13 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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The use of some chemicals to produce joyful effects on the brain is referred to as substance abuse or drug abuse. Over 190 million people use drugs worldwide, and the problem is growing at unprecedented rates, particularly in young people below the age of 30.

Drug addicts who use syringes are in danger of developing hepatitis B, C, and HIV infections, in addition to the long-term harm to their bodies that drug addiction causes.

Irrespective of age, gender, background, color, or why they began using drugs in the first place, people of all walks of life can have problems with their drug usage. Most people use psychoactive substances out of fascination, to have a great time, because their friends take it, or to alleviate tension, worry, or sadness.

However, it isn’t just illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine that can lead to addiction and abuse. Tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and painkillers are examples of prescription drugs that might create similar issues. Prescription painkillers, in reality, are the most abused drugs after marijuana in the United States, with more individuals dying each day from overdoses of potent opioid pills than from gun deaths and road traffic accidents combined. Opioid painkiller addiction is so severe that it has become a strong risk factor for heroin addiction.

The most commonly abused drugs in the world are marijuana, cannabis, and hashish. About 141 million individuals use cannabis on a global scale. Stimulants like ecstasy and amphetamine are also very popular, with approximately 30 million people abusing them. Cocaine is used by approximately 13 million people worldwide, with the US having the greatest number of users. Heroin and other opioids are used by roughly 8 million individuals globally, mostly in South-West and South-East Asia and Europe, and are less commonly abused than other substances.

Drug abuse affects people of all ages, as well as people from many areas of life and socioeconomic backgrounds. Men, on the other hand, are much more likely than women to take drugs; single persons are more likely than married people, and city dwellers are much more likely than rural residents. Drug usage is also more common among street children, prisoners, and younger people.

While each drug has its own set of physical consequences, all misused substances have one thing in common: they can change the way the brain works overtime. This includes both prescription and recreational drugs that are widely abused.

The drug induces a surge of the neurochemical dopamine in the brain, which triggers pleasurable feelings. These feelings are remembered by your brain, and it wants them to happen again.

When you’re hooked to anything, it takes on the same importance as other survival activities like eating and drinking.

Changes in your brain make it difficult for you to think clearly, make smart decisions, manage your behavior, and function normally without the need for drugs.

Whatever drug you’re addicted to, the irrepressible desire to use it takes precedence over everything else, including family, friends, work, and even your own health and happiness.

The need to use is so intense that your mind will try to rationalize or ignore the addiction. You might be underestimating the number of drugs you’re taking, how much they’re affecting your life, and how much influence you have over your drug usage.

You can overcome the negative effects of drug addiction and reclaim control of your life with the correct treatment and support. The first step is to accept you have a problem or to listen to dear ones who are often better able to perceive the negative consequences of your drug use.

While everyone can acquire problems as a result of using drugs, the likelihood of developing substance abuse varies from person to person. While your genetics, family, mental health, and social setting all play a part, there are other risk factors to consider:

  • Addiction in the family
  • Violence, neglect, or other painful and traumatic experiences in childhood.
  • Struggling with anxiety and depression
  • Use of drugs at a young age
  • The way a drug is administered—smoking or injecting it—can make it more addictive.

  • Neglecting and avoiding responsibilities at homework, or school (- for example, skipping work, neglecting your children, flunking classes).
  • Using drugs in hazardous situations or taking chances when high, like driving while high, using contaminated needles, or having sex without protection.
  • Having legal issues, like convictions for disorderly behavior, driving while intoxicated or stealing to fund a drug habit.
  • Relationship issues, like conflicts with your spouse or family, a disgruntled boss, or the loss of family members.

Warning Signs Specific To Commonly Abused Drugs

Marijuana: It causes red glassy eyes, inappropriate laughter, loud talking, and tiredness, as well as a lack of interest and drive.

Stimulants (including amphetamines, cocaine, and crystal meth): Pupils dilated;  euphoria; hyperactivity; anxiety; irritability;  excessive talking low mood or excessive sleep at random times; may go extended periods of time without sleeping and eating; losing weight; dryness of mouth and nose. 

Inhalants (Aerosols, glues, and vapors):  Watery eyes; blurred vision, memory, and thought; nasal discharges or rashes around the mouth and nose; nausea and headaches; intoxication-like symptoms; sleepiness; poor muscle control; appetite changes; stress; irritability.

