Drug Abuse is generally defined as the use of a drug with such frequency that the user has physical or mental harm or it impairs social abilities. The substances that are discussed in this report are called psychoactive drugs; those drugs that influence or alter the workings of the mind, affect moods, emotions, feelings, and thinking processes.
There are three basic characteristics that indicate that the user is dependent on a drug. First, the user continues to use the drug for an extended period of time. Second, the user finds it difficult to stop using the drug. They may drop out of school, steal, go to jail, lose their jobs, or leave their families in order to keep using. Finally, the user has withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped. They may undergo physical pain or mental distress.
The drug mimics a natural process in the brain called neurotransmission. This is when a brain cell releases a signal to another brain cell. The signal then returns to the first brain cell. The signal is called a neurotransmitter. One major neurotransmitter is called dopamine, which is involved in feelings of pleasure. When the drug is released into the brain, it blocks the dopamine from returning to the first brain cell. Repeated use changes the brain cells so that normal messages can’t be sent between brain cells. The drug must always be present in order for neurotransmissions to take place. The user is only able to feel pleasure from the cocaine rather than the things he/she used to find pleasurable. This is called drug addiction or dependence.
Drugs are generally categorized into two groups, stimulants and depressants. Stimulants are drugs that speed up signals through the nervous system. They produce alertness, arousal and excitability. They also inhibit fatigue and sleep. They include the amphetamines, such as cocaine, caffeine, and nicotine. Depressants slow down the signals through the nervous system. They produce relaxation, lowering of anxiety, drowsiness, and sleep. They include sedatives (such as barbiturates, alcohol, and tranquilizers) and narcotics (heroin, morphine, opium, codeine), which dull the mind’s perception of pain.
Some drugs are not included in the stimulant/depressant categories. An example is the hallucinogens, such as PCP and LSD, which produce unusual mental states such as psychedelic visions. Also, marijuana is not generally regarded as belonging to any one of these categories.
There are four basic stages that the drug user goes through. In stage one, there are no outward behavioral changes caused by the use of drugs. The drug use is considered normal. In stage two, the user actively seeks the euphoric effects of the drug by using it more frequently. A reliable source of the drug is established. The user may add mid-week use rather than only on weekends or at parties. In younger users, a general lack of motivation is noticed, along with changes in friends and lower grades. In stage three, the user is extremely preoccupied with the desire to experience the effects of the drug. The drug is used daily. There may be thoughts of suicide and/or depression.
There may be family problems or trouble with the law. In the fourth and final stage, the user has become addicted. They are dependent on the drug just to feel normal. Physical signs are frequent sore throats, coughing, fatigue, and weight loss. They may be experiencing overdosing and blackouts more frequently. The user may be engaging in criminal activities in order to obtain money for the drug.
One major drug that physically effects the user is alcohol. It causes damage to the brain, pancreas, and kidney. It also causes high blood pressure and may heighten the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Other consequences of alcohol abuse are possible alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, stomach and duodenal ulcers, colitis, irritable colon, impotence and infertility, birth defects and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (retardation, low birth weight, small head size, limb abnormalities), and premature aging. The user may also experience diminished immunity to disease, sleep disturbances, muscle cramps, and edema.
Another harmful drug is marijuana, especially since the potency of marijuana available has over the last decade increased by 275 percent. Some marijuana users have chronic lung disease. Marijuana can be more dangerous than cigarettes because there are more known cancer causing agents in marijuana smoke than cigarette smoke. Also, one marijuana cigarette is as damaging to the lungs as four tobacco cigarettes.
Small doses of marijuana diminish motor skills, hamper judgement, distort perception, and impair memory function. Chronic marijuana may cause brain damage, accelerated heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. Mood changes occur. There is a decline in school work, difficulty in concentrating, diminished ability to carry out long-term plans, loss of effectiveness, loss of ambition, and increased apathy.
One of the most powerfully addictive and deadly drugs is cocaine. It can be injected, snorted, or smoked. It carries the risk of HIV if it is injected. Cocaine significantly speeds up the neurotransmissions in the nervous system. It accelerates the heart rate while simultaneously constricting the blood vessels, which are trying to adjust to the heightened blood flow. Temperature and blood pressure rise. Pupils dilate. These physical changes may be accompanied by stroke, respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, or seizures.
Cocaine may trigger paranoia, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. Depression occurs when denied of the drug. Cocaine requires users to take more and more to reach the same level of stimulation. It may also cause nasal problems such as congestion and runny nose. The mucous membrane in the nose may disintegrate with prolonged usage. The nasal septum may also collapse.
Different kinds of cocaine include freebase and crack. Freebase is smoked. It is extremely dangerous because the cocaine reaches the brain almost instantly, causing a sudden and intense high. However, when it disappears, it leaves the user with an enormous craving, resulting in increased usage. Crack is a kind of cocaine that is snorted. It comes in small lumps or shavings. It has become a major problem because it is very inexpensive and easily transported.
Heroin is an illegal opiate drug which is extremely addictive. It requires persistent, repeated use and, if the user attempts to stop, there are painful physical withdrawal symptoms. Heroin use causes insomnia, panic, nausea, and shallow breathing. Heroin is generally injected into a vein. Because of this kind of drug entry, the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV is high. Contamination of heroin with cutting agents, unsterile equipment, uncertain dosage levels and the use of heroin in addition to other drugs can cause cardiac disease, inflammation of the veins, skin abscesses and serum hepatitis.
There is no way to tell the potency of the drug, so any trip could lead to overdose, coma or possible death. Heroin during pregnancy is associated with miscarriages and stillbirths. Babies who are born by addicted mothers must undergo withdrawal symptoms after birth and usually have development problems.
Symptoms include nausea, respiratory depression (which can progress until breathing stops), and drowsiness. Symptoms of a heroin overdose include coma, convulsions, clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, and shallow breathing.
PCP is a hallucinogen. It alters consciousness, mood, and sensation and distorts visual sensation, taste, smell, touch, or hearing. The user experiences a profound departure from reality. He/she is capable of severe disorientation and bizarre behavior. These PCP-induced effects may lead to injuries or death while under the influence.
When it is used regularly or chronically,judgement, concentration, perception functions, and memory are affected. It may lead to permanent changes in thinking, memory, and motor function. Addicted mothers deliver babies who have motor, auditory, and visual problems. They may also have reactions similar to that of someone who is under the influence of PCP.
Withdrawal is defined as the discontinuance of administration or use of a drug. When this happens, there are certain physical symptoms that occur when the user is dependent on the drug. They may include nausea, diarrhea, and pain, but they vary between drugs. Cocaine users report depression when denied the drug. Since heroin is a very addictive drug, it has many withdrawal symptoms. For example, insomnia, muscle cramps, nausea, sweating, chills, panic, tremors, loss of appetite, yawning, runny nose, and watery eyes.
A drug addict generally goes through denial before he/she accepts his/her drug addiction. When they are confronted by a family member or friend, they refuse to accept that they are addicted. This is sometimes called a mental block. The user isn’t ready or able to deal with thier addiction. The time period of denial varies from person to person.
When the person has come to accepting their problem, they may go to therapy for treatment. Group therapy has had excellent results. They learn to come to terms with their problem with the support of other people who are going through the same thing that they are. They also learn tools that they can use to help them through the recovery period, such as prayer, excercise, and meditation. Drug abuse is a serious problem, but through treatment and therapy, it can be overcome.
Jonnes, J., Hepcats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America’s Romance with Illegal Drugs (1999); publications of the Drugs & Crime Data Center and Clearinghouse, the Bureau of Justice Statistics Clearinghouse, and the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.