Lindsay Lohan's and Charlie Sheen's very public battles with alcohol and drug abuse may be capturing most of the headlines this spring, but they're hardly alone in their struggles. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.5 million people aged 12 or older are in need of treatment for illicit drug use or alcoholism. How to tell a habit from an addiction?
“Lots of people try drugs,” says Kathryn Cunningham, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston. “But only a small percentage meets the criteria for addiction.” With alcohol, about 15-20 percent of users will become alcoholics, Cunningham says. For narcotics, the number is smaller -- about 7-10 percent. So what makes the difference between a casual user and an addict? “If your family and friends are complaining about your drug use or suggesting you slow down, you miss work on Monday because of binge drinking on the weekend or you’re arrested for drunk driving, those are indications,” says Cunningham. Strong cravings, an inability to stop once the drinking or drug use has begun, withdrawal symptoms such as sweating and anxiety and the need to take more and more of the substance to get the same high are also warning signs.