Signs of Drug Addiction
Drug addiction, unfortunately, has become a major problem in the U.S. society. Now why do people start to take drugs when they know it can lead do addiction? Answer to this question can be many because every addict can have a different trigger point. Some of these reasons can be as follows:
- Adolescents may opt for drugs because they are unable to handle the changes in their hormonal and emotional states. It could be the need to fit in, fear of failure or bad company that encourages them to start drugs.
- Rebellious teenagers will start taking drugs just for the sake of that; rebelling, because their elders told them not to do so. Teenagers want to show that they are their own boss and this need drives them to rebellion and drugs.
- Many sought the oblivion drugs offer to escape crises in personal life. Instead of seeking help or sharing their problems they choose the easy way out and succumb to the temporary bliss offered by the drugs.
- Loneliness is one of the major reasons why people start to take drugs. They simply start by “filling the void” and then get used to the temporary release of feelings. So, they resort to drugs more frequently whenever they feel lonely, and thus fall prey to this terrible habit.
- There are many who try drugs just to “experience” the feeling and what starts as a one-time thing soon becomes a necessity. The elation you feel when you try a drug once may encourage you to try it again and then again and so on. In this way, you need the drug to reproduce those temporary feelings.
- At times a serious injury that requires pain medication and other similar prescribed drugs can lead to addiction. Once the treatment is over and the doctor takes the patient off pain meds, the residual sensation of pain forces the patient, who is unused to the feeling of pain, to seek other ways to get hold of drugs.
- Some drugs are legal and easily available. For example, nicotine and alcohol are legal. This is why these are the most abused drugs.
- Young and old, both can feel the pressure in a company that uses drugs. This peer pressure is sufficient to drive one to start taking drugs.
- Self-medication is not uncommon. Many people resort to prescription drugs to help them cope with the stress in their daily life. However, they themselves maybe unaware of the addiction this habit can lead to.
- Many addictions start with alcohol. Soon, as the body becomes used to it, large doses of alcohol no longer produce the same effect, and the addict resorts to stronger drugs.
For whatever reason addicts start to use drugs, they convince themselves it would be temporary. They think that they can just use the drug for this one time only and then leave it. But drug abuse is a slippery slope and the habit cannot be given up easily. The entire body craves for that “one dose” that will get the addict going.
So the question is what exactly is drug addiction?
Definition of Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is considered a chronic brain disease. It leads the addict to compulsively seek drugs regardless of the effects they have on his mind and body. Drug abuse greatly impacts the function and structure of the brain. A person’s self-control and decision-making is highly impaired due to drug abuse.
Statistics Related to Substance Abuse
- Almost 20 million Americans from age twelve onwards, have used drug illegally at least once in their life, according to a survey by Mayo Clinic.
- About 12% of the USA population has engaged in marijuana use at some point in their lives.
- According to Mayo Clinic, 20,000 deaths in the US occur due to drug addiction annually.
- Weekly, almost 1500 drug addicts die all over the US.
- Almost one-fourth of heroin experimenters end up being addicted to the drug.
- In 2014, reportedly 27 million Americans used illegal drugs.
- 21.5 million People of U.S., from age 12 onwards, were addicted to drugs in 2014.
- According to NSDUH, 10.9% of the U.S. population drove while they were intoxicated.
- In 2009, according to reports by DAWN, 4.6 million emergency room visits were related to drugs.
- Between the years 2004 and 2009, ER visits related to drugs increased by 81%.
The effects of drug abuse, by no means, are limited to the mislead individual who is suffering from this terrible disease. Drug abuse impacts the whole family of the addicted person, his workplace and even his local community. Needless to say, the consequences of drug abuse are felt by the whole society in general. The following facts and statistics demonstrate just that:
- Healthcare expenses, reduced work productivity and legal procedures; drug abuse can incur these costs which have a direct impact on the society.
- The overall cost for drug abuse touches $193 billion, while the cost to the healthcare system is $11 billion.
- Annually, $25 billion are spent by the healthcare system on alcohol abuse.
- $224 billion is the total annual cost generated by alcohol abuse.
- Families are broken, domestic violence is incurred, children are abused, deaths occur and road accidents happen, all thanks to substance abuse.
- Drug addiction may require several treatment courses in order to help the addict rehabilitate.
As you can see, drug abuse has several far-reaching consequences that impact the whole society. Accidents caused by drunk drivers may not only be fatal to the addict, but also to other people sharing the road. Not to mention the broken families that these fatalities leave behind. The costs to the healthcare system are not limited to one community, but to the whole nation in general.
