Drug Abuse (cont.)
Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Drug use disorder facts
- What is drug use disorder?
- What types of drugs are commonly abused?
- What are the physical and psychological effects of drug use disorders?
- What are causes and risk factors for developing a drug use disorder?
- What are warning signs that you or a loved one may have a drug use disorder?
- What are symptoms and signs of drug use disorder?
- What happens to your brain when you take drugs?
- How do health-care professionals diagnose drug addiction?
- What is the treatment for drug addiction?
- What are complications of drug addiction?
- What is the prognosis of drug use disorder?
- Is it possible to prevent drug abuse and addiction?
- Where can people get more information and help for drug use disorders?
- Find a local Psychiatrist in your town
What is drug use disorder?
Formerly separately called drug abuse and drug addiction, drug use disorder, also called substance use or chemical use disorder, is an illness that is characterized by a destructive pattern of using a substance that leads to significant problems or distress, including tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance, as well as other problems that use of the substance can cause for the sufferer, either socially or in terms of their work or school performance. The effects of drug use disorders on society are substantial. The economic cost, including everything from lost wages to medical, legal, and mental-health implications is estimated to be about $215 billion. The cultivation of marijuana and production of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine has negative impact on soil and water supplies. Drug law infractions make up the most common reason for arrest in the United States, more than 14 million in 2008.
Teens are increasingly engaging in prescription drug abuse, particularly narcotics (which are prescribed to relieve severe pain), and stimulant medications, which treat conditions like attention-deficit disorder and narcolepsy.
The term dual diagnosis refers to the presence of both a drug use disorder and a serious mental-health problem in a person. Substance use disorders, unfortunately, occur quite commonly in people who also have severe mental illness. Individuals with dual diagnosis are also at higher risk of being noncompliant with treatment.
What types of drugs are commonly abused?
Virtually any substance whose ingestion can result in a euphoric ("high") feeling can be abused. While many are aware of the abuse of legal substances like alcohol or illegal drugs like marijuana (in most states) and cocaine, less well-known is the fact that inhalants like household cleaners and over-the-counter medications like cold medicines are some of the most commonly abused substances. The following are many of the drugs and types of drugs that are commonly abused and/or result in dependence:
- Alcohol: Although legal, alcohol is a toxic substance, especially for a developing fetus when a mother consumes this drug during pregnancy. One of the most common addictions, alcoholism can have devastating effects on the alcoholic individual's physical well-being, as well as his or her ability to function interpersonally and at work.
- Amphetamines: This group of drugs comes in many forms, from prescription medications like methylphenidate (for example, Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin) and dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall) to illegally manufactured drugs like methamphetamine ("crystal meth"). Overdose of any of these substances can result in seizure and death.
- Anabolic steroids: A group of substances that is most often abused by bodybuilders and other athletes, this group of drugs can lead to devastating emotional symptoms like aggression and paranoia, as well as severe long-term physical effects like infertility and organ failure.
- Caffeine: While it is consumed by many coffee, tea, and soda drinkers, when consumed in excess, this substance can be habit-forming and produce palpitations, insomnia, tremors, irritability, and significant anxiety.
- Cannabis: More usually called marijuana, the scientific name for cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, with nearly 29 million people 12 years or older reporting having used this drug in the past year. In addition to the negative effects the drug itself can produce (for example, infertility, difficulties with sexual performance, paranoia, lack of motivation), the fact that it is commonly mixed ("cut") with other substances so drug dealers can make more money selling the diluted substance or expose the user to more addictive drugs exposes the marijuana user to the dangers associated with those added substances. Examples of ingredients that marijuana is commonly cut with include baby powder, oregano, embalming fluid, phencyclidine (PCP), opiates, and cocaine.
- Cocaine: A drug that tends to stimulate the nervous system, cocaine can be snorted in powder form, smoked when in the form of rocks ("crack" cocaine), or injected when made into a liquid.
- Ecstasy: Also called MDMA to denote its chemical composition (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), this drug tends to create a sense of euphoria and an expansive love or desire to nurture others. In overdose, it can increase body temperature to the point of causing death.
- Hallucinogens: Examples include LSD and mescaline, as well as so-called naturally occurring hallucinogens like certain mushrooms. These drugs can be dangerous in their ability to alter the perceptions of the user. For example, a person who is intoxicated ("high" on) with a hallucinogen may perceive danger where there is none and to think that situations that are truly dangerous are not. Those misperceptions can result in dangerous behaviors (like jumping out of a window because the person thinks they have wings and can fly).
- Inhalants: One of the most commonly abused group of substances due to its easy accessibility, inhalants are usually in household cleaners, like ammonia, bleach, and other substances that emit fumes. Brain damage, to the point of death, can result from using an inhalant even just once or over the course of time, depending on the individual.
- Nicotine: The addictive substance found in cigarettes, nicotine is actually one of the most addictive substances that exists. In fact, nicotine addiction is often compared to the intense addictiveness associated with opiates like heroin.
- Opiates: This group is also called narcotics and includes drugs like heroin, codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan. This group of substances sharply decrease the functioning of the nervous system. The lethality of opiates is often the result of the abuser having to use increasingly higher amounts to achieve the same level of intoxication, ultimately to the point that the dose needed to get high is the same as the dose that is lethal by overdose for that individual by halting the person's breathing (respiratory arrest).
- Phencyclidine: Commonly called PCP, this drug can cause the user to feel highly suspicious, become very aggressive, and to have an exceptional amount of physical strength. This can make the person quite dangerous to others.
- Sedative, hypnotic, or antianxiety drugs: The second most commonly used group of illicit drugs, these substances quiet or depress the nervous system. They can therefore cause death by stopping the breathing (respiratory arrest) of the individual who either uses these drugs in overdose or who mixes one or more of these drugs with another nervous system depressant (like alcohol, another sedative drug, or an opiate).
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