Chronic Illnesses Related to Drug Addiction and Alcoholism

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Chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and hypertension can be used to compare drug addiction and alcoholism and it should be treated as such, according to an article published in a year 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Authors Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., and Herbert D. Kleber, M.D., conducted a literature review of those illnesses, revealing that there are underlying similarities between drug addiction, alcohol addiction and chronic diseases. Yet, say the researchers, drug addiction is typically treated as if it is an acute condition. Altering perceptions to think of drug addiction as a chronic illness may change the way it is treated and insured.

The researchers found that drug addiction and alcoholism shares many of the characteristics of other chronic illnesses. In the area of genetic heritability, for example, studies of monozygotic and dizygotic twins have found heritability estimates of .25 to .50 for hypertension; .80 for type 2 and .30 for type 1 diabetes; and .36 to .70 for asthma. Heritability estimates for the drug addictions are similar, ranging from .34 for heroin dependence, .55 for alcoholism, .52 for marijuana dependence, and .61 for dependence on cigarettes.

Typically, both medical professionals and the general public view drug abuse as voluntary activities. That people choose to use drugs seems to set drug addiction and alcohol adidiction apart from other chronic illnesses. Yet, there are many chronic illnesses in which voluntary choice affects initiation and maintenance of disease. Salt sensitivity, obesity, stress level, and physical inactivity, all within voluntary control, are important factors in the development of hypertension.

Drug addiction and alcoholism also resembles other chronic illnesses in regard to treatment response. The course that a drug addiction takes if left untreated is an important issue in this regard. Studies comparing treated and untreated populations of addicts revealed that that untreated, addictions do not remit.

Chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and hypertension can be used to compare drug addiction and alcoholism.
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