Drug usage for recreational purposes is an age old practice but addiction to these substances is now one of the main social ills that plagues communities across the globe. It is scourge that is destroying communities, families and lives at a faster rate than many biological diseases. It is not a problem only among lower socioeconomic groups – addiction to street drugs affects even the most affluent communities. Drug usage often starts from an early age, but it is not just teens that are at risk of entering into this cycle of chemical addiction. It is not unheard of for younger children to be involved in drug usage – sometimes even younger than 10 years of age.
While the end to the drug scourge is nowhere in sight, parents and caregivers can still play an important role in preventing children and teens from becoming addicts. The fact is that avoiding experimental drug use altogether is difficult to do in modern society. Children and teens are exposed to illicit drugs in various situations – at schools, social events and sometimes even within the home from other siblings. However, understanding these substances and spotting drug usage as well as intervening as early as possible can save a child from a life of addiction.
What is a drug addiction?
A drug is basically any substance that is used for a specific physiological effect on the body within minutes to hours after taking it. Drugs can be legal or illegal. Medication that is used for medical reasons are a drug but it is considered to be a legal drug. It can further be classified as an OTC (over-the-counter) drug if it is purchased without a prescription, or as a prescription drug if it can only be acquired with a doctor’s prescription. Street drugs, or illicit substances, are illegal in most countries. The purpose behind the use of these drugs is mainly for recreational purposes as a result of the effect it has on the body, especially the resulting euphoria.
Addiction is not just about a physiological dependence on the drug. It is also about the psychosocial impact of needing to use the drug on a frequent basis. Physiologically a drug user will undergo withdrawal symptoms if they discontinue the drug, and crave it a short while after using it. The psychosocial effect is more complex. The search for, use of and effects from these drugs will ultimately affect the addict’s life in every possible way – from a breakdown in interpersonal relationships to adverse impact on career and daily functioning, even of simple daily tasks like bathing and eating.
Types of Drugs
Broadly, drugs have four types of effects on the body.
- Stimulants heighten physiological processes in the body, like heart rate and senses. Amphetamines are one example.
- Depressants dull physiological processes in the body, like heart rate and senses. Cannabis is more of a depressant.
- Hallucinogens alter perception and can cause hallucinations. LSD or acid is one such type.
- Narcotics alter mood and behavior, dulls pain and induces sleep. Heroin is a naroctic.
However, each drug does not neatly fit into a single category above. There is a large degree of overlap. For example, cannabis is a depressant but also a narcotic and can have hallucinogenic effects on some people when consumed in high doses.
Amphetamines and Methamphetamines
Amphetamines are a group of drugs. It is a stimulant that raises brain activity and makes the user feel more alert and active. For this reason it is commonly referred to as ‘speed’. Some pharmaceutical drugs are amphetamines as well, like those commonly used in the treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) but it is carefully manufactured and prescribed. However, illicit amphetamines used for recreational use can vary greatly in strength, appearance and effects. Methamphetamines are similar to amphetamines but much more stronger. One widely known type of methamphetamine is crystal meth (methamphetamine) or ‘ice’.
Read more about crystal meth addiction.
Although medical marijuana is legalized in many American states, the recreational use of this drug from illicit sources still poses a problem. Medical marijuana is supposed to have higher levels of a cannabinoid known as CBD which apparently does not have addictive properties or induce euphoria. Illicitly-sourced marijuana has high levels of another cannabinoid known as THC which is addictive and induces euphoria. Marijuana is sourced from the cannabis plant, namely Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. It is mainly smoked or eaten for recreational purposes. Cannabis is often said to be the least addictive of illicit substances but some claim that it is ‘gateway drug’ that leads to the use of other more addictive substances.
Read more on marijuana drug abuse.
Cocaine and Crack
Cocaine is among the more well known of the street drugs. It is among the most expensive and usually associated with the rich and famous. Cocaine is known to be highly addictive and despite its cost, it is equally accessible as other street drugs. It is available as a white powder that can be snorted or injected. Cocaine is derived from the leave of the coca plant (Erythroxylum coca) which is grown, harvested and processed mainly in South America. Crack, or crack cocaine, is a processed form of cocaine that vaporizes more easily and can therefore be smoked. It is a much stronger version of cocaine with faster action.
Read more on cocaine and crack abuse.
Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioksy-methamphetamine or MDMA) has become popular as a club drug. It is widely used to enhance social activities like a party or rave. The drug initially gives a burst of energy and makes the user more emotional. For these reasons it is sometimes referred to as the love drug or empathogen. Given the social setting, the user may dance for very long periods of time and want to engage in sexual activity, among other behavior. However, these are short term effects of the drug. Some users have a bad “trip” which can be extremely unpleasant. It is an addictive substance even though the user may take a longer period of time to become dependent on it.
Read more about ecstasy abuse.
Heroin is one of the more highly addictive street drugs, widely known for its potent euphoria. It acts on the pleasure and pain centers of the brain. The drug is produced from the poppy plant, and is similar to opium and morphine. It therefore has similar effects as strong painkillers (prescription opioid/opiate analgesics). In fact heroin is converted into morphine within the body. Although heroin is usually injected after dissolving and diluting, very pure heroin can be smoked or snorted. Beyond the health risks of addiction and using street drugs, there is a greater risk of conditions like HIV infection among heroin users due to sharing needles during IV administration.
Read more about heroin abuse.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or acid is a a very potent hallucinogenic. It is available as a liquid but is usually distributed as small blots of paper or tiny tablets that have been impregnated with LSD. The effects of LSD can be very unpredictable and it is not uncommon for users to have “bad trips”. Regular LSD use leads to a high tolerance meaning that more of the substance has to be used to yield the desired effect. It is often not considered to be very addictive as there are little to no withdrawal symptoms when regular LSD users stop using it. However, it may be used simultaneously with other drugs or LSD use may lead to the use of other drugs later on. These other drugs may be much more addictive.
All images have been sourced from Wikimedia Commons