Any chemical which leads to a change in the functioning of a body organ, used for medical or recreational purposes, is called a drug. They may include prescribed medicines, or other substances that are used to alter the functioning of the brain, or to lift the mood or change the state of consciousness. The later kinds of drugs are extremely addictive and illegal. Drugs such as temazepam, or sleeping pills, can be used both as medicines and for recreational purposes. However, drugs like ecstasy have no medicinal value and are only used for ‘getting a high’.
Impact of drug use on the body
Drugs which are addictive and used for the purpose of recreation, or as a means to escape from reality, are the ones that drastically alter the mood of a person. They are usually classified according to the changes that they bring about in the constitution of a person but frequently they also show mixed effects. Broadly they can be classified as stimulants, like cocaine, the ones that have a relaxing effect, like marijuana and heroin, intoxicants that make the user feel giddy and disoriented, and hallucinogens like LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), which drastically alters the perception of reality and makes the user feel, hear and see things that don’t exist at all. Besides, these drugs can cause disorders of breathing and body temperature, and can even prove to be fatal. Drugs that are taken intravenously carry the additional risk of other infections, too. The harmful effects of some new-age drugs have not yet been fully studied, but addiction to drugs such as ecstasy can permanently damage the brain. Drug addiction, though it mainly affects the constitution of the addict, can also pose a risk of accidents when in a state of intoxication. Because most drugs which lead to addiction are illegal, there is also no quality control over them, and they can cause delusions and potentially hazardous behaviour.
When is a person said to be an addict?
People who take recreational drugs regularly develop an addiction for them, and their body begins to crave for the drugs all the time. In such a condition a person is said to have become an addict. If the person does not get the regular dose of the drug, s/he begins to feel uneasy and ill or may require it simply to behave normally. If denied the drug, the addict may even develop withdrawal symptoms, which may make the person violent.
Effects of commonly abused drugs
- Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes, loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness, loss of interest and motivation, weight gain or loss.
- Depressants (including Xanax, Valium, GHB): Contracted pupils, difficulty in concentrating, clumsiness, poor judgement, slurred speech, sleepiness.
- Stimulants (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils, hyperactivity, euphoria, irritability, anxiety, excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times. The person may go without food or sleep for long periods, weight loss, dryness in the mouth and nose.
- Inhalants (glues, aerosols, vapours): Watery eyes, impaired vision, memory and thought, secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth, headaches and nausea, appearance of intoxication, drowsiness, poor muscle control, change in appetite, anxiety, irritability.
- Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils, bizarre and irrational behaviour including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations, mood swings, detachment from people, slurred speech, confusion.
- Heroin: Contracted pupils, no response of pupils to light, sleeping at unusual times, sweating, vomiting, coughing, sniffling, twitching, loss of appetite.
Importance of support from family and society
When a person is trying to give up the addiction, it is advisable not to try to do it all alone, because it is very easy to get discouraged and rationalize about “just one more” shot or pill. When a person suffering from the addiction chooses a rehabilitation programme, s/he really needs to be motivated to give up. They will also need support to get rid of the addiction. Recovering from drug addiction is much easier when the addicts have people they can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Support can come from family members, close friends, therapists or counsellors, other recovering from the addiction, healthcare providers. People who have successfully given up the addiction need to remember that if they return to the circumstances which gave rise to the addiction in the first place, the addiction may get hold of them again, so they must avoid such circumstances.