Drug Abuse and Addiction

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1 Drug Abuse and Addiction Introduction A drug is a chemical substance that can change how your body and mind work. People may abuse drugs to get high or change how they feel. Addiction is when a drug user can t stop taking a drug, even when he or she wants to. Drug abuse and addiction are serious public health problems. They affect almost every community and family in some way. Each year, drug abuse results in millions of serious illnesses or injuries. This reference summary explains drug abuse and addiction. It defines what drug abuse and addiction are and why some people become addicted to drugs. It also covers the risks and complications of drug abuse, as well as recovery and treatment. Drug Abuse and Addiction Drug abuse is when a person takes a drug or medication for reasons other than prescribed. People may start abusing drugs for many reasons. People may abuse drugs to: Fit in. Escape or relax. Relieve boredom. Seem grown up. Rebel. Experiment. There are certain drugs that are more commonly abused. These drugs may be illegal in some countries, like cocaine or heroin. Or they may be legal for adults only in some countries, such as alcohol and tobacco. 1

2 Commonly abused drugs include: Amphetamines. Cocaine and crack cocaine. Marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids. Nicotine. Opium. Heroin. Amphetamines are stimulants that affect the central nervous system. They cause feelings of increased energy and happiness. They can also suppress the appetite. Cocaine is a powerfully addictive central nervous system stimulant. It is snorted, injected or smoked. Crack is cocaine powder that has been processed to form a rock crystal. It is then usually smoked. Marijuana is a commonly abused drug. It is made of dried parts of the cannabis plant. When smoked, it can cause euphoria, distorted perceptions, memory impairment and thinking problems. Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as spice, are herbal mixtures that produce feelings similar to marijuana. Nicotine is an addictive drug found in tobacco. The tar in cigarettes increases a smoker s risk of lung cancer and breathing problems. Opium is an addictive substance. Morphine is found in opium; it is used to treat severe pain. It can also cause a feeling of euphoria. Heroin is an addictive drug. It causes a surge of euphoria and clouded thinking followed by drowsiness. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines that treat illnesses can also be abused. Painkillers and cough or cold medicines are some examples. Drug abuse often begins in social situations. People may try drugs because the people they are with or around are taking them. Drug addiction happens when a drug user feels that they need the drug and can t stop taking it, even if they want to. The urge to take the drug is too strong to control, even when the user knows his or her drug use is causing harm. 2

3 For people with an addiction, the addiction is the most important thing in their lives. Almost everything a person with a drug addiction does is to support their addiction. For example, a person with a drug addiction may steal money or perform sexual acts in order to buy more drugs. When people start taking drugs, they don t plan to get addicted. A drug user believes he can control how much and how often he takes a drug. Addiction happens because drugs change the brain and how it works. These changes may last a long time. They can cause: Memory loss. Mood swings. Trouble thinking and making decisions. It is important to understand that addiction is a disease, just like diabetes and cancer are diseases. Addiction is not simply a weakness. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Drug addiction is different than drug dependence. Drug dependence is when people become physically dependent on a drug. Without the drug, they will become sick. Drug addiction is a mental disease that can lead to physical drug dependence. Not all drugs that can lead to addiction cause dependence. For instance, someone may be addicted to alcohol but not need it physically. Likewise, not all drug dependencies come from addiction. A person may be on a prescribed medication that they cannot stop taking abruptly without getting sick. Causes of Drug Abuse and Addiction People may begin abusing drugs for many reasons. For example, a person may try drugs because she wants to change her emotional state, or feel good. Taking a drug can make you feel good for a short time. This is one reason why people keep taking drugs. Drugs may be an easy escape from reality. They may help a person forget about personal problems. But the good feelings that accompany drug abuse do not last. Eventually, as an abused drug wears off, it may leave people feeling worse than they did before the drug abuse began. This is true even if a person takes more and more of a drug. Over time, the person may take the drugs just to keep from feeling bad. 3

4 Another reason some people abuse drugs is to fit in with their peer group, which may be people of the same age or who share the same interests. People may believe that if they do not use drugs, they will not be accepted. This is known as peer pressure. People also take drugs to feel empowered, or in control. Some people who are anxious, afraid or sad may abuse drugs to stop feeling bad. Drug abuse does not help their problems; it only masks them. Some people think that drugs may give them more energy, keep them awake or make them think faster. There is no single reason why a person who uses drugs becomes addicted. There are many factors at play. Some factors that can lead to addiction are biological. The genes that a person is born with are a big influence. Drug addiction is more common in some families than others. Other biological factors include: Male gender. Presence of other mental disorders. Environmental factors can also lead to addiction. Some of these include: Absent parents during childhood. History of physical and sexual abuse. Pressure from family or friends to take drugs. Stress. Other factors that can lead to drug addiction are developmental. The earlier that drug use begins, the more likely that it will progress to addiction. This is because certain areas of the brain that control decision making and self-control are still developing in teens. Teens are also more likely to take risks, including trying drugs that are commonly abused. This puts them at greater risk of addiction. 4