Several studies have shown that there is a co-relation between drug use and age. The highest population of drug abusers falls in the 12-17 age group. Above this age group, the percentage of drug abuse and addicts falls. Reports suggest that:
- Approximately 60% of the age group 12 to 17
- Approximately 37% of the young adults age group i.e. 18 to 25 and,
- Approximately 24% of the age group 26 or older
Abuse drugs or are addicted to them. It is clear, thus, that teenagers are more susceptible to abusing drugs.
The following chart demonstrates the percentage of addiction of different drugs among teenagers:
Courtesy of InspirationsYouth.com
This graph helps identify the drugs that teenagers are likely to use first. According to this graph, the marijuana is the most probable drug that the teenagers will try first. About 22% are likely to use pain killers without prescription. Other common gateway drugs are also shown in the graph, which include tranquilizers, sedatives and heroin. Apparently, easy availability of prescription drugs is now becoming a problem rather than a blessing. This is why prescription drugs are also considered whenever the topic of drug abuse arises, because there are people out there who are misusing this facility.
Commonly Abused Drugs
The Community Drug and Alcohol Council, CDAC, has reported some of the most abused drugs. Following is a list of commonly abused drugs in order of most common to least:
- Alcohol: More than half of the citizens of US drink. This is why alcohol is the most abused drug. 58.6 million People are involved in binge drinking; this is almost a quarter of the population. Alcohol is a depressant so it causes slurred speech, blurred vision, poor judgment and lack of coordination.
- Tobacco: Tobacco is present in cigarettes. About a quarter of Americans are drawn to smoking. Cigarette smoke creates a feeling of euphoria and pleasure. This is the reason why so many people get involved in tobacco products. However cigarette smoke contains many chemicals which include carcinogens, and can cause long-term effects on the body.
- Marijuana: Tobacco and alcohol are legal drugs which make them the top most commonly abused. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug of abuse. This drug impacts the memory and learning process as well as coordination. In some states, marijuana is legal and socially acceptable. Marijuana is smoked, mixed with food or brewed as tea.
- Prescription Drugs: The fourth most abused drugs are prescription drugs because more and more people are misusing their prescriptions. Painkillers are the most commonly abused prescription drugs because they are also available without prescription. If such drugs are used more than the prescribed amount, the body gets used to it and so does the mind. Consequently, the patient gets addicted. Sometimes the patients don’t even realize that excessive use of pain killers is making them addicted until they try to stop taking the medication. The drugs come in the form of tablets or syrups.
- Cocaine: As of the year 2011, there were over 820,000 addicts of cocaine. Even though this drug gained popularity in the ‘80s, it is still responsible for destroying many lives and crippling many addicts. Cocaine is a very strong drug which produces short-lived but powerful euphoric effects. This is the reason why this drug quickly leads to addiction, making the addict get strong cravings to use the drug. Cocaine also creates psychological dependence. This drug, although very strong and dangerous itself, has a cheaper and worse version called crack cocaine. This drug comes in the form of white powder which is injected, smoked or snorted.
- Inhalants: These are fumes of toxic, dangerous, volatile substances. Some of the common inhalants that are abused include aerosols, gasoline, household cleaning fluids, spray paint and even show polish. The vapors from these volatile substances cause immediate effects. Initially the user will “get high” after which he will suffer from agitation, sleepiness and slur. Inhalants can lead to immediate hospitalization or even death. Even when the use of inhalants is stopped, the chemicals that they contain may remain, slowly affecting the brain and the body. Therefore, recovery may become extremely difficult. Abusers breathe in the fumes of these toxic substances through nose or mouth to fulfill their cravings for drugs.
- Ecstacy: This is a popular club drug that is very commonly used by youths. Ecstacy is also called the love pill. This drug creates feelings of well-being, friendliness, hallucinations and alertness. Ecstacy also promotes functions of the user’s senses allowing him to take advantage of his enhanced senses at clubs. About 65% of the drug sold contains other chemicals as well; which means, that the immediate effects of the drug can be fatal and unpredictable. Ecstacy comes as a pill in different colors and designs with different images drawn on it.
- LSD: This is a hallucinogen which is created from lysergic acid found in a fungus. A very potent hallucinogen, this drug, also known as “acid”, is frequently sold on blotting paper as well, which gives it another street name “blotter”. LSD can potentially produce so many short-term effects that it is difficult to predict what it will do to the user. User may become unable to think clearly, his heart rate may rise, his moods may change rapidly and he may experience loss of hunger. It depends on the effect it has on the brain, and the types of hallucinations generated which determines the short-term effects on user. This drug comes as a pill or liquid that can be swallowed. The blotting paper is sold as small paper squares which allow users to absorb LSD through mouth.
