Drug Abuse


Drug Abuse is generally defined as the use of a drug with such frequency
that the user has physical or mental harm or it impairs social abilities. The
substances that are discussed in this report are called psychoactive drugs;
those drugs that influence or alter the workings of the mind, affect moods,
emotions, feelings, and thinking processes.

Drug Dependence/Addiction

There are three basic characteristics that indicate that the user is
dependent on a drug. First, the user continues to use the drug for an extended
period of time. Second, the user finds it difficult to stop using the drug. They
may drop out of school, steal, go to jail, lose their jobs, or leave their
families in order to keep using. Finally, the user has withdrawal symptoms when
drug use is stopped. They may undergo physical pain or mental distress.
The drug mimics a natural process in the brain called neurotransmission.
This is when a brain cell releases a signal to another brain cell. The signal
then returns to the first brain cell. The signal is called a neurotransmitter.
One major neurotransmitter is called dopamine, which is involved in feelings of
pleasure. When the drug is released into the brain, it blocks the dopamine from
returning to the first brain cell. Repeated use changes the brain cells so that
normal messages can\'t be sent between brain cells. The drug must always be
present in order for neurotransmissions to take place. The user is only able to
feel pleasure from the cocaine rather than the things he/she used to find
pleasurable. This is called drug addiction or dependence.

Drug Classification

Drugs are generally categorized into two groups, stimulants and
depressants. Stimulants are drugs that speed up signals through the nervous
system. They produce alertness, arousal and excitability. They also inhibit
fatigue and sleep. They include the amphetamines, such as cocaine, caffeine, and
nicotine. Depressants slow down the signals through the nervous system. They
produce relaxation, lowering of anxiety, drowsiness, and sleep. They include
sedatives (such as barbiturates, alcohol, and tranquilizers) and narcotics
(heroin, morphine, opium, codeine), which dull the mind\'s perception of pain.
Some drugs are not included in the stimulant/depressant categories. An
example is the hallucinogens, such as PCP and LSD, which produce unusual mental
states such as psychedelic visions. Also, marijuana is not generally regarded as
belonging to any one of these categories.

Effects of Drugs

There are four basic stages that the drug user goes through. In stage
one, there are no outward behavioral changes caused by the use of drugs. The
drug use is considered normal. In stage two, the user actively seeks the
euphoric effects of the drug by using it more frequently. A reliable source of
the drug is established. The user may add mid-week use rather than only on
weekends or at parties. In younger users, a general lack of motivation is
noticed, along with changes in friends and lower grades. In stage three, the
user is extremely preoccupied with the desire to experience the effects of the
drug. The drug is used daily. There may be thoughts of suicide and/or depression.
There may be family problems or trouble with the law. In the fourth and final
stage, the user has become addicted. They are dependent on the drug just to feel
normal. Physical signs are frequent sore throats, coughing, fatigue, and weight
loss. They may be experiencing overdosing and blackouts more frequently. The
user may be engaging in criminal activities in order to obtain money for the
drug.

Alcohol

One major drug that physically effects the user is alcohol. It causes
damage to the brain, pancreas, and kidney. It also causes high blood pressure
and may heighten the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Other consequences of
alcohol abuse are possible alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, stomach
and duodenal ulcers, colitis, irritable colon, impotence and infertility, birth
defects and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (retardation, low birth weight, small head
size, limb abnormalities), and premature aging. The user may also experience
diminished immunity to disease, sleep disturbances, muscle cramps, and edema.

Marijuana

Another harmful drug is marijuana, especially since the potency of
marijuana available has over the last decade increased by 275 percent. Some
marijuana users have chronic lung disease. Marijuana can be more dangerous than
cigarettes because there are more known cancer causing agents in marijuana smoke
than cigarette smoke. Also, one marijuana cigarette is as damaging to the lungs
as four tobacco cigarettes.
Small doses of marijuana diminish motor skills, hamper judgement,
distort perception, and impair memory function. Chronic marijuana may cause
brain damage, accelerated heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. Mood changes
occur. There is a decline in school work, difficulty