Addiction is classified as a chronic relapsing disease that most directly affects the brain. Due to the chemical, structural, and functional changes that occur in the brain as a result of substance abuse, addiction causes a number of profound changes for addicts. These changes include, but are not limited to, such effects as declining health, damage to or destruction of important relationships with loved ones, irrationality and poor judgment that often results in criminal behavior, financial instability and unemployment, homelessness, and even death. In fact, when addiction is left untreated indefinitely, it will almost surely cost the addict his or her life.
Over the years, rates of addiction have continued to increase, leading to what are currently the highest addiction rates that we’ve yet seen on both a national and global level. Addiction to alcohol and illicit drugs cost the United States $417 billion each year in costs related to “crime, lost work productivity, and health care” not including what addicts are spending to maintain their substance abuse habits.
In addition to the financial cost of addiction on both addicts in particular and society as a whole, drug-related deaths have steadily increased not only over the past several decades, but especially over the course of the last several years. Rates of addiction to opioids like heroin and prescription pain medications have led to a fivefold increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths from 2001 to 2013, which represents an astronomical increase that’s as startling as it is telling.
Although it’s common knowledge that addiction is deadly, it’s assumed that the main or even the only way that addiction can be fatal is via overdose. While overdose is a very common cause of death among addicts, there are many other ways that individuals can become casualties of alcohol and drug addiction. Here are the main ways that addicts lose their lives as a result of a substance abuse disorder.
Death from Alcohol and Drug Overdose
Naturally, the first and most obvious way that addiction kills addicts is due to overdose. Substance abuse disorders commonly begin as a result of experimentation with alcohol and drugs. The user enjoys the feeling of intoxication and begins consuming the substance more and more frequently; however, as the individual’s tolerance increases, he or she must increase dosage of the substance in order to achieve the same effect, which leads to taking dangerously large quantities of the drug in a single dose and making individuals highly susceptible to overdose on a continuous basis.
Especially with street drugs like heroin and cocaine that contain varying levels of adulterants that dilute the drug, users with a high tolerance might obtain a batch of the drug that’s much stronger than they’re used to taking. This makes overdose almost a certainty because the addict will take a high dose of the substance, a dosage that he or she has become accustomed to taking, while unaware that the batch is abnormally strong. Of all the drugs that are commonly abused today, this is perhaps most common among users of heroin. However, it is possible for those who are addicted to a number of other drugs as well.
According to the addiction death rates, there were 183,000 deaths in countries all over the globe that were attributable to overdose in 2012 with the majority of those deaths being due to opioid overdose. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were 41,340 overdose deaths in the United States alone, which breaks down to almost five deaths per hour over the course of the year. In many industrialized countries, the rate of overdose deaths has surpassed the rate of fatalities due to traffic accidents. As such, it’s clear that the death rates resulting from overdosing on mind-altering substances are still a major problem and that addiction is a leading cause of death around the world.
Death from a Lethal Combination of Drugs
Although many addicts will intentionally mix substances for several reasons—perhaps to layer the effects of different classes of drugs simultaneously or to amplify the effects of certain substances by combining them with other drugs—it’s also common for individuals who have multiple legitimate prescriptions to combine them in a way that’s unknowingly lethal, resulting in their death. However, whether it’s intentional or unintentional the fact remains that consuming more than one substance at once compounds the danger of abusing just one substance at a time.
Many substances, especially those that belong to different or conflicting classes, are incredibly dangerous when ingested at the same time, which can amplify an individual’s intoxication, make him or her very ill, or even result in death. Among the many lethal combinations, some of the most common include mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines, alcohol with opiates, and opiates with benzodiazepines.
Death from Severe Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms are known to occur either after an extended period without dosing a substance on which an individual is physically dependent or after abruptly and completely ceasing consumption of a substance on which an individual is physically dependent, often referred to as quitting a substance “cold turkey.” The severe withdrawal symptoms experienced during an alcoholic’s detox from alcohol is called, fittingly, alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
The onset of symptoms typically occurs when an alcoholic abruptly abstains from alcohol consumption rather than doing a “slow taper,” affecting the central nervous system and causing a number of dangerous symptoms that can include seizures and delirium tremens, or a state of severe tremors and delirium. When these symptoms persist or become increasingly severe rather than subsiding, the individual may require medical intervention, perhaps with benzodiazepines, to prevent the situation from becoming life-threatening.
However, alcohol isn’t the only substance from which a person’s withdrawal can be life-threatening. According to research, withdrawal from other substances—specifically benzodiazepines and methadone, which is commonly administered to opiate addicts participating in replacement treatment—can potentially be fatal in cases when an individual’s physical dependence has been long-term and is especially severe. In these and other cases when an individual’s withdrawal symptoms are severe, it’s recommended that such individuals participate in a medical detox program in which they can be supervised by a physician during this period rather than risking death by detoxing at home.
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction to alcohol and drugs, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help. Call us today so you can speak with one of our recovery specialists who can help you to find the addiction treatment program that you or your loved one needs to regain sobriety and find fulfillment in life once again.