Drug abuse is the precursor to drug addiction. While it’s true that some people who use drugs don’t go on to develop debilitating substance use disorders because they will stop using before it gets to that point. Some individuals are born with a set of genes that predispose them to addiction, and when exposed to certain environmental factors, they may go on to abuse drugs. What starts as something that feels like harmless fun can end up becoming an uncontrollable addiction.
What Is Drug Abuse?
Drug abuse touches the lives of millions of people all over the United States and often leads to more severe problems such as addiction. Abuse is characterized by the use of a substance to the extent that it harms the user. If you’ve been prescribed medicine and you’re taking it more frequently or in higher quantities than advised by your doctor, you’ve been abusing legal drugs.
Cannabis, prescription drugs and so-called party drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy are the most frequently abused across the country. People begin using these substances recreationally, limiting their intake and feeling as if they’re safe. However, some people enjoy the high so much that they seek it out regularly, until they can’t control how much they’re using.
Many people still ask the question, “Is drug addiction a disease?” The answer is yes. Both drug abuse and drug addiction are substance use disorders, which are featured in the diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders (DSM)
Effects of Drug Abuse
- Opiates: This type of drug binds to opioid receptors in the brain, which mimic naturally occurring endorphins. When used, they cause feelings of euphoria, and many are converted to morphine in the liver, meaning the effects are similar to heroin. Opioids/opiates are highly addictive, and you should only use them as prescribed by a doctor.
- Benzodiazepines and sleeping pills: These drugs are frequently prescribed for anxiety but should only be used in the short term. They take effect on the central nervous system, causing an influx of GABA. This neurotransmitter inhibits activity in the central nervous system, inducing feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, and are considered a sedative. Like alcohol or opiates, they lead to physical and psychological addiction, which can be highly dangerous.
People often use cocaine to lubricate social situations due to the feelings of confidence and exhilaration it can provide users. It causes a rush of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reinforcing behaviors. It also counteracts the effects of alcohol, which means people can drink longer and remain upbeat. Crack cocaine is a chemically altered form of cocaine that is even more addictive as it leads to a more concentrated rush of dopamine.
MDMA significantly increases the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, with the former being the most abundantly available. This causes intense feelings of euphoria, love and well-being, which is starkly contrasted by the way a person feels once the high is over.
Using this drug depletes the brain’s supply of vital neurotransmitters and leads to a “come down.”
Methamphetamine induces the release of copious amounts of dopamine, in far higher quantities than cocaine, crack cocaine or ecstasy. The user is usually high for upwards of 12 hours, and their behavior will be highly erratic during this time. Due to the extreme depletion of the brain’s supply of dopamine, people who abuse the drug can quickly become addicted.
Heroin, or diamorphine in medical terms, is derived from the seeds of a specific poppy plant. It imitates endorphins in the brain, which are responsible for suppressing pain and inducing feelings of happiness. As the use of heroin continues, your body starts to rely on the substance, believing it to be essential for functioning. This extreme physical dependence means someone who abuses the drug needs more and more to achieve a high.
Causes of Drug Addiction
Something else people often ask is, “Is drug addiction genetic?” While the answer is highly complex, scientists have ascertained that the origins of addiction are around 60% genetic and 40% environmental. There is no single gene or experience that foretells the onset of a substance abuse disorder.
The genetic aspect includes the interaction of over 50 genes, as well as the impact that drug use in the family can have on an individual. For example, someone who has been exposed to substance use in their childhood home is more likely to see the behavior as acceptable compared to someone who hasn’t.
It’s also often true that parents who use drugs supervise their children less, enabling the children to start experimenting with drugs from an early age. The earlier you take up a habit, such as smoking, drinking or drug use, the more likely you’ll struggle with addiction in the future. Other environmental factors include exposure to trauma, stress, peer pressure and the media.
Signs of Drug Abuse
- Increased irritation or excitability when taking part in regular social interactions
- Losing interest in hobbies and enjoyable pastimes
- Legal or financial issues such as debt, frequently borrowing, arrests, driving under the influence or stealing
- Neglecting essential responsibilities, such as poor performance at school or work and neglecting family life
- Problems in interpersonal relationships, such as the loss of valued friendships, an unhappy boss and arguments with family members
- Unusual or out of character behavior
- Frequent, unexplained disappearances
- Drug paraphernalia such as blister packs, smoking papers, rolled-up banknotes and needles
- Unusual smells
Symptoms of Drug Abuse
- Bloodshot or glazed-over eyes
- Pinpoint or dilated pupils
- Weight fluctuations
- Sleep disturbances
- Diminished self-care
- Lack of coordination
- Changes in attitude