Addiction to drugs and alcohol affects around 23.5 million Americans every year. Of these individuals, only about 2.6 million (or 11.2%) are treated for their addiction. Additionally, drug overdose has now become the leading cause of injury death in the US. This means there are more people dying from drug overdose and the dangers of addiction than from car accidents.
The most common type of drugs Americans overdose on are addictive medications like pain pills, amphetamines like those used to treat ADHD, and benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety. Overdose doesn’t always result in death. For example, for every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, 30 more go to the emergency room for painkiller abuse.
How Addiction Works
Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, in spite of any harmful consequences. There is an idea among addicts that death by overdose “won’t happen to me.” One individual who runs drugs between New York City and Vermont told a reporter that a friend overdosed on heroin in his home. After spending the night in the hospital, she was back the next day asking for more heroin.
This story is by no mean singular. Drug and alcohol abuse triggers the “reward center” of the brain and can cause someone to feel that he or she can only feel pleasure or joy when using their drug of choice. This is one of the most common dangers of addiction.
Stimulant drugs like dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta), and methamphetamine (Desoxyn) cause the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals cause the user to feel euphoric – creating a “high.” Additionally, stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure. These drugs can also cause changes in mood, hostility, psychosis, paranoia, seizure, heart failure, addiction, withdrawal symptoms, coma, and death.
Depressant drugs like alcohol, opiates (oxycodone, methadone, heroin), and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium) also cause the release of brain chemicals. Different drugs react with the brain differently. However, depressants work by slowing the activity of the brain. They also affect the “pleasure center” of the brain, causing the human body to crave more and more of the drug. These drugs are extremely addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms when one stops using them. Withdrawal symptoms include: insomnia, nausea, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, heart problems, and seizures. Overdose on opiates (prescription or otherwise) can bring about respiratory depression (failure of respiratory organs), coma, and death.
Both stimulants and depressants are addictive. When one is addicted to such drugs, a tolerance develops over time. This means that the result gotten by the same dose lessens the more one uses the drug. For example, if an individual is using heroin, the first use will cause more of an effect than the tenth use of the same amount of heroin taken in the same way. The addict will crave the drug more and more and in larger or more potent quantities over time. Increasing tolerance is one of the crippling dangers of addiction.
The Dangers of Addiction
Overdose is the most commonly known and understood dangers of addiction. Overdose can lead to hallucinations, delusions, tremors, psychosis, violence, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, seizure, coma, and death. Withdrawal and overdose are not the only dangers connected to substance abuse.
Over 6 million children in America live with at least one parent who suffers from drug addiction. The drug abuse or alcoholism of a parent can have a deep and lasting negative impact on a child. Addiction can lead to child abuse, neglect, injuries, death, and increased odds that the child will fall into substance abuse as well. In fact, around two-thirds of child maltreatment cases that come to the attention of Child Welfare involve substance abuse.
When a woman uses drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy, she opens her infant up to many health problems. Alcoholic mothers may cause their baby to be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders which include physical abnormalities and behavioral and learning difficulties which can last the rest of their child’s life. A mother who uses cocaine during pregnancy may cause her child to feel higher levels of stress, pain, and fatigue during his/her life. Using addictive drugs during pregnancy can cause a baby to suffer withdrawal symptoms as soon as he or she is born.
Family members and friends also suffer as a result of drug and alcohol dependence. An addicted individual and a family member or friend may break ties for a number of reasons. Just a few common behavior patterns of an addict are:
- Stealing prescription medications, money or valuables
- Lying about drug use
- Becoming disinterested in family and friends
- Only talking to family or friends to ask for money
- Becoming inexplicably angry or violent
- Abusing a child, spouse, sibling, etc. either physically or psychologically
- Involvement in criminal activities
- Using sex to procure money or drugs
- Causing car wrecks or other accidents while drunk or high
- Going missing due to drug binges or blacking out
- Refusing to accept help from friends or family
One of the more common dangers of addiction is that it has wrecked marriages and broken up countless families. Addicted individuals do things while high (or to get high) that they would not otherwise do. They may lose their job or commit a crime which lands them in jail. Statistics show that drug addiction is a significant factor – if not the overriding force – in a large percentage of the prison population. About 50% of all prison inmates are clinically addicted and approximately 60% of prisoners tested positive for illegal drugs when they were arrested. Additionally, 60-80% of incarcerated drug users commit a new crime after release from prison – landing them right back in prison.
Addiction Can be Treated
Drug addiction and alcoholism are treatable conditions. Rehabilitation has been proven successful time and time again in treating addiction. If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs or alcohol, consider getting treatment. Non-discrimination laws protect an individual from losing their job due to addiction history and can help a person keep their job while participating in treatment. Look into addiction treatment, including holistic and evidence-based therapy today.