- Methamphetamine: This drug is also called “meth” commonly. This drug can create euphoric feelings as well as high levels of energy which may last for several hours. This makes it popular for clubs and parties. I have already highlighted how addictive cocaine is, well, meth is several times more addictive by comparison. Users have reported growing addicted to meth after a single use as well. Meth has a strong impact on the reward system of the brain which leads to cravings. This drug comes as white powder, pill or small crystals.
- Heroin: Heroin is an opiate that is made from poppy plant. Highly addictive and a very commonly used one, this drug also creates a euphoric rush and makes the user feel confident. Users say that they feel they are able to communicate with others easily. Heroin is available in the form of brown or white powder which is sniffed or smoked.
Prescription Drug Abuse
Using prescription drugs like pain killers, cough syrups etc, without any prescription or more than the recommended dosage, falls under the category of drug abuse. Prescription drugs are more easily available than other street drugs, of course, and cheaper as well. While these drugs might be available in the home, they are also available illegally on the street.
Some people start taking prescription drugs to experiment. They think that these drugs might help them become more active, study better or lose weight. Once they feel the effects of the drugs, they might take more and soon become addicted.
Also, sometimes, patients who are prescribed drugs may take more than the intended amount to help them with their medical condition. For example, they may take more doses of antidepressants. This will lead to an addiction that they won’t even realize that they have until they try to quit using the drug.
Many people from age 12 onwards have used prescription drugs without consent because they feel that since these are legal drugs and prescribed by doctors, they will not be harmful. But these drugs are only prescribed by doctors to people who need them, and for a specific course of time. This does not make the medicines safe to use for others as well. Following are some statistics related to drug abuse:
- According to a survey in 2012, 24% of the teenagers who participated reported to have used a prescription drug without prescription.
- 17,000 deaths took place due to painkiller overdose in 2012.
- In 2009, 2.3 million ER visits were related to prescription drug abuse.
- Between 2010 and 1999, number of men who died due to pain killer overdose increased by 250 percent and number of women by 450 percent.
- In 2010, prescription drug overdose was identified as one of the leading cause of death in the US.
Drug Addiction Symptoms and Signs
Signs and symptoms, like any other disease, are associated with drug abuse. These signs and symptoms vary from drug to drug and individual to individual. In general, drug addicts do not pay attention to their family or friends or their own appearances. Their relationships as well as work suffer because they are occupied by the thoughts of drugs and how to get them. Moreover, their behavior also becomes unacceptable which leads to isolation and despair. Addicts tend to do things they would normally not do under the influence of the drug. Their self-esteem sinks and they become lonely as people around them leave.
Signs of a disease are classified as visible events caused by it that can be seen by someone other than the patient. Meanwhile symptoms are the invisible phenomenon caused by the disease; that are only experienced by the patient. Some of the signs of drug abuse are as follows:
- Eyes of drug addicts appear either glazed or bloodshot.
- The pupils are either constricted or dilated above normal size.
- An addict’s weight changes rapidly.
- Infections or bruises may appear on the skin where the drug was injected into the body.
- Addicts may suffer from sniffles or runny nose.
Some of the symptoms associated with drug abuse are listed below:
- Addicts have strong urges to use the drug regularly.
- As time goes on, the addicts need more of the drug to produce the same feeling and condition.
- They spend more money than they can afford on drugs and thus fall into financial crises.
- Addicts might resort to criminal activities in order to gain money for the drug.
- Depression and lethargy are felt by many addicts.
- They experience sudden mood swings.
- Addicts tend to neglect their social and work responsibilities.
- Their social circle rapidly changes as do their priorities.
- They suddenly lose interest in their most favourite activities.
- Failure to let go of the drug confirms addiction to the drug.
- Addicts suffer from withdrawal symptoms (like irritation, shivering, nausea, hallucinations) when they try to quit using the drug.
- They do dangerous things like driving or using heavy machinery while they are on drugs.
- Sleeping or eating too much or much less than normal.
How Addiction Works
Even though different drugs produce different physical effects but they all have one thing in common; prolonged use of drugs can lead to a change in the brain’s functions. Let’s take a deeper look at how addiction works.
There is a reward system in the brain which creates feelings of pleasure when we do something that is good for us, for our survival. Also known as the limbic system, this area of the brain is responsible for addiction. The human brain comprehends pleasure generated by any source in the same way, by releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine from the limbic system. All of the drugs activate the reward system and lead to a high dopamine release which creates a general sense of well-being. Thus the brain associates drug intake with an action important for the body. The likelihood of addiction for a specific drug is directly related to the rate at which it causes dopamine release. Thus, a person rapidly becomes addicted to drugs as he seeks that pleasure generated by the drug.
