Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. It tricks the brain into thinking that drugs are essential despite negative consequences. Addiction compels individuals to go to great lengths to acquire their drugs of abuse.
In 2013, more than half of new illicit drug users were under 18 years of age, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While initial drug use is voluntary and typically begins with experimentation, repeated use can affect a person’s self-control, inducing cravings. These cravings often drive an ongoing addiction.
A drug is any substance that creates physiological effects when it enters the body. These effects can range from relieving the symptoms of a sore throat to terrifying audio-visual hallucinations. Some drugs are legal, very common, and widely used (for example, Caffeine). Others are only legal when taken with a prescription under the supervision of a physician, such as many Painkillers. Finally, some drugs are illegal under all circumstances. Generally, these drugs are more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous, but they are still taken by millions of Americans. Both legal and prescription drugs are often taken recreationally and can lead to addiction.
Illicit drugs comprise opioids, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens and cannabis.
The term opioids describe natural opiates, such as morphine, and synthetic drugs made from opium. These drugs are used medically as pain relievers. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and other organs in the body, reducing an individual’s perception of pain. Opioids include heroin and opium as well as prescription medications such as fentanyl, oxycodone and methadone.
Given the high potential for abuse of opioids, prolonged misuse of heroin or prescription drugs may lead to an opioid use disorder.
In some cases, opioid users will experience withdrawal symptoms. These include nausea, sleeplessness, restlessness, pain and drug cravings.
Heroin, an illegal opioid synthesized from morphine, Because it is the fastest-acting opiate, heroin has a high potential for abuse.
The physical dependence on the drug often causes long-term heroin users to experience traumatic withdrawal effects if they do not get the regular dosage. Heroin also poses serious public health threats; needle sharing and other unhygienic behaviours put people at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis, HIV or AIDS.
Depressants, also known as CNS depressants, slow down brain activity to put the body in a state of extreme relaxation. Misuse occurs when people take high doses to achieve euphoria or use drugs with alcohol or other drugs to enhance their effects. Sexual predators also use depressants such as GHB and Rohypnol to take advantage of their victims.
Depressant abuse may slow down the user’s breathing enough to cause death
People are quick to develop a tolerance to CNS depressants when they are used for a long time. Abruptly halting their use may lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.
Due to the life-threatening withdrawal symptoms of depressants, people should seek professional help to ease themselves off the drug safely.
Stimulants make people more attentive, alert and energetic. Typically used to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy, stimulants have a high potential for abuse. A stimulant addiction may lead to dangerously high fevers, cardiovascular failure or seizures.
Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are popular among students, who use them to enhance their academic performance.
Naturally or synthetically derived, hallucinogens cause sensory distortions. Although little is known about hallucinogen dependence, prolonged use may cause people to experience hallucination flashbacks long after taking these drugs.
The effects of hallucinogens may start within the first hour and a half of consumption. They can last from six to 12 hours.
Some hallucinogens, such as PCP, can be addictive and present withdrawal symptoms.
Primarily consumed as marijuana, cannabis is a sedative with hallucinogenic properties. Marijuana use has soared since 2007. More than 50 per cent of new illicit drug users start with marijuana.
Researchers have associated cannabis use with brain damage and memory impairment. According to their reports, the continual use of marijuana contributes to slow reaction times and mental processes.
One of the obvious signs of a cannabis use is the smell. Users tend to mask the scent using cologne, incense or perfume.
Users can experience withdrawal symptoms in the form of mood swings, nervousness, sleeping troubles and cravings.
The signs of addiction vary from drug to drug. Some drugs take longer to produce noticeable symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms blend in with normal behaviours, making it difficult to tell that the person is addicted. Common signs of addiction include needle marks on the arms of people who inject drugs and constant nose sores on people who snort drugs.
|BEHAVIORAL SYMPTOMS||PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS|
|Fluctuation in energy levels||Drowsiness and nausea|
|Aggressive mood swings||Slurred speech and memory trouble|
|Distance from family and friends||Lack of awareness and coordination|
|Questionable new friends||Confusion, anxiety and depression|
|Chronic health issues that worsen with drug use||Red eyes with constricted or dilated pupils|
|Desire to continually use drugs despite consequences||High blood pressure and breathing issues|
|Violation of morals and values to acquire the drug||Chills, sweating and tremors|
|Negative effects on professional and personal life||Hallucinations, delusions or paranoia|
|Cravings and withdrawal symptoms||Involuntary twitching of the eye|
Identifying a drug problem is often the first step toward recovery. However, because of the severe withdrawal symptoms of some drugs, people should seek professional help to aid in their recovery.
Over time, drug use can diminish self-control, making it difficult for people to stop.
Drugs provide a temporary sense of accomplishment, euphoric sensations and an overall feeling of self-confidence and satisfaction. Numerous factors at home or school can promote drug abuse.
