Drug addiction is a growing epidemic in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 7.9 percent of persons 12 years of age and older used illicit drugs during the month preceding a study in 2004. Children get exposed to drugs and drug use in high school and even in middle school. The growing problem can be seen from the number of pounds of illegal drugs seized by the U.S. Customs Service. On March 22, 2007 the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized a ship carrying more than 42,800 pounds of cocaine. This was the single largest maritime drug seizure in U.S. history, but it represents just a fraction of the drugs that actually enter the U.S.
How Does Addiction Start?
Curiosity and peer pressure are two of the leading reasons why people experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Sometimes, addiction is the result of using prescription drugs without adequate medical supervision. Addiction may also result when greedy manufacturers fail to adequately state the addictive potential of some drugs. In 2007, the makers of the pain killer OxyContin, an opium derivative, agreed to pay $635 million Dollars in penalties for fraudulently understating the addictive potential of the drug. As a result, many patients became addicted and had great difficulty withdrawing from OxyContin and its generic equivalent, oxycodone. Consequently, there was an increase in patients seeking OxyContin rehab.
School-age children may start by inhaling helium from balloons to speak like Donald Duck, and then go on to sniffing aerosols, paint thinners or freon from air conditioners. Young people who live in households where the adults smoke or drink are more likely to think that it is normal to use these potentially addictive substances. Teenagers who intentionally abuse prescription pain killers and over-the-counter cough syrups and cold medicines to get high usually find the drugs in the medicine cabinets of family members and friends. Many problems with alcohol and drugs start when students move away from parental supervision to attend college. Students who are immature and lack experience making independent decisions may think that drugs and alcohol provide a harmless way to have a good time and enjoy a party more, or they may be pressured to participate in activities such as chug-a-lug contests that encourage overconsumption of alcoholic beverages and set the stage for habitual binge drinking and alcoholism. The rising number of teenage drug abuse cases should be a cause for concern not only for parents, but for governments as well because of the tremendous social problems that are associated with illegal drug use. Every year, hundreds of thousands of accidents are caused by driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. Almost one tenth of all arrests in the U.S. are related to drunk driving.
Alcohol and tobacco are the two most commonly used addictive substances because they can be obtained legally. Alcohol was prohibited in the United States in 1920, but the prohibition laws were eventually repealed in 1933. Although the federal and state government agencies recognize the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco, their only action is to advise the public to drink responsibly, and to limit sales of alcoholic beverages and tobacco to persons over 21 years of age. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco provide substantial revenue for state governments.
Illegal drugs are drugs that have been specifically outlawed by government agencies. Some of these drugs do not have any legitimate medical uses, but others are controlled substances that require accurate accounting when used for their prescribed use. Users of illegal drugs are generally aware that they may face legal consequences and even jail time for their actions, but the risky behavior may actually increase their excitement. The seduction of the drugs also clouds their good judgement. Cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin are some the most commonly used illegal drugs. The reasons for experimenting with these drugs vary from trying to fit with a crowd, trying to forget about problems, achieving a greater "high", expanding the mind, or enjoying a party more. Unfortunately, once the euphoria wears out and the withdrawal symptoms start, life is not so rosy, and the reality of addiction becomes evident.
|Substance Abuse Warning Signs|
Addiction Changes the Brain
New medical imaging technologies such as PET scans make it possible to visualize brain activity. Drug addicts show substantial neurological changes compared to normal non-addicted individuals. The following images compare the metabolism of a normal brain with that of a cocaine addict who has stopped using drugs. Even 100 days after the last use of cocaine, there is decreased metabolism in the brain's frontal area which regulates impulsive and repetitive behavior, planning and organizing activities, and critical thinking.
died of overdose
drowned after cocaine
A - healthy brain
B - 10 days after cocaine use
C - 100 days after cocaine use
The changes in the brains of addicted individuals are accompanied by changes in behavior such as irritability, apathy, decrease in job performance, inattentiveness, truancy, or bad grades in school. As the withdrawal symptoms get worse, the desperation of an individual enslaved to drugs may lead to unethical or criminal activities such as cheating, stealing, or prostitution to obtain money to get the drugs that they crave. Drug addicts lose their dignity and their friends, embarrass and antagonize their family members, and sometimes land in jail. Addicts who use injectable drugs, such as heroin, increase their risk of contracting AIDS or hepatitis by sharing needles with fellow junkies.
Abuse of sleeping pills and other prescription medications can lead to dependency. The habitual use of drugs starts a vicious cycle in which the patient cannot live a normal life without the drugs. If a doctor is not closely monitoring how the patient reacts to habit-forming medications, the patient can develop a serious addiction. Many addicts accidentally overdose and end up in hospital emergency rooms or in morgues. Medical professionals are sometimes unscrupulous in writing prescriptions for addictive and dangerous drugs. Elvis Presley's doctor is said to have prescribed more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines, and narcotics for Elvis in 1977. Elvis died of an overdose in August of that year. The doctor's license was later revoked.
Heath Ledger, the Australian actor who gained recognition for his role in Brokeback Mountain, died at age 28 from the combined effects of six prescription drugs, which included pain killers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications (oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine). Ledger had finished playing the Joker in the Batman film The Dark Knight, but did not live to see the record-breaking box office success of his film.