A recent theory suggests that since dopamine is also related to memory and learning, it causes the brain to learn and remember what caused pleasure and therefore want it. This is why an addict feels the need to use the drug again and again. As he satisfies his cravings, his brain becomes accustomed to the drug and demands more of it. The chemical structure of the brain changes making rehab very difficult.
Once the scientists believed that the need to feel pleasure and forget about present worries was enough of a motivation to cause addiction. But in light of the above theory we see that addiction is more complicated than that. Apart from emotional factors, physical factors are in play as well.
How to Resolve Drug Addiction
As impossible as it may seem for the drug addict, there is a way for them to overcome their problem. Some people may believe that they can overcome their addiction individually by will power, but it hardly ever happens. Firstly, it is very difficult to give up drug abuse without help, in light of the description given above, so addicts need to seek out help. There are several successful rehab centers all over the U.S. where one can go to resolve drug addiction.
There is no general recovery process that is successful for everyone. The first step to resolution is detoxification. In this process, the addict quits using the drug and detoxifies his body. This is followed up by behavioral counseling which helps the addict focus on his behavior rather than the drug, which his body craves for. Medications are also used in some cases if the doctors at the rehab center find it necessary in order to treat the damages done by the drug. Drugs can have effects on other organs of the body as well which include liver. So, medications may be necessary to help treat the addict.
The professionals at rehab center analyze the addict’s mental and physical health and treat it accordingly. They help the addicts overcome anxiety, depression and fight loneliness. Once all this is successful, the addict has to do regular follow-ups at the rehab center to avoid any relapse. Drug addiction can make a personal isolated and lonely. After leaving the rehab center, it is likely that he will have a hard time in the society, so chances of relapse exist. This is why it is important to do follow-ups.
Drug Addiction hotlines are also available, where you can call and talk to an adviser if you are unwilling to go to the rehab center. Not only addicts can get treated anonymously, but also their loved ones can use the hotline to understand how to help their addicted friends and family members. You can get numbers for different addiction hotlines online. If an addict is not comfortable revealing his identity he can get help online from advisers. They will guide the addict and help him out of depression without the need to discuss their identities or names. Otherwise, friends and family members can use the hotlines to discuss their suspicions or talk about how to help their loved ones recover from addiction. Advisers can tell them how to do an intervention or suggest other measures that can be taken to indirectly help the addicted family members.
Drug addiction counselors may be found in research and educational centers, private clinics, rehab centers and hospitals. They help individuals find out the cause of their addiction and then work their way towards solving the problem. For an addict who wants private treatment this approach is acceptable. Counselors are like psychiatrists who will break addiction at its roots.
So you see, there are so many helping hands out there who can help one with an addiction problem, it is no more a fatal disease from which recovery is impossible.
Decline of Drug Abuse
Even though drug abuse still remains a prevalent problem in the society, yet there is an encouraging decline in the use of illicit drugs. A survey by NIH, National Institutes of Health, called Monitoring the Future or MTF was carried out in 2016 and its results promise a long-term fall in the use and abuse of illegal and prescription drugs among teenagers. 8th, 10th and 12th graders were surveyed in MTF. Some of the findings of the survey are summarized in the points below:
- The use of any illegal drugs in the past year was lowest in the history of the survey for 8th
- The use of illegal drugs in the past year has declined among the three grades.
- Use of marijuana among 8th graders dropped by 1.1% compared to 2015.
- The use of marijuana remained stable among high school seniors.
- The rate of marijuana use though stable since last year is at the lowest in the past twenty years.
- With the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes, the use of tobacco cigarettes has declined. According to the survey, the rates for cigarettes and e-cigarettes use among 12th graders are 10.5 and 12.4 percent respectively.
- A long-term decline is seen in the use of tobacco among all three grades.
- The use of alcohol has also declined according to the survey.
- In 2001, 53.2% of the 12th graders reported to have been drunk by alcohol at least once. In 2016, the rate has fallen to 37.3%.
- The abuse of prescription painkillers has declined; the abuse of prescription opioids has fallen by 45% over the past five years.
As we can see, public awareness campaigns and efforts to reduce illegal drug trafficking by NIDA has had some success. However, since teenagers continue to use drugs, these efforts, by no means must be put to rest. It is also the responsibility of every citizen of US to avoid and report drug abuse.
Let’s talk about the preventive measures that can be taken to avoid drug abuse.
Prevent Drug Abuse
Drug abuse affects the whole society. Physical and mental disorders caused by drug abuse lead to disability and diseases which include diabetes, liver cirrhosis and heart problems. As we have seen these problems cause heavy costs to families and health care systems. It is predicted that by the year 2020, drug abuse will be considered a major disorder worldwide.
