Drug Abuse
Running Rambant in Society

Drug abuse has a wide range of definitions related to taking psychoactive or performance enhancing drugs for a non-therapeutic or non-medical effect.

Some of the most commonly abused substances include alcohol, amphetamines (crystal meth), barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methaqualone, and opium alkaloids.

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.

It is considered a brain disease because it changes the brain - they change its structure and how it works, with the changes being long lasting and leading to harmful behaviors.


In general, people fall into drug abuse for a variety of reasons:

  • To feel good. The initial feelings of pleasure and euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used. For example, cocaine produces a high followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. Whereas the euphoria caused by opiates such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
  • To feel better. Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression begin using in an attempt to lesson feelings of distress.
  • To do better. Some people feel an increasing pressure to chemically enhance or improve their athletic or cognitive performance and begin to experiment
  • Curiosity and "because others are doing it." Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because of the strong influence of peer pressure; they are more likely, for example, to engage in "thrilling" and "daring" behaviors.

The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary. However, when drug abuse or addiction takes over, a person's ability to exert self control can become seriously impaired.

Brain imaging studies from addicted individuals have shown physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control.


Adolescence is a critical time. Preventing early use may reduce the risk of progressing later to drug abuse and addiction.

In early adolescence, children advancing from elementary through middle school face new and challenging social and academic situations, during which the risk of abuse increases greatly.

During these years children are often exposed to abusable substances for the first time and will encounter a greater availability and social activities where drugs are present and used.

At the same time, many behaviors that are a normal aspect of their development, such as a desire to do something new or risky, may increase teen tendencies to experiment. Some teens give in to peer pressure and just want to be accepted.


Discoveries in the science of addiction have led to advances in drug abuse treatment and it's powerful disruptive effects on brain and behavior control, allowing abuser's and addicts to regain control of their lives.

The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing is not only possible, but likely, with relapse rates similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components.

Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply embedded drug abuse behaviors. Relapse does not mean treatment failure; it indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that an alternative treatment is needed.

Research shows that combining treatment medications, where available, with behavior therapy is the best approach to ensure success for most patients, with the treatment tailored to address each patients abuse patterns and drug related medical, psychiatric, and social problems.

Medications help treat withdrawal physical and emotional symptoms, help the brain adapt gradually, and help patients sustain recovery.

Behavior therapy helps patients engage in the drug abuse treatments, modifying their attitudes and behaviors related to abuse and increasing their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt another cycle of compulsive abuse.

Some specific effects of drug abuse and abused substances are:

  • Alcohol: Consumption can damage the brain and most body organs. Areas of the brain that are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage are the cerebral cortex (largely responsible for our higher brain functions, including problem solving and decision making), the hippocampus (important for memory and learning), and the cerebellum (important for movement coordination).
  • Marijuana: The most commonly abused illicit substance. This drug impairs short-term memory and learning, the ability to focus attention, and coordination. It also increases heart rate, can harm the lungs, and can cause psychosis in those at risk.
  • Inhalants: Volatile substances found in many household products, such as oven cleaners, gasoline, spray paints, and other aerosols, that induce mind-altering effects. Inhalants are extremely toxic and can damage the heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain. Even a healthy person can suffer heart failure and death within minutes of a single session of prolonged sniffing of an inhalant.
  • Cocaine: A short acting stimulant, which can lead abusers to "binge" (to take the drug many times in a single session). Cocaine abuse can lead to severe medical consequences related to the heart, and the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems.
  • Amphetamines: Powerful stimulants that can produce feelings of euphoria and alertness. Methamphetamine's effects are particularly long lasting and harmful to the brain. Amphetamines can cause high body temperature and can lead to serious heart problems and seizures.
  • Ecstasy (MDMA): Produces both stimulant and mind-altering effects. It can increase body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart wall stress. Ecstasy may also be toxic to nerve cells.
  • LSD: One of the most potent hallucinogenic, or perception-altering, drugs. Its effects are unpredictable and abusers may see vivid colors and images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Abusers may have traumatic experiences and emotions that can last for many hours. Some short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; sweating; loss of appetite; sleeplessness; dry mouth; and tremors.
  • Heroin: A powerful opiate drug that produces euphoria and feelings of relaxation. It slows respirations and can increase risk of serious infectious diseases, especially when taken intravenously. Other opiate drugs include morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percodan, which have legitimate medical uses; however, their non medical use or abuse can result in the same harmful consequences as abusing heroin.
  • Prescription medications: These are increasingly being abused or used for non medical purposes. This practice cannot only be addictive, but in some cases also lethal. Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants. Among the most disturbing aspects of this emerging trend is its prevalence among teenagers and young adults, and the common misperception that because these medications are prescribed by physicians, that they are safe even when used illicitly.
  • Steroids: Prescribed for certain medical conditions, these are abused to increase muscle mass and to improve athletic performance or physical appearance. Serious consequences of abuse can include severe acne, heart disease, liver problems, stroke, infectious diseases, depression, and suicide.
  • Drug combinations: A particularly dangerous and not uncommon practice is the combining of two or more drugs. The practice ranges from the co-administration of legal drugs, like alcohol and nicotine, to the dangerous random mixing of prescription drugs, to the deadly combination of heroin or cocaine with fentanyl (an opiate pain medication). Whatever the context, it is critical to realize that because of drug-drug interactions, such practices often pose significantly higher risks than the already harmful individual drugs.

Drug abuse leads to addiction where the compulsion to get, take, and experience the effects of drugs will dominate a users every waking moment. It will take the place of things they used to enjoy doing and disrupt how they function in their family lives, at work, and in the community, and will make them more likely to suffer from other serious illnesses.

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