In the United States, nearly 45 percent of people know someone who has a substance abuse problem, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. This seems to suggest that a lot of people know, on a firsthand basis, about the dangers of substance use and abuse. It’s a topic worth revisiting, however, as many people seem to remain ignorant of the dangers a drug problem can cause. If these people knew the risks they were taking, perhaps they’d end their experimentation, and if an addiction had already taken hold, perhaps they’d be moved to get help.
Specific Drugs, Specific Risks
While experts agree that almost any addictive substance can cause damage, some of the intense dangers people face when they use drugs come about through the complicated chemistry of the substances they put inside their bodies. The choice of drugs is important, as the chemicals a person chooses to ingest could do damage at a molecular level that’s difficult to correct.
Someone who chooses cocaine, for example, is opting for a substance that can seal off blood vessels. If that person snorts cocaine, the drug could cause structural tissues in the nose and head to die away, until the person’s face collapses inward. Taking the drug orally could make tissues in the esophagus and stomach die away in massive folds that block the intestinal tract. Smoking a crack form of cocaine could mean inhaling all sorts of nasty chemicals, and that might rend the lungs into a sticky mess.
Those who opt for marijuana might not have the same kind of tissue death, but this drug seems capable of altering brain chemistry in a dramatic way, making the person’s experience of life radically different. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a few emotional changes attributed to marijuana abuse include:
- Lowered sense of life satisfaction
- Increased tardiness at work and poor performance
- Relationship difficulties
- Reduced sense of motivation
Additionally, marijuana has been associated with heart difficulties, including heart attack. The drug also seems to have the ability to lower IQ levels, particularly when people use a large amount of the drug for a long period of time.
Any drug of abuse comes with a laundry list of damage like this, with some effects on mood and cognition and others concerning physical health. Sometimes, the problems last only as long as the person remains high on drugs, and they fade away as sobriety approaches. In some cases, however, the damage left behind is permanent. These aren’t the sorts of details dealers readily share with their clients, but they also aren’t problems that people can simply avoid with a good diet and a fitness program. As long as people are dumping chemicals into their bodies, the damage can, and typically will, continue.
While many of the physical and emotional problems associated with drugs are specific to the type of substance used, there are some problems that seem to be universal, impacting all people who choose to put substances into their bodies. Among those risks, overdose is the most dangerous.
Illicit substances tinker with brain chemistry, amending the way the brain is designed to work. The physical changes substances can bring about are the target for the abuse, but collateral damage can also take hold. Sometimes, this means the body’s vital organs are impacted in such a way that they simply cannot keep functioning. People who take sedative drugs like Vicodin, for example, might impact the body’s ability to breathe properly, and they might fall into a deep sleep from which they never awaken. Those who take stimulants, on the other hand, may speed up the body’s systems to such a degree that they just cook their body. They might collapse due to heat exhaustion or heart failure, all due to drugs.
People who take drugs rarely want to overdose. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics suggests that 74 percent of overdoses due to prescription drugs are accidental. But chasing a high means taking in larger and larger doses of drugs, and often, that means coming closer and closer to taking an amount of drugs that just isn’t compatible with life. It may not be the outcome someone is looking for, but it’s certainly something illicit drugs seem capable of delivering.
While many of the problems people face due to drug addiction are personal and private, there are some issues that impact more than just the person who uses and abuses drugs. For example, addictive drugs are often sold illegally, meaning that people who buy these drugs and have them available are open to arrests. If people have large enough stashes of drugs when they are arrested, they could be charged with crimes linked to drug distribution. Repeat offenses can lead to lengthy jail time, and parents of young children may see their parental rights eroded, all due to drug use. When they emerge from jail, they may find it hard to get good jobs or safe housing, as their records are marred by their prior decisions.
Drug abuse has also been linked to homelessness, as the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness suggests that half of all people who have no place to live abuse a substance of some sort. They may have criminal records, as mentioned, or their drug habits may make steady employment and budgeting difficult. They may not have the skills that allow them to maintain a home, in other words, and the drug abuse issue may be to blame. Being homeless like this could make people prey to all sorts of difficulties, including assaults and ill health. It’s difficult to emerge from the situation once it’s begun, and an addiction can make that horrible cycle start.
Even those who do stay in their homes and manage to avoid an arrest can face serious social problems due to their substance abuse problem. People like this may be so focused on their addiction that they simply can’t relate to the wants and needs of others. They might ignore their families, reject their friends and refuse offers of any activity that doesn’t involve drugs. Deep down, people like this might crave healthy relationships, but the drugs have the ability to ruin their chances to form tight networks of caring friends and family members. In time, only the drugs seem capable of soothing their distress, and a sense of isolation and loss can set in.
Feelings of isolation might deepen and grow when people with addictions realize that the community surrounding them doesn’t understand the concept of addiction. Even though experts know that addictions begin with brain chemistry, leading to alterations that make impulse control difficult or impossible, people in the community might still associate addictions with:
- Poor education
Just admitting that an addiction is in play and that the person had no control over what kinds of drugs come in and how often they’re taken, can lead to serious social rejection. The mere thought of discussing the issue can make some people fearful, as they might be sure that the people around them won’t ever understand or feel willing to help.
In an article in Addiction, experts suggest that experiencing stigma like this can make people more likely to use drugs in the future or perhaps increase the amount of drugs that a person might take. If admitting a problem leads to rejection, the person might feel as though getting better just isn’t possible and that dipping down into addiction is not only preferable but inevitable. While there are therapies that can help people to reduce the stigma they feel and therapies that can encourage outsiders to be more tolerant of those with addictions, reducing rates of substance use and abuse might be the best way to ensure that this problem just doesn’t begin.
Taking a Stand
Even though substances of abuse have the capacity to do intense damage, people do continue to choose these drugs. Helping them might mean doing something, rather than waiting for the problem to resolve itself in time. If the damage is caught early, and the person gets appropriate help, the consequences of addiction might be so small and so insignificant that they can be quickly and easily overcome with a little help and guidance.
If someone you know needs help like this, please contact us at Black Bear Lodge. Our programs are appropriate for people who are just starting down the path to addiction and want to ensure that they don’t grow worse in time. They’re also appropriate for people who have advanced cases of addiction and who thought they might never get better. Our customized approach allows us to assess clients carefully and provide therapies that are best for them at that time. We can even modify the therapies we provide over time, based on how the person responds to the treatments we have provided. Please call us to learn more about how this assessment works and how it might help someone you love.