It is a duty of every citizen to prevent drug abuse. Like all things, this practice starts at home. Teachers, parents and local leaders can help prevent substance use and abuse. If friends and loved ones start making attempts at an early stage then the youth and adults of America can be saved from sliding down this deathly slope.
Prevention at Home
It is the responsibility of every parent to guide their children to the right path. Parents should communicate with their children directly; talk about drug abuse and how it can destroy lives. Tell them how harmful this habit can become, how it can take away personalities. When your children share your problems, listen to them, because often peer pressures and the need to fit in can lead them to try drugs. If you build a strong relationship with your children, they will be less likely to try new drugs.
Also, set a good example by avoiding using any drugs yourself. Don’t abuse alcohol, any illicit or prescription drugs. Teach your children to only use prescription drugs if the doctor prescribes and not to use more than the suggested dose.
Prevention in Schools
Awareness and prevention programs can be organized in schools during the day or after-school hours. Adolescents start taking drugs or using alcohol due to peer pressure or several other problems that they face in schools. Therefore, it is a good place as any to create awareness.
In school-based prevention programs students are taught to resist bad company and focus on improving life skills and decision-making abilities. Students are taught about the negative impact of drugs on not only the person but also his family and the community in general.
Prevention at Work
Drug prevention must be practiced in workplaces because addicted employees mean low productivity and high rate of absenteeism.
Anti-drug policies can be formulated and implemented in workplaces. This will help employees to avoid starting drugs and others, who have a problem, to overcome it. This will ensure that the employees are active and highly productive in their work.
There is only so much that we can do at an individual level. But drug prevention programs can be most effective when they are formulated using information and scientific evidence. Such programs should also include some form of evaluation and monitoring to ensure success. Evidence-based programs target homes, schools and workplaces.
Family-oriented prevention programs target the entire family. These include development of communication skills between parents and children and helping parents understand how to keep checks on their children and setting limits without seeming too imposing to the children. Meanwhile, children are helped to develop their social and personal skills. The family is then brought together as a unit to practice more skills. These programs make the family a strong unit and reduce aggression and depression in children.
School-oriented research-based prevention programs are quite similar to family-oriented ones in that they help students develop generic life skills. They teach students about social and personal resistance to drugs. As we have seen previously, adolescents are most likely to try drugs and become addicted. The reason is that they suffer from depression and aggression as they are not able to handle the changes and pressures they face in life and in person. So, these school-based programs target adolescents in an effective way. They teach the students about the short-term effects of drugs as well as the long-term effects. They also convey statistics relevant to adolescents who abuse drugs. This helps create awareness and build an urge to resist. Schools should also have policies for students and staff members related to drugs.
Workplace-oriented research programs include implementing anti-drug policies and creating awareness among employees. The employees should be given the confidence that these policies are targeted to help improve and maintain their health. If employment places are very specific about the personalities of the people that they hire then this will put a pressure on young adults and adults to avoid getting involved in drugs.
Other Preventive Measures
In America anti-drug policies are implemented which define laws against trafficking illegal drugs and prescription drugs. These laws address drunk-driving, abuse of medicines and other areas including prevention. The purpose of these policies is to help create awareness in the public and prevent any form of drug use and abuse. These policies categorize drugs depending on the likelihood of addiction and abuse and then help legalize or incriminate these drugs and their uses.
Prescription drug abuse should be prevented as well. Doctors and pharmacists should help patients understand the recommended dose. Doctors must keep an eye out for patients who visit frequently and request the same medicine over and over again. Similarly, pharmacists should be aware of the patients who request for drugs without prescriptions, particularly pain killers and cold medicines. Some pharmacies have hotlines connecting them to other pharmacies so that they can alert them in case they detect a forged prescription in the area or a person who frequently visits for the same drug. Pharmacists can also help by dispensing controlled amounts of drugs. Patients must ensure that they take the drug in intended doses only. They should never try a medicine that was prescribed to another patient for similar condition. In this way, these little steps can help prevent prescription drug abuse.
Drug abuse is a common problem. Many addicts may feel that they are on the wrong path but find themselves unable to turn back. However, it is never too late for an addict. Through the help of friends, family members, counselors, hotline or rehab centers, addicts can pave a path towards improvement and achieve a better life.
In addition we must become an aware and healthy society. We must participate in awareness programs to become aware and resistant and then educate others around us as well. Prevention is better than cure. It is not a lost fight for the society. We can eradicate this disease using the right approach. People around us are making efforts, taking surveys and formulating programs. All we need to do is participate.