Hallucinogens (PCP, LSD): Pupils dilated; weird and absurd behavior, including paranoid delusions, aggressive behavior, and hallucinations; mood changes; disconnection from people; absorption with self or other objects; slurring of speech and a state of confusion.

Heroin: constricted pupils, a lack of responsiveness to light, needle marks, sleep at odd hours, sweating, coughing, vomiting, twitching, sniffling, and loss of appetite.

Warning Signs Of Widely Abused Prescription drugs

Opioid analgesics: Drooping eyelids, contracted pupils, abrupt flushing or itching, slurring of speech; tiredness, loss of energy; difficulty to concentrate, loss of motivation, deterioration in school and work performance; ignoring friends and relationships.

Anti-anxiety, sedative, and hypnotic drugs (such as Valium, Xanax, and Ambien): Poor judgment, sleepiness, and slower respiration; constricted pupils; drunk-like, difficulty speaking; trouble focusing, carelessness; poor decision making, drowsiness, and clumsiness.Stimulants (such as Concerta, Ritalin, Dexedrine Adderall): Pupils dilated, decreased appetite; restlessness, nervousness, increased heart rate, elevated body temperature; sleeplessness, paranoia; 

The drugs of abuse are divided into 3 categories:

Depressants: Sleeping pills (barbiturates) and heroin are examples of depressants, which produce a decline in brain functions.

Stimulants:  These induce the brain to be stimulated, resulting in greater bursts of activity and alertness. A fast heart rate, elevated blood pressure, dilated pupils, nausea or vomiting, as well as behavioral abnormalities including agitation and poor judgment, may occur. Delusional psychosis, which can arise with the use of amphetamines and cocaine, can occur in extreme situations.

Hallucinogens: These create hallucinations and a sense of separation from oneself that is “out of this world.” Hallucinogens can cause hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and even despair. Mescaline, ecstasy, and LSD are some examples.

Here are some examples of drugs:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine derived from coca leaves.
  • Ecstasy, heroin, and LSD are examples of synthetic substances.
  • Tobacco
  • Hashish is a type of marijuana, derived from the cannabis plant.
  • Opium and other opioids derived from poppy plants.

Administration of drugs

Orally in the form of pills, intravenous in the form of an injectable, breathing in or inhaling the drug in the form of smoke, or sniffing the substance so that it is taken into the vascular system of the nose are all possible modes of administration for drugs of abuse.

Of course, drug usage, whether illegal or prescribed, does not always imply abuse. Many people can use prescription or recreational drugs without suffering negative consequences, while others discover that substance abuse has a significant detrimental effect on health and well-being. Likewise, there is no clear cut-off point when drug use becomes harmful.

The type or volume of substance consumed, as well as the frequency with which you use drugs, are less important than the repercussions of the specific drug that has been abused. You most likely have an addiction problem or drug abuse if your drug use is producing problems in your life—at home, school, work, or in your relationships.

If you are concerned about your own or a close one’s substance abuse, knowing how addiction develops and why it may have such a powerful grip will help you better address the problem and reclaim command of your life. Acknowledging that you have a genuine problem is the 1st step toward rehabilitation, and it takes a lot of strength and courage to do so. It can be daunting and stressful to face your situation without diminishing it or making excuses, but healing is possible. You may conquer your addiction and develop a fulfilling, drug-free life for yourself if you’re willing to seek treatment.

Drug Abuse Can Cause Life-long Drug Addiction

The distinction between normal drug usage and drug addiction and abuse is unclear. Only a small percentage of drug addicts or abusers are able to realize when they have passed that line. While the quantity or frequency with which drugs are ingested do not always indicate drug abuse or addiction, they can be markers of drug-related issues.

If the drug satisfies a critical need, you may become increasingly reliant on it. You may use illegal drugs to relax, energize, or boost your confidence. To ease discomfort, cope with panic attacks, or boost concentration at school or work, you may begin misusing prescription medicines. You’re more likely to cross the line from recreational drug use to abuse and addiction if you’re using substances to fill gaps in your life. You must have enjoyable experiences and feel really good about your life without using drugs to maintain a proper balance in your life.

Drug misuse may begin as a means of social connection. People frequently use drugs for the first time with friends and colleagues in social contexts. Because of a strong need to fit in with the group, it may appear that consuming drugs with them is the only alternative.