Parental behaviours play an important role in whether a child experiments with drugs later in life. An unstable family environment with a lack of parental supervision often leads to neglected children. Quality of life can also influence drug addiction. Living in an impoverished community can increase the risk for drug abuse.
People ridden with stress and anxiety may feel the need to self-medicate with cannabis, stimulants or other drugs to lessen their worries. They assume that regular consumption of a drug will alleviate their problems. Similarly, some students and athletes take performance-enhancing drugs to keep up with the pressure of consistently playing well.
Adolescents are vulnerable to social pressure from their substance-using peers. Teens are impressionable and spend a lot of time with their peers. Those who use drugs often push their peers to experiment. According to NIDA, the majority of first-time drug users are in their teens.
According to NIDA, genetic factors are responsible for 40 to 60 per cent of a person’s vulnerability to drug addiction. Studies show that a person’s predisposition to drug addiction positively correlates to their degree of genetic similarity to a relative who has a history of drug dependence or addiction. Mental disorders and medical conditions are also risk factors.
Substance abuse has negative consequences that affect more than just the individual. Illicit drugs cost the United States about $193 billion every year in lost productivity, health costs and crime-related costs.
The most direct repercussion of drug abuse is a decline in health. Death is the ultimate price of a substance use disorder. There is a drug-induced death in the United States every 13 minutes, according to a 2014 report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
One of the major health concerns related to drug use is a lack of hygienic practices, which can lead to the contraction of HIV, AIDS and hepatitis.
Other health-related issues drug users may experience include:
In 2011, more than 1.3 million patients visited the emergency department for a drug-related incident. Cocaine was involved in more than half a million visits.
Illicit drug use and production have a negative impact on society and the environment.
Methamphetamine drug labs are responsible for:
Cleaning a laboratory that produces methamphetamines is costly. Rehabilitating children who have been exposed to chemicals used to make meth requires special training and resources. This takes time and labour that officials could spend on other issues.
Drug users rarely consider the dangers of improperly disposing of drugs or paraphernalia. The disposal of needles and drug-related materials contributes to environmental pollution.
Illicit drug users need intensive treatment after prolonged drug use. In 2012, 23.1 million substance users needed treatment, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Treatment for drug addiction can affect the cost of social services and government resources, increasing the burden on taxpayers.
New behavioral patterns that stem from drug use can harm relationships. Procuring their drug of choice becomes the drug user’s primary concern. This often leads them to steal from their friends, family or workplace to afford more drugs, which damages trust among their peers.
Parents who use drugs often neglect or abuse their children. Poor familial conditions are harmful to children and may pave the way for future drug use.
Teenage drug abusers rarely graduate from school as a result of poor academic performance. Their academic and social skills suffer, causing tension within the family. They often distance themselves from friends and gravitate toward their substance-using peers.
Treating a drug use disorder is not easy. Long-term drug use can change the brain in such a way that it becomes incapable of discerning when it needs to stop. Specialized treatment can break the cycle of drug abuse and the dangerous behaviours that ensue.
Treatment extends far beyond stopping drug use. In some cases, the withdrawal period may be life-threatening, hence requiring medical supervision.
Five Steps of Substance Use Disorder Treatment
Every patient has different treatment needs, so it is important to have a specialized treatment plan.
Some people may resist drug treatment and refuse to go to a rehabilitation facility. If necessary, family members, employers or the criminal justice system can require them to get treatment.
Behavioural therapies are beneficial to recovering patients because they can help change one’s perspective regarding their former drug use and life. Therapists also promote healthy and positive life practices and recommend medication when necessary to aid in detox and treatment.
Outpatient programs can be beneficial for people who want to be around their friends and family while they receive substance abuse treatment.
These programs offer individual and group counselling, including:
Outpatient programs typically occur several times weekly; however, they can decrease in frequency depending on the patient’s progress.
Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, provides severely dependent patients with a safe haven and round-the-clock services. Daily therapy sessions may be beneficial to people suffering from co-occurring disorders.
Residential treatment may involve therapeutic communities where patients stay at the facility for six to 12 months. A treatment staff and other patients in recovery provide the appropriate support to deter future substance use.
Another option is a short-term residential program where patients undergo detoxification and receive intensive counselling to steer them toward a community-based treatment program.
Recovery housing provides monitored and short-term stays for patients who are transitioning to an independent life.
Support groups are paramount to successful treatment. Patients meet other people in similar situations, and the group holds everyone accountable for maintaining sobriety.
With the appropriate support and treatment, a person suffering from drug addiction can recover and enjoy a substance-free life.
Reclaim Health Limited is a leading addiction treatment company providing personalised treatments and rehab throughout Uganda, offering a wide range of help and guidance for all types of addictions.
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