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Elizabeth Hartney, PhD

Are Addicts Dangerous?

By May 1, 2011

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Finding out someone has an addiction can be a shock for many friends and relatives. But if the addiction has taken hold of your partner, teenage child, or someone else you live with, you may also be wondering whether there are any dangers the addict might bring to yourself and your loved ones

In How to Spot a Dangerous Man, a self help book for women who tend to be attracted to abusive men, "the addict" is presented as one of eight types of dangerous man. Alcohol and drug addicts, as well as those hooked on the full range of behavioral addictions, including sex addiction, food addiction, problem gambling, and even experiences such as achievement, approval, thrill seeking and religion, not typically identified as addiction, are listed as dangerous men. In addition, many of the other categories of dangerous men overlap with the addict, including the mentally ill man, the abusive or violent man, and the emotionally unavailable man.  Although this book is about dangerous men, and more men than women are identified as having addictions, women and children can also develop addictions and can be dangerous.

Although having an addiction doesn't make you dangerous automatically, there are several ways that dangers to other people can occur. Whether or not an addict is dangerous depends on many factors, including the severity of the addiction, the effects of the drug or behavior itself, their underlying mental and physical health, their life circumstances, and whether they perceive any threats to themselves, or their access to their addictive substance or behavior.

When people ask whether addicts are dangerous, they are usually worried about the threat of violence. Overall, the risk of violence is higher in people with addictions, and in particular, when the addiction is to psychoactive substances that lower impulse control, impair judgement, and cause the person to lose their grip on reality. Particularly risky are alcohol, meth, and cocaine -- vulnerable people such as children, elderly and disabled people should not be left in the care of individuals under the influence of these substances, as the risk of violence and abuse is increased.

Other dangers include the risk of theft -- anything from stealing cash and possessions to emptying your bank account to cover the cost of drugs, gambling and even shopping addiction,  and sexual abuse, which is perpetrated more frequently by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or by sex addicts. You or your loved ones could also be traumatized by being exposed to self-harm, finding the addict sick or unconscious from an overdose, or being harrassed by debtors or drug dealers.

Although trust is important in relationships, secrecy and lying are common among addicts, so err on the side of caution if you are at all uncertain of what their addiction involves. Rebuilding trust takes time and effort, and the first step is for the addict to get help. If they are unable or unwilling to enter treatment, it is important to set boundaries to protect yourself and your loved ones, and to avoid inadvertently enabling the addict.

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