People abuse substances such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco for varied and complicated reasons, but it is clear that our society pays a significant cost. The toll for this abuse can be seen in our hospitals and emergency departments through direct damage to health by substance abuse and its link to physical trauma. Jails and prisons tally daily the strong connection between crime and drug dependence and abuse. Although use of some drugs such as cocaine has declined, use of other drugs such as “0xycodeine” has increased. Finding effective treatment for and prevention of substance abuse has been difficult. Through research, we now have a better understanding of the behavior. Studies have made it clear that drug education and prevention aimed at children and adolescents offers the best chance to curb abuse nationally.
Abused substances produce some form of intoxication that alters judgment, perception, attention, or physical control. Many substances can bring on withdrawal effect caused by cessation or reduction in the amount of the substance used. Withdrawal can range from mild anxiety to seizures and hallucinations. Drug overdose may also cause death.
Nearly all these drugs also can produce a phenomenon known as tolerance where you must use a larger amount of the drug to produce the same level of intoxication.
- Tobacco: People cite many reasons for using tobacco, including pleasure, improved performance and vigilance, relief of depression, curbing hunger, and weight control. The primary addicting substance in cigarettes is nicotine. But cigarette smoke contains thousands of other chemicals that also damage health.
- Alcohol: Although many people have a drink as a “pick me up,” alcohol actually depresses the brain. Alcohol lessens your inhibitions, slurs speech, and decreases muscle control and coordination, and may lead to alcoholism.
- Marijuana: which comes from the plant cannabis sativa, is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. The plant produces delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient associated with intoxication. Marijuana resin, called hashish, contains an even higher concentration of THC. The drug is usually smoked, but it can also be eaten. Its smoke irritates your lungs more and contains more cancer-causing chemicals than tobacco smoke. Common effects of marijuana use include pleasure, relaxation, and impaired coordination and memory.
- Cocaine (also known as crack, coke, snow, rock): In 1997, an estimated 1.5 million people abused cocaine in the United States. Derived from the coca plant of South America, cocaine can be smoked, injected, snorted, or swallowed. The intensity and duration of the drug’s effects depend on how you take it. Desired effects include pleasure and increased alertness. Short-term effects also include paranoia, constriction of blood vessels leading to heart damage or stroke, irregular heartbeat, and death. Severe depression and reduced energy often accompany withdrawal.
- Heroin (also known as smack, horse): Heroin use continues to increase. A 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicated 2.4 million Americans used heroin, including 81,000 new users in 1997. Officials see increased use mainly among people younger than 26 years, often women. In 1997, 87% of heroin users were younger than 26 years, compared to 61% in 1992. Effects of heroin intoxication include drowsiness, pleasure, and slowed breathing. Overdose may result in death from decreased breathing.
- Oxycodone (also known as OxyContin, Oxy) is an opium or morphine derivative narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain, has now reach a crisis level in Juneau as a street drug. OxyContin is illegal without a doctor’s prescription, yet on the street, this drug is now available for recreational use, and has highly addictive and dangerous consequences. Instead of taking this drug in a pill form, the street user crushes and then snorts the powder of this strong narcotic, or inhales it, to receive a quick and very powerful ‘high’. OxyContin street users claim the high from snorting this drug is more powerful than heroin, one of the most highly addictive illegal narcotics on the street. The current epidemic is resulting in tragedy after tragedy for users in Juneau and their families.
- Methamphetamines (also known as meth, crank, ice, speed, crystal): Use of this drug also has increased, especially in the West. Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that increases alertness, decreases appetite, and gives a sensation of pleasure. The drug can be injected, snorted, smoked, or eaten. It shares many of the same toxic effects as cocaine-heart attacks, dangerously high blood pressure, and stroke.
- Club drugs: The club scene and rave parties have popularized an assortment of other drugs. Many young people believe these drugs are harmless or even healthy. These are the more popular club drugs. Ecstasy (also called MDMA, Adam, STP): This is a stimulant and hallucinogen used to improve mood and to maintain energy, often for all-night dance parties. Long-term use may cause damage to the brain’s ability to regulate sleep, pain, memory, and emotions.
Use and abuse of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs may begin in childhood or the teen years. Certain risk factors may increase someone’s likelihood to abuse substances. Factors within a family that influence a child’s early development have been shown to be related to increased risk of drug abuse and include; chaotic home environment, ineffective parenting and/or lack of nurturing and parental attachment. Factors related to a child’s socialization outside the family may also increase risk of drug abuse. Inappropriately aggressive or shy behavior in the classroom, poor social coping skills, poor school performance, and/or association with a deviant peer group are all factors that can make
Most substances abusers believe they can stop using drugs on their own, but a majority who try do not succeed. Research shows that long-term drug use alters brain function and strengthens compulsions to use drugs. This craving continues even after your drug use stops. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, help is available. In Juneau go to: Juneau Mental Health Directory.
For more information on Substance Abuse go to: