it difficult to stop using it. Over time, they develop a certain tolerance, which makes them need larger and larger amounts.47 In some of these substances (for example heroin) a physical dependence also develops, which translates into the appearance of symptoms withdrawal period when consumption is suddenly reduced or stopped.

In general, people start consuming these substances for a variety of reasons: to feel better, to perform better, out of curiosity or because of the influence of others.48

  • Alcohol

Alcohol is considered a psychotropic drug with depressant effects on the central nervous system, that is, it causes changes in the behavior of those who consume it, and may even cause dependence. Despite its harmful effects, it is the most accepted psychotropic substance in Westernized societies and its consumption is even encouraged.49

Alcohol is closely linked to major causes of death, including cardiovascular and oncological diseases, road accidents, suicides and liver cirrhosis.50 It is estimated that in 2012 its consumption caused the death of 3.3 million people. worldwide, which represents 5.9% of deaths on a global scale.51

After drinking alcohol, the initial feeling is of euphoria and disinhibition. This is followed by a state of drowsiness, blurred vision, muscle incoordination and decreased ability to react. In the long term, the effects of alcohol consumption are devastating and affect several vital organs, causing brain deterioration, heart changes, liver problems such as hepatitis and cirrhosis, gastritis and ulcers, inflammation of the pancreas, among others.52

Some of the signs of dependence are: feeling a great need to consume alcoholic beverages; inability to control consumption; alcohol tolerance; persistence in substance use despite evidence of harmful consequences and withdrawal syndrome.53

Sudden withdrawal of alcohol in dependent people can trigger a severe withdrawal syndrome, which can cause several symptoms. Between the twelve and sixteen hours following deprivation of drink, a feeling of restlessness, nervousness and anxiety arises. Several hours later, muscle cramps, tremors, nausea, vomiting and great irritability may appear. In the most severe cases, from the second day onwards, the so-called “delirium tremens” appears, characterized by mental confusion, disorientation and the appearance of delusions and hallucinations.52

  • Other Drugs

In addition to being addictive and causing many harmful health effects, drug abuse often coexists with other mental disorders. In some cases, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia can predate drug abuse. In other situations, drug abuse can trigger or exacerbate mental disorders, especially in the most vulnerable individuals..54

Both psychotic substance abuse and other mental disorders are caused by a set of overlapping factors, such as genetic vulnerabilities and early exposure to stress or trauma.55