Charlie Sheen, the star of the top-rated TV weekly comedy show Two and a Half Men for seven seasons, abused cocaine and started demonstrating bizarre behavior. He got fired in 2011 from a job that paid $1.8 million dollars per episode after showing poor judgement in his social relationships and ranting publicly against his employers.
Whitney Houston was found dead in the bathtub of her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel before a Grammy party. The coroner concluded that her death was due to drowning from effects of cocaine use, although the blood toxicology report also found chemicals from marijuana, alprazolam (Xanax), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Every year, more than 15 million Americans abuse prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Ritalin, and Valium, and thousands die from overdoses. Dr. Leonard Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that "Drug poisoning has become the second leading cause of death from unintentional injury, exceeded only by motor-vehicle crashes." Many people who are addicted to painkillers obtain them by "doctor-shopping" and convince multiple physicians to write them prescriptions. A CDC study found that 21% of people who died from prescription-drug overdoses had seen five or more different health-care providers in the prior year to obtain the controlled substances.
The Road to Recovery
A person dependent on psychoactive substances seldom seeks treatment. More frequently, it is a family member, a caring individual, or a law-enforcement agency that forces the addict to reform after a domestic dispute or an incident that occurred under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Detoxification is not an easy task. It takes persistence and determination. Addicts usually cannot be helped until they stop denying the problem and understand the steps needed to become normal again.
Drug rehabilitation (often called drug rehab) is the medical and psychotherapeutic treatment used to enable a patient to cease substance abuse and become a normal and productive member of society. Drug rehabilitation addresses the physical and psychological aspects of drug dependency. Eliminating the physical dependency may involve the use of chemical antagonists that block the action of the addictive drugs so that they can be eliminated. For example, methadone is prescribed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms of heroin, and disulfiram produces a sensitivity to alcohol that causes nausea and other unpleasant side effects when the patient ingests alcohol. Other strategies for detoxification reduce the addictive drug gradually. Nicotine patches used over a period of several weeks with decreasing amounts of nicotine, for example, reduce the cravings for tobacco and eventually help to kick the habit.
The psychological dependency on drugs is harder to treat because it involves learning new patterns of behavior. Drug rehabilitation programs attempt to teach the patient new methods of interacting in a drug-free environment. A patient has to make new friends who are not drug users, and look introspectively to change the habits that led to the addiction. Drug rehabilitation is the start of a new life for a drug user. Nothing will be the way it was before.
The social adjustment is probably the hardest part of rehabilitation. How do you find new friends? A recovered addict needs to participate in constructive social activities. Church groups or volunteer groups may provide some opportunities for social networking. It is never easy. A recovered addict is seldom trusted. People will wonder if the person will steal to get money for drugs, or they will fear for their safety thinking that the person could become violent. If the person injected drugs, they will wonder if he or she has AIDS which could be transmitted. The road to recovery requires persistence, dedication to staying clean, and the hope that life will be normal one day.
Drug Rehabilitation Programs
Rehabilitation programs need to work closely with the patient. The most successful programs offer a variety of options including residential inpatient treatment, short-stay options, or outpatient treatment with local support groups, extended care centers, and sober houses. You can opt to go for state-funded rehab centers or you can enter luxury treatment centers, where spending $25,000 on drug rehab is not unheard of.
Rehabilitation requires competent medical staff and properly equipped treatment centers. Although the treatment may be expensive, some of the cost of a rehabilitation program may be covered by health insurance. Inpatient treatment is best accomplished when physicians and nurses are available around the clock to ensure a safe withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs. Since drug abuse and alcoholism affects the entire family, outpatient programs need to involve the family members so that they can learn how to provide support, encouragement, continuing care, and help the patient integrate back into society.
Rehabilitation is probably the hardest thing that an addict will have to accomplish. It is not unusual for an individual to relapse or fall off the wagon and resume drug or alcohol abuse. Newspapers and tabloids frequently carry the mug shots of movie stars who in spite of their money and notoriety cannot overcome their vices. In the end, it is up to the individual to muster the will to be sober or drug-free. Nobody can do it for you. There are some things that you have to do for yourself.
Resources for Drug Rehabilitation
Smokefree.gov - Offers online step-by-step cessation guide, local and state telephone quit lines and publications which can be downloaded, printed, or ordered.
Center for Disease Control - Explains the hazards of smoking and offers resources for quitting and support. (Provides some links in Spanish).
Prescription Drug Abuse Chart - The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, used an evidence-based approach to assess the harm associated with drugs. After considering the physical harm to the user, the drug's potential for addiction, and the impact on society of drug use, they came up with this list:
Commonly abused drugs:
Amphetamines/Methamphetamine, Anorectic Drugs, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Buprenorphine, Butorphanol, Cannabis, Chloral Hydrate, Cocaine, Codeine, Depressants, Dextroproxyphene, Fentanyl, Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Glutethimide and Methaqualone, Hallucinogens, Hashish, Hashish Oil, Heroin, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Inhalants, Ketamine, Khat, LAAM, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), Marijuana, MDMA (Ecstasy), Meperidine, Meprobamate, Methadone, Methcathinone, Methylphenidate (Ritalin), Morphine, Narcotics, Opium, Oxycodone, Pentazocine (Talwin), Paraldehyde (Paral), Peyote and Mescaline, Phencyclidine (PCP), Psiocybin and Psilocyne and other Tryptamines, Steroids, Stimulants, Thebaine