5 Risks & Complications Drug abuse and addiction hurt the body and the brain. Sometimes the negative effects of drug abuse last forever. This is caused by certain chemicals in the drugs that change the way the brain works. Chemicals in drugs can tap into the brain s communication system. Nerve cells that normally send, receive and process information are interrupted. Drugs cause this by: Changing the way the brain feels pleasure. Imitating the brain s natural chemical messengers. Some drugs can make a person s moods change quickly. He or she might get sad, angry or scared for no reason. Drugs can also cause a person to overreact to little problems. Some drugs can even cause a person to see or hear things that aren t there. The drug user may think that someone wants to hurt them. In such cases, some drug abusers become violent. A person is more likely to make bad decisions when using drugs. Drugs make it hard to pay attention, remember things or even think clearly. Dru g abuse can also cause many health problems, including: Heart attacks. High blood pressure. Kidney damage. Liver disease. Lung damage. These health problems may continue after stopping drug use. Sometimes the damage will last the rest of the person s life. Drug abuse also hurts the loved ones of drug users. It hurts families, friends and even unborn babies. For example, in families drug abuse can cause: Fighting because of problems caused by drug abuse, such as mood swings in the drug user. Stress from trying to get the drug user to seek treatment. 5

6 Drug abuse also causes strained relationships. Family members and friends cannot rely on a person who uses drugs to do what he or she says he or she will. A drug user may lie or steal money to buy drugs. He or she may do hurtful things that he or she would never do if he or she were not abusing drugs. If a woman is pregnant and abusing drugs or drinking alcohol, it can give the unborn baby serious health problems. The baby might: Be born small. Be slow to develop. Have problems eating and sleeping. Having problems seeing, hearing and moving. Children whose mothers used drugs while they were pregnant sometimes need special medical care all their lives. These children may also: Act out and not understand the effects of doing bad things. Have a drug problem of their own. Have trouble paying attention in school. Have trouble getting along with others. Recovery & Treatment Treatment helps people stop using the drugs they are addicted to. Treatment can include talk therapy, medicine or both. The goals of treatment are to help a person: Learn how to fight the urges to use drugs again. Regain control of his or her life. When someone quits taking drugs and starts learning how to live life without drugs, it is called recovery. The first step in recovery is detoxification. Detoxification is the process of removing toxins, poisons or other harmful substances from the body. Drug abuse changes the way the brain works and creates a need for the drug. It will take a while for your body to adjust to life without it. Detoxification, also know n as withdrawal therapy, helps you stop taking the drug in a safe way. 6

7 Detoxification may involve slowly reducing how much of the drug you use. Other medicines may be given to lessen the side effects caused by stopping the drug. Side effects of withdrawal may include: Anxiety. Depression. Extreme tiredness. Problems sleeping. Strong cravings for the drug. Withdrawal may also cause more serious side effects, such as: High blood pressure or heart rate. Rapid breathing. Seeing or hearing things that are not real. Seizures. Suicidal thoughts. Because withdrawal can cause serious side effects, it may require monitoring in a medical facility or treatment center. Therapy is also used to help a person overcome drug addiction. Different types of therapy are available. Multiple types are often used for a single person. Treatment programs are available that provide education and therapy sessions. These sessions may be done individually, in a group setting or with fam ily members. Treatment can also be done in different settings. Outpatient programs let people come and go to receive treatment. Inpatient programs let people stay as a residents in a facility to receive treatment. Counseling can be done one-on-one or with family members. It can help you cope with cravings. It can provide you with strategies for avoiding relapse. Relapsing is when a person quits a drug but starts using again. People recovering from addiction often have one or more relapses along the way. 7

8 Self-help groups are also a key part of treatment for many people. These groups focus on how drug addiction is a disease that requires ongoing treatment. It can also connect you to people who are in similar situations. A health care provider or counselor can help determine which type of treatment is best for each person. Concerned family members can also get in contact with a health care pro vider or counselor. Summary A drug is a chemical substance that can change how your body and mind work. People may abuse drugs to get high or change how they feel. Addiction is when a drug user can t stop taking a drug, even when he or she wants to. It is important to understand that addiction is a disease, just like diabetes and cancer are diseases. Addiction is not simply a weakness. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Treatment helps people stop using the drugs they are addicted to. Treatment can include talk therapy, medicine or both. The goals of treatment are to help a person: Learn how to fight the urges to use drugs again. Regain control of his or her life. 8

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