The ABCDE’s of Alcohol and Drugs

A drug is any substance that creates a chemical change in the body or brain. Sometimes the side effect of a  drug used to treat a medical disorder is that it creates a sense of euphoria or an alternate-state of consciousness, people then use it because they like how it makes them feel. Drugs, even when prescribed by a doctor, can be dangerous.  Terms like abuse, addiction, compulsion, dependence are often used erroneously when used interchangeably. Abuse only means overuse, used in a way that is harmful and this could happen on only one occasion, (while on three occasions, one may say the person is an abuser). This harm could be seen as physical, social, or psychological. Another term, compulsion is measured by the behavior exhibited by the individual, for example it is often seen when an individual continues to use despite consequences. The term addiction has to do with the brain’s connection to the substance and the behavior which ensues as a result of this love affair.  Alterations to a person’s brain’s chemicals happen during drug use.  Brain chemicals impact an individual’s experiences and emotions. Constant drug  use interferes with brain chemical production Drug use reduces production of natural brain chemicals. The individual begins to rely on the drug to stimulate the chemicals in the brain. Brain chemicals are responsible for every emotion from laughing to crying. Without the substance, the individual’s emotions are altered and the person is addicted. Dependence mostly relates to physiological or medical symptoms the individual suffers when the drug is withdrawn. This should be distinguished between what may seem to be a psychological dependence as constant drug use may create a mind-body connection, like when the person sees the drug or thinks about the drug, the person gets stomach pains or feels the urge to make a bowel movement, but this is not a withdrawal symptom.

Most people don’t consider alcohol and cigarettes to be drugs, but both are and both are legal in the USA.  Examples of other drugs are marijuana often viewed as harmless or beneficial and almost legal; ecstasy viewed as a party drug despite being illegal; cocaine viewed as a social drug used by the young and wealthy; then there is what is seen as dangerous which are drugs like heroin and crack. There are too many drugs to discuss each one, but most fall into the above categories and examples. (Substance is a catch-all phrase that refers to the plethora of things people intake to get high.)

Drugs and the Brain have a crazy relationship, it can be described as a  dangerous love-hate, toxic, or a co-dependent relationship. It can be described as a situation when,  the more you see the person, the more you need to see them, although, after the date, you hate them. Drugs are chemicals that affect the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way neurons normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter.

(https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science…/drugs-brain). Because of the way drugs interfere with the normal brain, drug use becomes emotionally dangerous because when the user wants to leave the bad relationship, they discover that it is more difficult than they could ever imagine. The loss of control to the drug can be emotionally devastating. This can explain some suicides.

Some people don’t understand why people use drugs. Drugs are intoxicating like a hypnotic snake. Most of the time people use drugs for this benefit. Although some people use for physical benefits, like treating pain, many use drugs for the altered state of consciousness the drug produces. The altered state of consciousness is described by users as a high, relaxing, letting down or beaming up. Others describe how it makes them feel more creative, social, less anxious or uptight, sexier, more easily aroused or smart.  Consequences are mostly related to legal issues, health risks,  long-term effect on the brain’s memory, functioning and intellectual ability or social consequences, like how the substance is negatively viewed by society or disruptions to careers, relationship, and the family.  Consequences of using include a map of things to consider when using. This can be quite complicated, for instance, tobacco is a drug which is legal, is viewed negatively by most of society and dangerous– because of health consequences, but is easily accessible and totally legal.

Costs vary depending on the type of alcohol or drug. There are very expensive alcoholic drinks that have lower toxicity levels, while there are beers on sale for fifty cents a can, often produced using cheaper and more lethal chemicals. There are hundreds of strains of marijuana that may be laced or contaminated with hundreds of toxic products while growing or delivering them to the consumer. There are strains of opiates that go from virtually natural to totally synthetic, while crack cocaine is like concocting a laboratory product, which can be done by the supplier or at home by the user.  Drugs tend to become expensive over time. The sum of the use over years or the volume of use or the type of drug used eventually adds up, although most users do not factor this as a deterrent.  Accessibility often includes cost and ease in obtaining and the possible legal consequences of obtaining.

Effects are what some people experience caused by the action of the drug or the person’s individual reaction to the drug.  Some people feel numb and they use these substances to feel. Other people want to boost a feeling, like happiness or decrease a feeling like sadness.  Alcohol and other drugs have an effect on a user’s physical, psychological or emotional feelings and some users become quite sophisticated in treating their symptoms, becoming like “little chemists” inoculating, sedating and treating their physical, psychological or emotional feelings, aches or pains.  Using one drug to offset the unliked or unwanted effects and another drug to offset unwanted effects, trying to create the perfect storm.

Addiction is a behavior. It is characterized by the preoccupation with drug use. It can be diagnosed by charting how much time is spent in obtaining, and using the drug. Addiction is a romance with a drug and this romance sometimes develops into a love-hate relationship

Dependence is usually caused by the body’s tolerance to the drug and the way the body reacts when the drug is not present.  This is a phenomenon that is expected when using certain types of drugs and alcohol.  However, there has been discussion, suggestion and evidence that for some people because of the presence of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals)  in the brain and the way the neurotransmitters react to continued drug or alcohol use, there is the possibility that the brain can experience some changes that simulate tolerance in the brain thereby creating a sense of dependence on drugs not usually known to produce dependence in most people.  Dependence creates real physical changes, runny nose, body aches, nausea, diarrhea or flu-like symptoms. Well, because of the strong psychological association between the brain, stimuli and response, some individuals may experience physiological responses when their brains have not received a  drug known to create dependence. These responses may include, nervousness, perspiration and having urges for bowel movement.

Detoxification is often used as a catch-all phrase. Medically based, hospital detoxification is usually covered by insurance. The basis for this detoxification is usually to treat users with physical tolerance to amphetamine or amphetamine-like substances, opiate or opiate or opiate-like substances and alcohol. All of which can demand medical detoxification because of the way the body develops tolerance to these drugs. The person, therefore, becomes violently ill in the absence of the drug, some symptoms include vomiting, cold sweats, flu-like symptoms and in more rare occasions, convulsion.  Some people can be admitted for medical detoxification  if they use other drugs primarily but admit to using them  in conjunction with a drug that may require medical detoxification like alcohol, an opiate  or an amphetamine,

Most people who begin to have bad relationships with alcohol or drugs will learn that  (no matter what drug or alcoholic beverage they use or switch to) they may develop a “bad relationship” with any or all substances as well. There is a 12 Step Anonymous Program for anyone who is having a bad relationship with any substance whether drugs or alcohol or related addictive behaviors like gambling.

Wandra Chenault, has an MSW and a MSc.

She has worked in the field of Substance Abuse

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