Chemical dependence is a primarily genetic, chronic progressive disease of the brain that is characterized by the intermittent inconsistent loss of control over the use of mood-altering drugs, resulting in repetitive adverse consequences to the user. The basic brain problem of this disease of chemical dependence or “addiction” appears to be an inability to consistently control the use of drugs that produce an acute or quick surge of dopamine in the brain. This surge of dopamine leads to a feeling of euphoria or “high.”
chemical dependence is an illness that affects 10-13% of Americans at some time in their lives. Surprisingly, rates are the same for all cultural groups, all socioeconomic groups, and even groups with different educational levels. Lifetime prevalence rates are lower than this only in elderly women. Women born before 1935 have a high rate (as high as 50%) of lifetime abstinence from even low levels of experimentation with mood-altering drugs, and thus many may have never activated a potential addictive disease. However, women born since 1950 experiment with mood-altering drugs at the exact same rate as their male counterparts, and are activating the disease of addiction at exactly the same rate. Therefore, being female is not a protective factor from the disease of addiction, but being abstinent is a protective factor for women or men.
chemical dependence is one stage on the continuum of mood-altering substance use in our society. This continuum of use ranges from abstinence, to low risk or “social” use, to substance abuse, to the disease of addiction. A more full description of chemical dependence or addictive diseases and suggested readings are in the entry entitled Substance use.
SEE ALSO: Addiction, Substance use