As your drug use escalates over time, problems might sometimes creep up on you. Smoking a joint with pals on the weekend, taking ecstasy at a rave, or taking pills when your back hurts, for example, can quickly escalate from once a week to once a day. Getting and using the substance becomes increasingly crucial to you over time.

As a result of your drug abuse, you may miss or be late for work or school more frequently, your job performance may decrease, and you may begin to neglect social or family responsibilities. Your ability to cease using is harmed with time. What began as a conscious decision has evolved into a physical and psychological requirement.

Drug misuse can eventually overtake your life, halting your social and intellectual growth. This simply adds to the sense of solitude.

Here are some things you may do if you fear a family member or friend has a drug problem:

Make your voice heard. Without being judgmental, express your concerns to the person and give your assistance and support. The sooner you get help for your addiction, the better. Don’t wait for your dear one to reach their breaking point! Make a list of specific instances of your loved one’s actions that concern you and encourage them to seek help.

Make sure you look after yourself. Keep yourself safe. Avoid putting oneself in perilous circumstances. Don’t get wrapped up in someone else’s drug addiction to the point where you forget about your own. Make sure you have individuals you can confide in and count on for help.

Avoid self-blaming. You can help someone who has a substance abuse issue and encourage them to seek treatment, but you can’t make them change. You have no control over your loved one’s choices. Allowing the person to accept full responsibility for their action is a crucial stage in the healing process.

The Don’ts of Counseling your loved one include: 

  • Don’t attempt to intimidate, bribe, punish or preach by threatening, punishing, bribing, or preaching.
  • Don’t make emotive appeals that only serve to intensify the user’s guilt and desire to use drugs.
  • Don’t cover up for the drug user, make excuses for them, or protect them from the repercussions of their drug usage.
  • Don’t take up the drug addict’s responsibilities, lowering their self-esteem.
  • Drugs should be hidden or thrown away.
  • When the person is high, don’t argue with them.
  • Don’t get hooked up on drugs yourself
  • Don’t feel guilty or accountable for the actions of a drug addict.

Even if you take your pain prescription for a long time, most people who take it in the doses as prescribed by their doctor do not get addicted. You should not be afraid of becoming addicted to opioids if you need pain relief.

However, if you’ve already abused drugs or alcohol, or if you have family members who have, you’re at a higher risk.

To avoid becoming addicted to pain relievers, follow these steps:

  • Take the medication exactly as directed by your doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if you have a strong family history of drug abuse or dependence so they can prescribe the right medications for you.

It’s important to remember that people often build a tolerance to pain medication and require increasing doses to achieve the same amount of pain relief. This is perfectly normal and has nothing to do with addiction. It’s possible that you’ll require bigger doses if you’re addicted, but it’s not for pain relief. Still, if this effect becomes bothersome, consult your doctor.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing drug dependence and abuse, there are steps that anyone may do to reduce the risk of substance abuse.

The following are the top 5 steps for preventing substance abuse:

1. Recognize the stages of substance abuse. 

Substance abuse begins with:

  • Taking addictive drugs for leisure purposes (prescribed or illicit)
  • Overdosing on prescription drugs, 
  • On the lookout for a high.

2. Refrain from succumbing to urge and peer influences. 

Avoid family members or friends that urge you to use substances to form good friendships and relationships. We become most like those we surround ourselves with, which means that if you hang around with people who abuse alcohol and drugs, you’re more likely to do so yourself. Teenagers and adults are subjected to a great deal of peer pressure. If you want to avoid succumbing to peer pressure, establish a decent technique to simply say no, have a convincing justification, or plan ahead of time.

3. Seek help if you’re suffering from a mental ailment. 

Substance addiction and mental disorders frequently go hand in hand. You should get professional help from a competent counselor or therapist if you are suffering from a mental disease like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. A specialist can teach you healthy coping methods to help you manage your symptoms without relying on drugs or alcohol.

4. Take a look at the risk factors. 

Assess your family background of addiction and mental illness; multiple studies have found that this condition runs in families, but it may be avoided. You’ll be more likely to overcome your biological, social, and physiological risk factors if you’re more aware of them.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

 If something in their lives is lacking or not working, people frequently turn to alcohol and drugs. Stress management skills can assist you in overcoming these life challenges and leading a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

7. Make plans for your future dreams and goals. 

These will assist you in focusing on your goals and recognizing that alcohol and drugs will just get in the way and prevent you from attaining them.

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