The Consequences of Drug Abuse
Although not a new problem, drug abuse has affected the world for hundreds of years, but it seems to have exploded to new levels in America in the past few decades. It seems now no one is untouched—the poor may lie dying of addiction-related disease in city alleyways, but the affluent are coping with alcoholism, painkiller addiction and $300-a-day habits behind closed doors.
With an estimated 16-38 million people around the world considered ‘problem drug users’, and more than 10% of American adults recovering from addiction, there is no denying that any war on drugs has been lost and there simply needs to be more education and new solutions to tackle this scourge that is ruining lives and not just those who have the substance abuse problem.
Here, we look at the consequences of drug abuse that are symptoms of a disease, which many battle with all their lives. As we learn more about the mind, we find new ways to enhance and agitate it.
What Alcohol Does to Your System
Alcohol is seen as an acceptable drug, yet it contributes to more than 200 diseases and injury-related conditions. Alcohol-related deaths are the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and its misuse costs the country almost $250 billion a year.
But what about on a personal level? Alcohol abuse is something that can creep up over time, and heavy drinking causes problems with your major organs from your brain to your heart. Heavy drinking is generally constituted by having more than four drinks a day or 14 in a week for men, or three drinks per day, and seven in a week for women.
Many heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis of the liver later in life as the liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol into a digestible product for the body. The problem is that the liver can only do this a little at a time, so continuous drinking puts a strain on it. If you abuse alcohol for years, this can lead to cancer, pancreatitis, stomach problems and will affect the brain by changing its structure over time.
If you haven’t heard that the U.S. is currently undergoing an opioid crisis, then you must have been living under a rock for a couple of years. Last year, the crisis was declared a public health emergency and with 1 in 65 deaths in the U.S. attributable to opioids, it’s easy to understand why.
Tolerance to opioids grows quite quickly, and users become sick if they don’t get their fix. More than 40 percent of addicts started using opioids, such as Oxycontin, as a prescription drug for pain. Long-term users will experience stomach pain and constipation and brain damage is very likely, with people who have been clean for over three years still showing damage on an MRI scan. Itching and drowsiness are also common with people who have been using for a long time.
However, the most dangerous and significant effect that long-term opioid abuse has is on the respiratory system. If a person is a long-time user of a drug such as heroin, they can lose their natural urge to keep breathing. This is the reason many people die from their addiction because they are so heavily sedated that they can’t even awaken to take a breath.
Prescription stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin, while street ones include crack cocaine and crystal meth. Anyone who has seen Breaking Bad will know that no good can come from these drugs. If you’re someone who has been chasing the euphoric feeling, you will definitely experience effects such as muscles deteriorating, loss of sex drive and weight, headaches, chronic exhaustion and possibly heart problems.
The psychological effects are also hard to handle, with long-term users enduring persistent anxiety, delusions, hallucinations and depression. Because stimulants are often prescribed to children or used recreationally, their potential for abuse is not seen as high as other drugs but with over 100,000 emergency room visits annually related to stimulants, it’s clear that this isn’t the case.
Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed by a doctor to relieve anxiety, tremors, and seizures. Drug names that you may be familiar with are Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. In the short term, they can be quite helpful but tolerance to them can build quite quickly, partially caused by the euphoric effect.
Abusing benzos over a period of years can lead to impaired coordination, memory loss, and mood swings. Some users may develop nausea, double vision and begin slurring their speech. Long-term use is also associated with suicidal ideation, jaundice and even cause seizures. It can be complicated to treat benzodiazepine withdrawal due to the risks involved, so it’s advisable to taper down as much as possible rather than coming off the drugs abruptly.
A Way Forward
With an estimated 21 million Americans coping with addiction, and many more people who live, work and care for those people, there’s no question that more needs to be done to tackle addiction. Although it may seem a challenge, quitting is the only path to a healthy existence. Fortunately, plenty of help exists—from treatment programs in each state to apps where people can monitor their own behavior and try to deal with the triggers that present themselves in everyday life.
Different drugs require a different approach to withdraw from them safely, so it’s important to seek medical advice, no matter how committed you are to getting clean and sober. What works for one person may not work for another.
Medically assisted detoxes, though, are considered to have a reasonably high success rate, so if you or someone close to you has a history of abuse, it’s worth considering this route of rehabilitation. More people need to treat addiction as a disease and do everything they can in their power to prevent it.
NIDA. (2017, March 23). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/health-consequences-drug-misuse on 2019, February 21