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Drug and substance abuse is an issue that affects entirely all societies in the world. It has both social and economic consequences, which affect directly and indirectly our everyday live. Drug addiction is “a complex disorder characterized by compulsive drug use” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010).
It sets in as one form a habit of taking a certain drug. Full-blown drug abuse comes with social problems such as violence, child abuse, homelessness and destruction of families (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). To understand to the impact of drug abuse, one needs to explore the reasons why many get addicted and seem unable pull themselves out of this nightmare.
Physiology and Psychology of Addiction
Many experts consider addiction as a disease as it affects a specific part of the brain; the limbic system commonly referred to as the pleasure center. This area, which experts argue to be primitive, is affected by various drug substances, which it gives a higher priority to other things. Peele (1998) argues that alcoholism is a disease that can only be cured from such a perspective (p. 60). Genetics are also seen as a factor in drug addiction even though it has never been exclusively proven.
Other experts view addiction as a state of mind rather than a physiological problem. The environment plays a major role in early stages of addiction. It introduces the agent, in this case the drug, to the abuser who knowingly or otherwise develops dependence to the substance. Environmental factors range from violence, stress to peer pressure.
Moreover, as an individual becomes completely dependent on a substance, any slight withdrawal is bound to be accompanied by symptoms such as pain, which is purely psychological. This is because the victim is under self-deception that survival without the substance in question is almost if not impossible. From his psychological vantage point, Isralowitz (2004) argues that freedom from addiction is achievable provided there is the “right type of guidance and counseling” (p.22).
Prescription Drug Abuse
A doctor as regulated by law usually administers prescription drugs. It may not be certain why many people abuse prescription drugs but the trend is ever increasing. Many people use prescription drugs as directed by a physician but others use purely for leisure. This kind of abuse eventually leads to addiction.
This problem is compounded by the ease of which one can access the drugs from pharmacies and even online. Many people with conditions requiring painkillers, especially the elderly, have a higher risk of getting addicted as their bodies become tolerant to the drugs. Adolescents usually use some prescription drugs and especially painkillers since they induce anxiety among other feelings as will be discussed below.
Stimulants are generally psychoactive drugs used medically to improve alertness, increase physical activity, and elevate blood pressure among other functions. This class of drugs acts by temporarily increasing mental activity resulting to increased awareness, changes in mood and apparently cause the user to have a relaxed feeling. Although their use is closely monitored, they still find their way on the streets and are usually abused.
Getting deeper into the biochemistry of different stimulants, each has a different metabolism in the body affecting different body organs in a specific way. One common thing about stimulants is that they affect the central nervous system in their mechanism. Examples of commonly used stimulants include; cocaine, caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and cannabis. Cocaine, which has a tremendously high addictive potential, was in the past used as anesthetic and in treatment of depression before its profound effects were later discovered.
On the streets, cocaine is either injected intravenously or smoked. Within a few minutes of use, it stimulates the brain making the user feel euphoric, energetic and increases alertness. It has long-term effects such as seizures, heart attacks and stroke. Cocaine’s withdrawal symptoms range from anxiety, irritability to a strong craving for more cocaine.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is the most often abused drug familiar in almost every corner of the world, from the streets of New York to the most remote village in Africa. Although its addiction potential is lower as compared to that of cocaine, prolonged use of cannabis results to an immense craving for more.
It produces hallucinogenic effects, lack of body coordination, and causes a feeling of ecstasy. Long-term use is closely associated with schizophrenia, and other psychological conditions. From a medical perspective, cannabis is used as an analgesic, to stimulate hunger in patients, nausea ameliorator, and intraocular eye pressure reducer. Insomnia, lack of appetite, migraines, restlessness and irritability characterize withdrawal symptoms of cannabis.
Unlike stimulants, depressants reduce anxiety and the central nervous system activity. The most common depressants include barbiturates, benzodiazepines and ethyl alcohol. They are of great therapeutically value especially as tranquilizers or sedatives in reducing anxiety.
Depressants can be highly addictive since they seem to ease tension and bring relaxation. After using depressants for a long time, the body develops tolerance to the drugs. Moreover, body tolerance after continual use requires one use a higher dose to get the same effect. Clumsiness, confusion and a strong craving for the drug accompany gradual withdrawal. Sudden withdrawal causes respiratory complications and can even be fatal.
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Narcotics have been used for ages for various ailments and as a pain reliever pain. They are also characterized by their ability to induce sleep and euphoria. Opium, for instance was used in ancient China as a pain reliever and treatment of dysentery and insomnia. Some narcotics such as morphine and codeine are derived from natural sources.
Others are structural analogs to morphine and these include heroin, oxymorphone among others. Narcotics are highly addictive resulting to their strict regulation by a majority of governments. Narcotics act as painkillers once they enter the body.
They are used legally in combination with other drugs as analgesics and antitussives but are abused due to their ability to induce a feeling of well being. Their addiction potential is exceptionally high due to the body’s tolerance after consistent use, forcing the user to use and crave for more to get satisfaction. Increase in respiration rate, diarrhea, anxiety, nausea and lack of appetite are symptoms common to narcotic withdrawal. Others include; running nose, stomach cramps, muscle pains and a strong craving for the drugs.
Hallucinogens affect a person’s thinking capacity causing illusions and behavioral changes especially in moods. They apparently cause someone to hear sounds and see images that do not exist. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which commonly abused hallucinogen, has a low addiction potential because it does not have withdrawal effects. They also affect a person’s sexual behavior and other body functions such as body temperature. There are no outright withdrawal symptoms for hallucinogens.
Isralowitz, R. (2004). Drug use: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Clif.: ABC-CLIO. Print.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). NIDA INfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
Peele, S. (1998). The meaning of Addiction: Compulsive Experience and its Interpretation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.