Outward signs of alcohol and other substance addictions may include: depression, frequent accidents, work absences, tremors, anxiety or lethargy (depending on the substance used), hallucinations, mood swings, nausea, and bingeing.
Addictions can be caused by allergies, biochemical imbalances, genetics, and/or malabsorption of nutrients.
Allergies: A strong correlation between addiction and allergies can exist in certain patients. Craving for any substance may suggest a present, allergic condition. An addict's withdrawal symptoms are almost identical to certain allergic conditions. When an allergenic substance is removed from the diet or environment, symptoms can range from tremors, cramps, sweating, prostration, vomiting, and hallucinations. Alcohol is the classic substance that fits this description.
Many of the foods from which alcohol is made—particularly grains, corn derivatives, sugars, and yeast—are common allergens. Alcoholics are often addicted to these foods and thus perpetuate their allergies with excessive drinking.
Biochemical Imbalances: Addictions may be a way of restoring natural body chemicals through artificial and destructive means. The body produces its own natural mood enhancers and painkillers, called neurotransmitters. Addicts, or those with the greatest addictive potential, may lack these natural stimulants (catecholamines) and relaxants (endorphins). The addictive brain may send incorrect messages to the body through malfunctioning neurotransmitters.
The brains of those predisposed to alcoholism may not produce enough of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which influences mood and produces feelings of pleasure. Alcohol increases the levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulates other pleasurable neurotransmitters such as serotonin and glutamate. Chronic heavy drinking may hard-wire this chemical reward system into the brain's structure, building new neural pathways that insistently demand alcohol, to induce the pleasurable feelings.
Serotonin is a calming, painkilling substance that is secreted in response to carbohydrate and sugar consumption. Sugar addiction may be an attempt to replenish serotonin in the system. People who feel depressed, anxious, and tense—the right conditions for substance abuse—may feel satiated and calm after consumption of a snack due to the release of serotonin.
Genetic Causes: Long perceived as a problem of weak willpower, substance abuse is now considered a "disease," similar in development to diabetes. A genetic predisposition is usually present. Family, environment, society, diet and other factors can trigger the disposition. Even when stabilized, an addict must closely monitor the addictive substance throughout his or her lifetime.
Malabsorption of Nutrients: The normal population of microorganisms housed in the gut is severely disturbed in alcoholics and may lead to malabsorption of fats, protein, carbohydrates, folic acid, and vitamin B12. This disruption, together with a more permeable or leaky gut, allows foreign and toxic substances to cross the intestinal wall. As a result, allergies may develop that provoke alcohol and substance cravings, leading to addiction. The process of addiction thru malabsorption of nutrients has three-stages:
First is the initial trauma to the body caused by these malabsorbed undigested food particles entering the blood stream. The liver becomes overwhelmed and the immune system undergoes stress and confusion. In an attempt to protect itself from these undigested toxic invaders, the body drops its blood sugar levels, which then spirals us into food cravings.
The second stage of this process is adaptation; a phase in which the body starts to crave foods it cannot digest. Such foods – typically dairy, wheat, eggs, chocolate, sugar, or alcohol – must then be consumed in increasing amounts to avoid the pains of withdrawal. A similar adaptation process occurs with other addictive substances, including nicotine and drugs.
The final stage, degeneration, refers to the serious illnesses that can result from addiction, including alcoholism, Crohn's disease, diabetes, and obesity.