Back To CourseHealth 102: Substance Abuse
15 chapters | 139 lessons
Imagine something you can't live without. You might be thinking of a beloved pet or family member, or maybe even something nostalgic from your childhood, favorite food, or an activity. These things all elicit healthy levels of chemicals in our brain called neurotransmitters, which let brain cells called neurons talk to each other. Different neurotransmitters make us feel different things. These loved things we can't live without make us happy and chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin are released when we experience them.
For some people, however, the one thing they can't live without is prescription drugs. Drug addiction is the process of using drugs outside the recommendation of a doctor, and needing more and more to function. Drug addiction can lead to drug dependence, where the body can no longer regulate the levels of neurotransmitters the drug works on. The body then needs the drug to function properly, or withdrawal symptoms set in.
Some people are genetically predisposed to abusing drugs, while others find themselves taking it for a legitimate use, like a broken leg, but quickly find their need spiraling out of control. For these people, their brain no longer finds pleasure in regular activities like exercise or sex. The only thing that makes their brain release the right chemicals are the drugs. Soon, they can't feel even a baseline level of happiness without them.
There are three main prescription drugs, or drugs that are prescribed or administered from a doctor only, that are addictive: opiates, anti-anxiety medications, and stimulants.
Opiates are painkillers. Normally, our bodies produce opiate-like chemicals when we are in pain to help us keep functioning. However, during opiate abuse, the body is flooded with synthetic opiates makes us feel better than we ever could naturally. It's easy to see how these drugs can become addicting.
People abusing opiates will have a decreased perception of pain, euphoria, and are often sleepy and confused. Breathing will be slower than normal, and they will have a decreased reaction rate to stimuli in the environment. Users have constricted pupils and may feel itchy, nauseous or have episodes of vomiting. Constipation is common with opiate use, so users might be found searching for remedies such as laxatives.
Vicodin and oxycodone are commonly abused medications and have a similar high to heroin. Often times, prescription drug addicts will turn to heroin to get a more intense experience as their tolerance grows or when their supply of pills runs out.
Anti-anxiety medications, or benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax, are prescribed to ease anxiety, help people sleep, or prevent panic attacks. They have a sedative effect, creating a sense of calmness and drowsiness. People abusing benzodiazepines may seem confused, have slow breathing, poor memory, and seem uncoordinated.
As benzodiazepines are highly addictive; physical and psychological dependence can happen quickly. When the medication is stopped, withdrawal symptoms occur. Irritability, depression, increased anxiety, and trouble sleeping can all result from benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Staying up all night to cram for a test? Hopefully, you're doing it the right way with a cup of coffee and some sugary snacks. However, some students succumb to the lure of prescription stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, which heighten activity in the central nervous system and increase levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. These medications are normally used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and increase focus, energy and concentration. Thus, you can see why some see them as excellent study aids. However, like other prescription drugs of abuse, there are consequences.
Since these drugs stimulate the nervous system, common symptoms are irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, nervousness, irritability, and increased body temperature and weight loss. Symptoms of stimulant abuse might include taking more of a prescription than was recommended by a doctor, trouble sleeping, anxiety and paranoia. Not everyone that uses prescription stimulants will become addicted, but some do, which can result in drug dependence.
When drug dependence happens with stimulants, the person can no longer normally function without the drug. Cessation of drug use results in just the opposite effects of the drug: slowed heartbeat, exhaustion, trouble concentration and changes in sleep patterns.
All drug addicts will show some common behaviors. People may start to isolate, cutting off friends and relatives to hide their addiction. Their life starts to revolve around drugs. People will cut off any healthy relationships that endanger their drug habit and find new friends that share their same lifestyle. Their interests might shift away from old hobbies, like art or music, and be replaced with partying and drinking, especially in opiate abuse. All money will go towards getting more drugs, and they might even start selling things to get more money for drugs, such as a television or computer. Illegal acts to obtain drugs, such as burglary or theft, also occur.
People with drug addiction often reject help at first, or deny their problem. Rehab for drug addiction is a safe way to work through withdrawal symptoms and solve the emotional problems underneath that fuel the drug use.
Drug dependence is a state in which the body needs a drug to function normally. The process starts with drug addiction, where people start to use drugs outside of a doctors recommendation. There are three main prescription drugs of abuse: opiates, anti-anxiety medications and stimulants. Opiates are pain killers that act on our natural pain relieving system. They cause decreased sensation of pain, confusion, euphoria, drowsiness, constricted pupils, and sometimes itchiness, nausea and vomiting. Anti-anxiety medications, like Valium, slow the central nervous system, creating a sense of calmness and relaxation. They decrease concentration and can cause confusion and a lack of coordination. Stimulants do the opposite and increase function of the nervous system, increasing concentration, alertness, and also causing anxiety, sleep problems and weight loss.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseHealth 102: Substance Abuse
15 chapters | 139 lessons
Next LessonPrescription Drug Abuse Prevention & Treatment Programs