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What Are the Dangers of Drug Addiction?

Much has been written in recent years about the dangers of drug abuse and addiction. These dangers will vary depending on the kind of drug used, the length of use, and many other factors. One thing that many of these dangers have in common is that they affect not only the user but also have a negative impact on those around them.

Physical dangers to the user include:
• Developing a tolerance to the drug.
• Withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut back or quit.
• Health problems, like irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, lung damage, and seizures.
• Injury, both accidental and self-inflicted.
• Overdose.
• Death.

When an individual is ready to confront his or her own addiction, the main concern should be how drug abuse can affect that individual’s life and the lives of family, friends, and the greater community.Dangers can also have social, professional, or interpersonal consequences. These can include:

  • Becoming pregnant while using drugs and harming the fetus and newborn baby.
  • Jeopardizing relationships with friends and family.
  • Neglecting work and school responsibilities.
  • Involvement in criminal activity and a greater risk of being victimized by crime.

Even for professional counselors and doctors, it can be hard to identify the point where recreational drug use crosses over into addiction.  However, it isn’t hard to recognize the damage that drugs can cause to a person, a family, or a community. The dangers of drug addiction are far-reaching. When an individual is ready to confront his or her own addiction, the main concern should be how drug abuse can affect that individual’s  life and the lives of family, friends, and the greater community.

The exact cause of drug addiction is unknown; however, there are factors that may contribute to drug addiction:

  • An underlying mental disorder, like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), depression or anxiety.
  • A low sense of self-worth.
  • Emotional distress due to personal, professional, or financial difficulties.
  • Exposure to an environment where drug use is accepted and drugs are readily available.
  • Peer pressure.
  • Genetics.1

Education alone isn’t enough to help an addict get clean. However, learning about the dangers of drug addiction can be an important step for those  thinking about experimenting with heroin, marijuana, or meth—or wondering whether they are ready to seek help for addiction.


Phases of Addiction

The term “drug” refers to any chemical substance that alters the chemistry of the brain, affects feelings and perceptions, or changes the way the body functions.

Drugs include prescription medications, illegal street drugs, marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol. Some individuals seek out drugs in order to relax and unwind, while others use drugs to expand their perceptions or give them energy. For many addicts, drugs are a way to relieve physical or emotional pain.

Some individuals seek out drugs in order to relax and unwind, while others use drugs to expand their perceptions or give them energy. For many addicts, drugs are a way to relieve physical or emotional pain.

Drug addiction rarely happens overnight. It may begin by doing a little speed to lose weight or taking prescription pain medication after a car accident. Before long, the user may be spending more time thinking about how to get the drugs, when to take them, and how to pay for them. He or she may feel anxious, depressed, or angry when a deal falls through or prescription doesn’t get refilled. The stages of drug dependence are as follows:

  • Experimentation: Drug use is voluntary and infrequent. Individuals experiment with drugs because of peer pressure or in response to problems in their lives. Many people at this stage are able to quit on their own.
  • Regular Use: Some people find that drugs appear to be solving their problems, so they begin to use more on a regular basis. Drug use may not occur every day, but it tends to follow a predictable pattern, such as using them every weekend or resorting to them when feeling lonely or stressed.
  • Risky Use: The user begins to experience emotional, physical, social, and legal problems. Adults may drive while under the influence, perform poorly at work, and impair personal relationships. Teenagers do badly at school.
  • Dependence: The individual continues using drugs regularly in spite of the harm they cause. Drug use in hazardous situations, such as while driving, becomes habitual. There is increased tolerance to the drug being abused, meaning that he or she needs more of it to have the same effect. The user will experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.
  • Addiction: At this stage, drug use is completely out of control. The addict has an irresistible craving for the drug of choice; the majority of his or her time and attention are devoted to seeking it and using it without restraint.2

By the time a drug user reaches a state of addiction, he or she may be beyond the point of asking for help. Intervention by loved ones, employers, social workers, or law enforcement may be necessary to keep the addict from self-harm. .

If the individual is at an early stage of substance abuse, it’s not too soon to seek treatment to stop the progression of drug dependence. This can happen whenever the individual feels that they are ready and have needed support from a health professional, an addiction counselor, or a supportive friend.


