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Drug abuse occurs when you’re unable to control your use of prescribed drugs or you're using another legal or illegal substance to the point that it interferes with your ability to function. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 40,000 people died from accidental drug overdose in the United States in 2011. Each year, more than 22,000 people die from prescription drug abuse alone.
Drug abuse also leads to other public health problems, such as:
Intravenous drug users, who inject drugs, are also at risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases, such as HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis.
Addiction involves many social and biological factors, but treatment is available. The most successful way to stop drug abuse is through prevention and education.
Alcohol is found in beer, wine, and liquor. It’s legal for adults over the age of 21 to purchase and drink in the United States. Your body rapidly absorbs alcohol from your stomach and small intestine into your bloodstream.
One standard drink equals:
When you drink alcohol, your brain function and motor skills become impaired. Alcohol damages every organ in your body. It can also damage your developing fetus if you’re pregnant.
Alcohol use increases your risk of:
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, occurs when your use of alcohol affects your ability to work or maintain relationships. Alcohol abuse can threaten your long-term health.
The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that over a 30-day period:
Anabolic steroids are also commonly known as:
Steroids are man-made substances. They mimic the male sex hormone, testosterone. They’re taken orally or injected. They’re illegal in the United States, but some athletes abuse them to enhance performance and build strength.
Steroids can cause serious and permanent health problems, including:
Women who use steroids face additional symptoms, such as:
Teen users may:
This category of drugs refers to a wide variety of illegal drugs that young adults often use at dance parties, clubs, and bars.
They include the following:
Club drugs can lead to feelings of euphoria, detachment, or sedation. Roofies, in particular, have been used to commit sexual assaults on unsuspecting victims.
They can cause:
They’re especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Cocaine is also known as:
Cocaine is a powerful drug that leads to a strong addiction. It’s sold as a fine, white powder. It’s injected into the veins, snorted through the nose, or smoked. It can also be processed into crack cocaine, a cheaper product that’s also highly addictive. In both forms, cocaine causes the user to feel energetic and euphoric.
Cocaine use increases:
Cocaine users risk:
The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 1.5 million Americans age 12 and older were current cocaine users.
Heroin is also known as:
Heroin is an illegal opiate. Like morphine, a legal prescription drug, heroin is made from the seed of the poppy plant, or opium. It’s a white or brown powder. It’s injected into a vein, smoked, or snorted through the nose. Users feel euphoria and experience clouded thinking followed by a drowsy state.
Heroin use leads to:
Regular heroin use leads to higher tolerance. Over time, users may need to take more of the drug to experience its effects. This causes addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms if the user stops taking the drug.
These drugs are also known as:
Inhalants are chemical vapors that users breathe to experience mind-altering effects. They include common products, such as:
The short-term effects of these drugs cause a feeling similar to alcohol use.
Inhalants are extremely dangerous. They can lead to:
The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that about 546,000 people age 12 and older used inhalants.
This drug is also known as:
Marijuana is a dried mix of the cannabis plant’s:
It’s usually smoked, but it can also be ingested in a variety of edible products. It produces feelings of euphoria, distorted perceptions, and trouble solving problems. It’s the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States. In 2014, an estimated 22.2 million Americans were users of marijuana, reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Research has proven and continues to explore the effectiveness of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions, such as glaucoma and the negative side effects of chemotherapy. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the District of Columbia and 23 states have approved marijuana for medical use, including:
Other names for this drug include:
Methamphetamine is a very addictive drug. It’s closely related to amphetamine. It’s a white or yellowish powder that’s snorted, injected, or heated and smoked.
The user can experience long-term wakefulness. They may also increase their physical activity, which can lead to physical symptoms like increased:
If used for a long time, it can lead to:
Many people are prescribed medication for pain and other conditions. Prescription drug abuse occurs when you take a medication that’s not prescribed for you or you take it for reasons other than those prescribed by your doctor. Some people can become addicted, even when they’re using the drug as prescribed.
These drugs may include:
Their effects differ depending on the medication, but abusing prescription drugs can lead to:
It may lead to long-term physical dependence and addiction. The illegal use of prescription drugs has grown over the past few decades. This is partially because they have become more widely available. The focus of law enforcement has also been on illicit drugs.
Public health experts usually break up drug abuse into stages:
It’s important to find a program that follows these principles of addiction treatment:
Treatment programs should check for and monitor infectious diseases while providing risk-education counseling. This encourages you to act responsibly so you don’t contract or spread infectious diseases.
Depending on the drug you’re addicted to, the first stage of treatment is often medically assisted detoxification. This process is one in which supportive care is provided as the drug is cleared from your bloodstream.
Detoxification is followed by other treatments to encourage long-term abstinence. Many treatments involve both individual and group counseling. These are given in outpatient facilities or inpatient residential recovery programs.
Medications are also helpful to reduce your withdrawal symptoms and encourage recovery. In heroin addiction, for example, your doctor may prescribe a drug called methadone. It can ease your recovery and help you cope with the intense withdrawal stage.
The best way to avoid drug abuse is to prevent initial use and addiction. Efforts usually focus on encouraging youth to avoid peer pressure. Community prevention programs work in schools, with teachers, and with community members to educate and provide information and support.
Parents play an important role in preventing their children from using drugs. You should:
The following are resources you can use to get help:
Written by: Cindie Slightham
Medically reviewed on: Feb 22, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PMHNP-BC
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