It’s easy to discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in terms of emergency room visits, as the numbers are dramatic. In 2008 alone, for example, over 300,000 people went to emergency rooms due to the abuse of narcotic pain relievers, and many more got help for other illicit substances or an overindulgence in alcohol, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. (DAWN). These substances are just so very powerful that they can overwhelm the body’s delicate systems and place the person in a medical crisis that only swift care could amend. But discussing emergency situations can blind addicted people to the real dangers they face each and every time they use drugs. In reality, going to the emergency room may not be one of the most dangerous situations that could come about due to a substance abuse issue.
Thankfully, the health consequences mentioned in this article don’t have to come to pass. With the proper treatment program and extensive follow-up care, people can beat their drug abuse issues and build a life that’s safe and sober. If you’d like to find out more about this option, be sure to call us at Black Bear Lodge. We’re happy to discuss any concept mentioned in this article, and we’ll also answer any personalized question you might have that pertains to the addiction recovery process.
Physical Consequences of Drug Abuse
As mentioned, a hospital trip is a common part of life for people who have drug addictions, but the stays are often brief. For example, of those people who entered a hospital due to abuse of methamphetamine in 2008, 60 percent were treated and released, according to DAWN. These facilities are just not equipped to deal with longstanding problems that might take place due to a persistent drug abuse problem. Instead, the staff of an emergency room tries to stabilize the health of clients, so patients can return home and follow up with their medical teams on their own time. Unfortunately, many people who have drug addictions do no such follow-up care, and their health can continue to fail as they continue to abuse drugs.
Some of the damage comes about through the method in which people take drugs. Those who snort drugs, for example, can expose the sensitive tissues that line the nose to cauterizing substances that can kill off tiny blood vessels. As the abuse moves forward, the tissues that line the nose can simply die off, as they’re not nourished by any kind of blood flow. Smoking drugs can also lead to damage, as people who inhale these intoxicating substances may also be breathing in pollutants and contaminants.
Shooting up drugs with a needle is no safer, as many of the drugs people use with needles aren’t designed to hit the bloodstream directly. Crushing pills, for example, may leave behind little bits of debris that could clump together in the bloodstream and cause pockets of infection. Using needles could also result in blood-borne infections, as many people who use drugs are forced to share equipment with others who use drugs. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 17 percent of people living with HIV in 2008 were users of injectable drugs.
These people may not seem ill, and they may not discuss their infection openly, but sharing a needle with a person like this could mean sharing an infection too. Hepatitis could also be spread in this manner.
The risks of drug abuse don’t end with the method in which people take drugs. No matter how the substances enter the body, once they’re in place, they can spread to vital organs and cause intense damage.
Drugs have been linked to physical ailments that impact the:
Different drugs work on different systems, and the damage they can bring about is similarly variable, but all seem to have the capacity to inhibit natural systems and bring about intense suffering.
Mental Health Damage Due to Drugs
Addictive drugs bring about intense changes in sensation and perception, all due to the chemical alterations they elicit within the cells of the brain. Some interrupt the systems the brain uses to communicate, and others hijack the brain’s pleasure center. Again, the damage drugs can cause can be variable, depending on the substances used and the particular chemistry of the person who is taking those drugs, but many of these substances have the capacity to cause changes that aren’t easy to see but are remarkably easy to feel.
Drugs that tinker with pleasure centers can leave behind damage that impacts the brain’s ability to both recognize and respond to situations that once brought the person intense joy. A person who once lit up at the smell of baking bread, for example, might respond to a whiff of yeast with nothing more than a passing glance. The brain becomes hardwired to respond only to the presence of drugs, and nothing else seems to do the trick. People may feel muted and low when they don’t have drugs, and feel only normal when they take in the drugs that once overwhelmed them with pleasure. In time, any sense of joy becomes harder and harder to find.
Altered brain cells can also become less effective at controlling behavior. As a result, people who abuse drugs may find it hard to resist the urge to use drugs, even though they know those substances might harm them. They want the drugs, and when the urge strikes, they feel helpless to resist the call. Impulsivity like this can lead people to crime, as they might not be able to measure the risks they’re taking in order to obtain drugs. An impulsive streak can also lead people to take huge doses of drugs, or to blend drugs, all in the hopes of feeling pleasure in the moment. If they’re blinded to future consequences, the present is all that matters.
