From Misuse to Abuse: Distinction & Effects

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  • 0:01 Addictive Brain Damage
  • 0:40 Drug Abuse & Misuse
  • 1:37 How Drugs Affect the Body
  • 3:18 Specific Effects of…
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will differentiate drug misuse and abuse. You will also learn how the central nervous system is affected by drugs and what other effects drugs have upon the body.

Addictive Brain Damage

The reason so many drugs can be so addictive is because of the way they affect your brain. These effects cause a person to feel great at first, but in the long run actually damage the nervous system and the person as a whole. It is akin to really flooring the gas pedal in a car and aggressive driving in general.

The car will drive fast and feel cool at first, but these actions will damage the car much more quickly over time when compared to careful and defensive driving. The aggressive handling of a car is like the improper treatment of a person's body through drug misuse and abuse, and that's why we'll talk about what misuse and abuse are and how they can affect your brain and body in general.

Drug Abuse and Misuse

Drug misuse refers to the improper use of legal drugs that are supposed to be used as medication, meaning if someone goes into their medicine cabinet to take medication that's not theirs or medication in a way that doesn't follow a doctor's orders, that's drug misuse. More often than not, the prescription drugs that are misused are the ones that have brain-altering capabilities. Even though these drugs are given to someone by a doctor, that by no means precludes a dependence upon them as a result of their misuse.

In fact, many times a dependence does occur, a dependence that, physiologically speaking, is akin to drug abuse. Drug abuse points to an inappropriate pattern of using any legal or illegal drug in a way that has negative consequences upon a person's psychological, physical, occupational, social, or health-related function.

How Drugs Affect the Body

Drugs are addictive because they alter the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord, to a great extent. The central nervous system uses neurons, or nerve cells, to transmit signals and commands. These neurons speak to each other by releasing chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters. It's really simple; the brain and spinal cord are like a post office - they send signals via the postman or postwoman, and these deliver messages to your mailbox. Once you open the message and read it, you will react to it in a certain way.

The drugs, prescription or otherwise, that a person takes alter this entire system. They do so in many ways, including blocking the release of a neurotransmitter. This is like not allowing a postman to put a letter into the mailbox. If you never get the message, then you may feel great if it's a bill that you never got or terrible if it's a gift you missed. Similarly, depending on which neurotransmitter is blocked where, it may make you feel great or not.

The other way this entire system is altered is by causing the release of too many of a neurotransmitter. If you've ever had a mailbox stuffed with too many letters, it probably overwhelmed you, and this type of situation can also overwhelm your body in real life. Sometimes having all that mail may be exciting because you have lots of interesting stuff to sift through, and other times it may make you angry because you don't have the time for it. Drugs that cause too much neurotransmitter release can induce everything from euphoria to irritability.

Specific Effects of Drugs on the Body

With the scientific stuff out of the way, let's get to the more relatable effects that drugs have on a person's body, be they in the short term or the long run. People who abuse drugs are much more likely to contract all sorts of terrible infectious diseases. These are diseases caused by organisms like viruses and bacteria.

One very well-known one is HIV, a virus that leads to AIDS, which leaves your body powerless to fight off an infection by another infectious organism, resulting in death. Many people think this is a virus spread only among drug users who rely on sharing needles, but this is far from the truth. A person who takes pills may be more likely to have unprotected sex and contract HIV that way instead.

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