The use of illegal substances is affecting the entire US society, and we all need to work together to address this national crisis. After all, addiction-statistics show that 19.7 million people in the US had a problem with substance abuse in 2017. In the meantime, the situation did not get any better.

It seems that illicit drug use has infiltrated all pores of our society. Of course, drug abuse has a devastating impact on the health and wellness of an individual as well.

For that reason, we are here to explore the adverse effects of substance abuse and the methods that can help you avoid drug addiction.

What Is Substance Abuse in The First Place?

Before we proceed, we should clear the air and define the terminology we are going to discuss. In other words, it is necessary to understand what we mean by “substance abuse.”

Well, experts define the phenomenon as the harmful use of psychoactive substances for mind-altering purposes. However, substance abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. Almost any substance on the planet could, potentially, become addictive, as long as you use it enough.  

According to the UN’s booklet from 2019, more than 35 million people in the world have a drug use disorder. So, it is clear that substance abuse is a widespread phenomenon.

Moreover, we should also make a distinction between the two stages of substance abuse: addiction and dependence. Even though they are similar in some aspects, these two levels come with a couple of crucial differences.

What is the Difference Between Addiction and Dependence?

In essence, addiction can be classified as the “disease of the mind.” On the other hand, dependence falls under the category of “disease of the body.” Of course, this generalization oversimplifies things to some extent. Nevertheless, the gist of the matter is clear. 

Addiction is a psychological reliance that results from repeated use or participation in an activity. In other words, we become addicted to emotions or psychical states after we experience feelings of pleasure.

Unfortunately, repeated use of some substances can lead to dependence. In some cases, this type of reliance can appear sooner than you might expect.

Physical dependence means that your body cannot function properly without certain stimuli. For that reason, individuals who become dependent often experience painful withdrawal symptoms. Dependence is almost impossible to overcome without professional treatment and medication.

So, what triggers these stages? Why do people start with substance abuse? Here are the most common reasons.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

As we said, any substance has the potential to become addictive. Likewise, any person can struggle with this problem. Even so, some demographics can be more prone to illicit drug use than others. To be precise, the following factors can have an impact on the development of substance abuse:

  • Age

When it comes to age, young adults and adolescents are prone to experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. During the formatting years, curiosity and rebelliousness can act together and drive young people towards substance abuse.

On the other side of the spectrum are the so-called baby boomers. Older individuals are more likely to abuse pharmaceutical drugs, such as painkillers or sleeping pills.

  • Socioeconomic status

When it comes to income level, there are two schools of thought related to substance abuse. In translation, some experts believe that the “rich kids syndrome” is increasing the numbers of affluent adolescents who are using drugs and alcohol. Parental absenteeism and pressure to succeed can cause substance abuse in this demographic.  

Meanwhile, members of low-income households are more likely to turn towards illicit drug use in order to deal with poverty and other related trauma. 

Last but not least, the accessibility of some substances can be a risk factor as well. For instance, 20% of the population of Phoenix, Arizona, admits that they had tried cocaine at least once in their lifetime. Drug trafficking routes have an impact on this shocking statistic, no doubt about it.

Likewise, the social acceptability of some substances can act as a risk factor for excessive use. The most obvious examples would be tobacco and alcohol, with cannabis moving higher on this ladder year after year.

The Effects of Substance Abuse on Our Health and Well-Being

Now that we know what triggers substance abuse, it’s time to see how excessive consummation of certain drugs can affect our health and lifestyle.

First of all, addictive substances can have a multi-tier effect on an individual. The consequences can affect our social, economic, physical, and mental capacities.

For example, physical side-effects start with a neglected appearance and minor health issues. Quickly, the impact of drug abuse leads to severe health problems. HIV infection is one of the examples, but clinical impairment can come in various forms. The US alone spends more than $137 billion to treat direct health issues that appear as a result of substance abuse.

Of course, mental or physical disability leads to a loss of productivity, which can trigger criminal activities. A spike in violence and crime is in close relation to substance abuse. Thus, premature death is among the consequences of illicit drug use as well.

On top of that, excessive use of some drugs can increase the probability of suicidal attempts. The same applies to child abuse rates, which are often in direct correlation with substance abuse.

When it comes to other adverse effects of substance abuse, it is essential to understand that drug abuse often takes over someone’s entire life. The use of mind-altering chemicals can halt life progress because it causes a series of behavioral changes.

Addiction disrupts relationships with loved ones. In essence, the quality of daily life will suffer as a result of substance abuse. Compulsive cravings become the focal point of one’s activities. Thus, the world around an addicted individual becomes a blur, and everything besides the fix loses importance.  

How to Help People with Addiction and Substance Abuse Problems

Because of its illegal status and social stigma, it is impossible to determine the exact scope of substance abuse. Nonetheless, it is easy to see that we are dealing with a profound social and health crisis.

Overdose-related deaths are measured in hundreds of thousands, and that is why it is crucial to help individuals who are affected by the problem of substance abuse. 

At the same time, research shows that the so-called treatment gap is a reason for concern. In other words, only one in seven individuals will receive the necessary treatment. So, here are some of the steps that could decrease the effects of substance abuse:

  • Prevention

Investments in the prevention of substance abuse should be the first line of defense against this plague. Most importantly, we should increase parental involvement and make it more meaningful. As a result, the number of adolescents who suffer from substance abuse would decrease.

  • Resources

At the same time, authorities must step up with the investments related to programs and resources that can help addicts. For instance, online self-assessment software can be an excellent solution. These programs can enable anonymous diagnosis.

