The term “Chemical Dependency” is often used in conjunction with and at times interchangeably with the terms: chemically dependent, chemical dependence, alcoholism, addiction, substance abuse, substance dependence, drug habit, and drug addiction. For our purposes, the term chemical dependency refers to a primary illness or disease which is characterized by addiction to a mood-altering chemical.
Chemical dependency includes both drug addiction and alcoholism (addiction to the drug alcohol). A chemically dependent person is unable to stop drinking or taking a particular mood-altering chemical despite serious health, economic, vocational, legal, spiritual, and social consequences. It is a disease that does not see age, sex, race, religion, or economic status. It is progressive and chronic and if left untreated can be fatal.
When a person is chemically dependent, they have lost the power of choice over using mood-altering chemicals. They may be able to stop for awhile, but they will return to its use again and again despite their best intentions and exertions of logic and willpower. For these reasons, chemical dependence (alcoholism and drug addiction) is said to be a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.
Chemical dependency is characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over drinking and/or drug use (prescribed or illegal), preoccupation with the mood-altering chemical, use of the addictive substance despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking–most notably denial.
Though the disease can’t be cured, it can be arrested and treated (kept in remission). The disease is far more complex than the mere use and abuse of mood-altering chemicals and recovery is far more complex than just becoming abstinent. Unfortunately, many addicts and alcoholics believe that if they can just get drug and alcohol free they will be o.k. and can turn their life around. Detox alone is rarely enough. In order to maintain abstinence one must make personal, interpersonal, and lifestyle changes. These take time– in fact, most professionals and recovering addicts and alcoholics believe that recovery from the disease of chemical dependency is a life-long process.