Loss of control in its broader sense encompasses both the relative inability of an addict to terminate consumption once initiated and the inability to refrain from substance use following a period of abstinence (Lyvers, 2000). This has been attributed to impairments in the area of the brain that is responsible for executive functions including behavioural autonomy and self control.

Impairments to the frontal lobe following long term chronic substance use may result in compulsive behaviour (Lyvers, 2000). Typically, addicts cannot predict or determine how much of the drug they intend to use and for how long they will use it. Loss of control is manifested by the following:

Using more of the substance than intended

Once a person with an addiction gets rolling, it can be hard to stop. Substance use almost always takes longer than they say because they have little ability to control the amount they have. When addicted, the person can become oblivious to the passage of time or other obligations they may have.

For example:

Your roommate says he’s just going to have one or two beers over at a friend’s place. You drop by about an hour later and find that he’s finished a six pack and is heading into a new one. A woman tells her husband she’s going to have a drink after supper. Two hours later, her husband has noticed her refilling at least four times.

Using the substance longer than the intended time

It is often difficult for addicted individuals to stop use once they have start (Coombs & Howatt, 2005).

For example: A husband tells his wife he’s just going to watch the game and drink a few beers at a friend’s house, then he’ll come home and they’ll go out for dinner. However, he doesn’t come home in time for dinner, and his wife can’t reach him. He and his friends had gotten drunk during the game and went down to the public bar for a few hours.

Not being able to keep track of how much of the substance they have used

Addicts almost always underestimate the amount they have used. They usually are not keeping track in the first place because again, their indulgence is not done in a socially responsible manner.

For example: If you ask an alcoholic how much they have consumed, you will invariably get some strange answers. Some will swear they only had four or five, even when their Blood Alcohol Content shows higher concentrations than what would be accountable if having four or five. Or, they may simply say, “I don’t know,” which is probably the most accurate answer.