Damage to Health

By the time someone reaches the addiction stage, he or she may have stopped caring about how drugs are affecting the body’s health. On the other hand, some people may be terrified of what is happening to their bodies yet feel that they are powerless to stop the damage. Even if they know that help is available, the addiction may leave them feeling paralyzed when it comes to making that first phone call.

Here are some of the health problems that substance abuse may cause:

  • Irregular or rapid heart rate.
  • Heart failure.
  • Blood-borne diseases like hepatitis or HIV.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Impotence or infertility.
  • Learning and memory problems..
  • Lung damage
  • Psychosis.
  • Respiratory depression and coma.
  • Seizures.3

Addiction also carries the risk of violence, accidental or self-inflicted injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and sexually transmitted diseases. Addiction makes it hard to make wise decisions. Addicts often neglect their health and may be unaware of their declining mental and physical condition. Because denial is a big part of addiction, people who are addicted may be able to convince themselves that they are perfectly okay, even if they are losing weight, have heart palpitations, suffer from paranoia, or have serious dental problems.


Addiction and Pregnancy

Illegal drug use by the mother poses serious dangers to her unborn baby. Using street drugs while pregnant may cause:

  • Miscarriage.
  • Birth defects.
  • Brain damage to the infant.
  • Premature delivery.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Withdrawal symptoms.4

In severe cases, using street drugs may lead to the death of the baby and/or the mother. You can protect yourself and your infant by getting the help you need to have a healthy pregnancy.


Damage to Relationships

Some of the greatest dangers of addiction don’t involve injury, illness, or homicide but the death of close personal relationships.

By its nature, addiction separates the user from his or her loved ones so that the addict’s relationship with the drug takes precedence over everything else. Addicts may become secretive, isolated, and defensive in the early stages of substance abuse. As the addiction progresses, they may abandon spouses, children, or intimate partnerships so they can pursue their drug use without any restraints.

Professional relationships are quickly destroyed by addiction. It is hard to maintain a regular work schedule while abusing drugs.

By its nature, addiction separates the user from his or her loved ones so that the addict’s relationship with the drug takes precedence over everything else.

Many drug addicts are exposed by their employers, who catch them making dangerous mistakes or using drugs at work. Once you’ve destroyed a professional relationship, it can be difficult to get reestablished in your field. By seeking help for addiction early, the user may be able to avoid losing jobs and/or professional credibility.

Rebuilding personal relationships isn’t always easy. Drug abuse takes an emotional and financial toll on a relationship, and trust is often shattered by the addict’s behavior. Physical or verbal abuse can make an injured partner justifiably cautious about getting involved with the addict again, even after he or she becomes drug free.

A comprehensive treatment program for drug addiction includes family counseling as well as individual therapy and participation in a support group. While it’s possible to restore precious relationships, the process can take a lot of time and emotional energy. Professional therapists can help addicts bridge the gap created by the addiction so that it is possible to initiate honest communication with loved ones.


Addiction and Crime

It’s no coincidence that drug-related crime has become a growing concern of government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. According to a survey of the nation’s prison population by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 33% of inmates in state prisons and 22% of inmates in federal prisons were using drugs at the time they committed crimes. Even more disturbing is the number of prisoners who had ever used drugs: 83% of inmates in state prisons and 73% of those in federal prisons. In other words, the overwhelming majority of persons incarcerated in the United States at the time the survey was taken had abused drugs in the past.5


Loss of Self

The final danger of addiction is the loss of self. This loss of self happens when personal relationships are abandoned, integrity is destroyed, and dreams are given up for the sake of drugs. Many addicts feel like they’re fighting an internal battle between the part of them that wants to recover and the part that’s intent on destruction. Very few drug addicts fight this battle alone and win.

Recovery requires reaching out to people who care: addiction specialists, mental health professionals, relatives, friends, and support groups.


Sources

  1. (2019). Substance Use Disorder.
  2. Stanford Children’s Health. (n.d.). Stages of Substance Abuse.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse.
  4. American Pregnancy Association. (2019). Using Illegal Drugs During Pregnancy.
  5. Mumola, C.J. (1999). Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice.

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