Of course, we must also train more professionals. Likewise, the need for new rehab centers is ever-present. State-of-the-art facilities are a necessity, not a luxury.

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According to the CDC, more than 750,000 Americans have lost their lives to drug overdose from 1999 to 2018. Thus, the need to improve our public health efforts is visible to the naked eye.

With that said, the data from the CDC also reveal a slight decline in overdose-related deaths in the recent period. For example, heroin-related overdose incidents have decreased by 4% from 2017 to 2018.

Eight Most Dangerous Mind-Altering Substances and Drugs

Despite the decline in overdose deaths, substance abuse remains a burning issue that affects our entire society. So, let’s take a closer look at the most commonly abused substances in the US.

  • Tobacco

Believe it or not, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths and disease in the United States. More than 16 million people suffer from tobacco-caused illnesses. On top of that, around 480,000 Americans die each year because of tobacco.

As a rule of thumb, smoking is legally and socially accepted. That makes tobacco products easy to obtain. The addiction often starts during puberty, and the chronic condition can last for years.

Relapse and remission phases are frequent, even though most smokers are aware of the carcinogens in their cigarettes. Nicotine is the most harmful chemical found in tobacco-based products, but other toxins are present as well. 

  • Alcohol

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is another high-ranking cause of substance abuse. Statistics on this front are unclear, but experts agree that millions of people struggle with the uncontrolled use of alcohol. One in six adults admits participating in binge drinking four times a month!

Alcoholic beverages are also easy to obtain. For that reason, excessive use of alcohol is a common problem throughout American territory.

Alcohol can cause a wide range of health issues. The most common risks related to compulsive use of alcohol are liver disease, brain damage, and coma. Drunk driving is a significant problem, as well.

Unfortunately, AUD seldom walks alone. In other words, individuals who suffer from this problem often have a range of co-occurring substance use disorders.

  • Marijuana

In recent years, the use of Sweet Mary Jane has been on the rise. The number of states that have legalized the use of marijuana is growing as well.

Of course, the rise in consumption of weed comes from the increase in awareness of the (alleged) therapeutic benefits of marijuana. However, we still have plenty to learn about the effects of CBD and other compounds derived from cannabis.  

Marijuana has an extensive catalog of nicknames and street names. The most common ones are weed, hash, pot, and ganja. Even though marijuana does not cause severe health problems on its own, there is a reason why many people consider it “a gateway drug.”

As much as 32% of 12th graders in the US have tried marijuana at least once. Unfortunately, a significant portion of weed smokers tends to move on to more dangerous drugs.

  • Cocaine

Speaking of more dangerous substances, we cannot avoid mentioning cocaine. After all, the drug extracted from coca leaves can have a crippling effect on an individual.

Also known as coke or snow, cocaine comes in the form of powder or crystals. Some of the possible effects of cocaine are euphoria, sensitivity to light and sound, as well as paranoia. At the same time, people who are addicted to cocaine have an increased risk of heart attack, HIV, stroke, and bowel decay.

Another problem with cocaine is that its grip on the victim is almost impossible to break. In most cases, cocaine addicts are walking down a long, dark road to destruction with a small chance of complete recovery.

  • Heroin

In recent years, the use of heroin in the US has increased, especially among younger women. The reasons for the “rise in popularity” are multifold, but the availability of the drug seems to be the leading factor.

Either way, heroin is an opioid that causes severe health problems. Besides the so-called rush, a sudden surge of pleasure, users might also experience dry mouth, nausea, and insomnia.

The long-term effects of heroin can ruin lives and families, because mental disorders often go hand in hand with the use of this substance. Withdrawal symptoms are severe, and they require therapy and professional oversight.

  • Methamphetamine

Even before Breaking Bad popularized the substance, crystal meth was ruining lives across the country. Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant, and it has a powerful effect on the central nervous system.

In most cases, it comes as a crystalline powder that you can smoke, snort, or inject. What will meth do to your body? Well, the short-term effects are hyperactivity, happiness, and euphoria.

On the other hand, “meth mouth” (tooth decay and gum disease) could be the least of your worries. Hallucinations, paranoia, and drastic mood swings are slightly more dangerous than rotting teeth.

  • Painkillers

According to addiction statistics, pharmaceutical drugs can be just as lethal as street drugs. For instance, excessive use of medication such as Vicodin or OxyContin can be dangerous and harmful.

What’s more, painkillers are the leading cause of overdose when it comes to substance abuse. The problem with prescription drugs is that it can be hard to notice the problem. More often than not, these opioids have a gradual effect on human health and well-being.

At first, medication like Fentanyl can have a calming effect on the body. However, patients can quickly develop tolerance, which encourages them to increase the dose. Before you know it, cravings and physical dependence can transform you into a drug-seeking addict.

  • Benzodiazepines

Last but not the least, we should also mention the excessive use of sleeping pills and sedatives. Unfortunately, mood-regulatory drugs are also responsible for many cases of overdose.

Medications such as Valium (Diazepam) or Xanax are popular because of their immediate effect. As such, these drugs can soothe anxiety and reduce stress-related symptoms. However, benzodiazepines are highly addictive.

When it comes to withdrawal symptoms, the so-called sleeping pills can cause agitation and insomnia. Also, patients who suddenly stop using the drug can experience seizures, vomiting, or even fall into a coma.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, substance abuse in the US is a severe public health problem. The treatment and recovery of individuals who get addicted is a delicate process. But, it can all be worth it.

For that reason, it is necessary to raise awareness about the dangers of these substances and the consequences of excessive use. By doing so, we can aid those in need and potentially save millions of lives.

VANGUARD

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.