Some types of drugs have also been known to interact with subtle signals associated with mental illness. People who have a family history of schizophrenia, for example, may find that hallucinogenic drugs like marijuana seem to turn on the latent mental illness, vaulting them into their first episode of disconnection. Others that lean toward depression may find that the pleasure alterations of drugs make their feelings of sadness more powerful and harder to ignore. The damage might be transitory or permanent, but it can be difficult to live with.
Even if drugs don’t spark longstanding damage, the transitory pain they can inflict can be severe. People who abuse drugs may feel trapped by the substances they take, desperate to get more at any cost. They may become isolated from the people they love, as their attention is exclusively focused on getting more drugs. They may not remember what life was like without drugs, and they may be incapable of thinking of how life might be if they were sober. The sense of depression they may feel could be intense.
Physical Damage Due to Alcohol
Many people are aware of the physical consequences of abusing illicit drugs, as television shows and movies often depict the damage with Technicolor clarity, but these same people may not be aware that the little sips of alcohol they take in on a daily basis could also be damaging. In fact, those who have an alcohol abuse issue could face a great variety of health problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that list might include:
- Liver damage
- Cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Increased blood pressure
Alcohol has also been associated with physical injuries, brought about due to intense sedation during intoxication. It’s not uncommon for people to slip and fall while drunk, and it’s also not uncommon for people to participate in devastating motor vehicle accidents while under the influence of alcohol. Any of these incidents could lead to long-lasting physical and emotional scarring.
A dependence on alcohol can also lead to serious symptoms of withdrawal when people attempt to get sober. The sleepy brain cells that are accustomed to constant sedation with alcohol can wake up a bit too quickly, and seizures can develop. People who go through this kind of withdrawal even once could be at greater risk for developing seizures the next time they try to get sober. Without help, some people could lose their lives in their attempt to deal with an addiction on a DIY basis.
Treatment Can Help
People who have these addictions may struggle to get well alone, as they may not have the ability to think through their addictions and make better long-term decisions. The physical pain an addiction can cause can also make healing hard, as people may feel simply too uncomfortable to even think about changing their lives in such a significant manner. Moving past these issues can be difficult, but those families that do may find that the rewards are well worth their efforts, as experts suggest that addiction care really can make a big difference for people in need.
According to the National Institutes of Health, addiction care provides a seven-to-one return on cost, as people who get help tend to experience fewer physical problems and fewer mental health crises in the long term. They just feel better and function better, and many aspects of their lives tend to improve as a result. The comprehensive nature of addiction care is directly responsible for the sea change these people experience.
In an addiction program, experts devise a therapeutic approach that can:
- Motivate a person to change
- Outline how an addiction develops
- Delve into the person’s history with addiction
- Build on the person’s strengths
- Resolve the triggers that lead to drug abuse
Individual therapy, married with group therapy sessions, forms the crux of a program like this, but support group work and even alternative therapies might play a role in helping the person discover a new way to live.
The physical damage caused by addiction might be directly amended through nutritional support and physical therapy, but people might also be expected to work with their medical teams on longstanding problems such as HIV, diabetes and cancers.
These are issues that can cause pain, so they tend to be triggers for recurring substance abuse, but these are the sorts of concerns that are best addressed with the help of a team of medical experts. As the discomfort fades, the urge to use might also fade away.
Programs like this can be remarkably effective, but they also take time to complete. In one study conducted as part of The Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study, researchers found that clients who had spent at least three months in treatment, if not more, had a more robust recovery than people who participated for a shorter period of time. Staying enrolled can be vital, as people just have so many lessons to learn and tips to pick up. It’s not the sort of work that can be completed in one quick burst, so staying engaged in the process could mean the difference between healing and backsliding.
Making a Change
Even though addiction care has been proven effective, many people simply don’t take advantage of the programs that are available to them. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 19.3 million people who needed addiction care in 2011 didn’t enroll in any kind of treatment program. If your family is part of this statistic, we’d like to help.
Our facility, Black Bear Lodge, is located outside of Atlanta, Georgia. We provide a full suite of addiction services, designed to help people come to terms with the addictions they’ve had in the past and the healing they’d like to do in the future. We can provide a full assessment, designed to bring all issues that contribute to the addiction to light, and we can assist you with therapies that are designed to ameliorate damage and help you take control. All of our programs are personalized, so the care you’ll get will be dependent on the issues in play in your life right now, but we’d like to talk about how we might help you to heal. Please call.