Drug abuse is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.
The use of harmful, habit-forming drugs is a growing problem in the world today. Although alcohol and tobacco are legal in most countries, both are habit-forming or addictive drugs. They contribute to the poor health and death of many millions of people each year. Alcohol abuse causes enormous health, family, and social problems throughout the world. Cigarette smoking has for many years been a major cause of death on rich countries. As more people in the rich countries stop smoking, the tobacco companies have turned to the ‘Third World’ as their new and easiest market, in addition to alcohol and tobacco, many people in different parts of the world are using ‘illegal’ drugs. These vary from place to place, and include marijuana (weed, pot, grass, sin semilla, mota, hashish, ganja). Opium (heroin, morphine, smack), and cocaine (crack, snow, rock).
An increasing problem among poor children in cities is the sniffing of chemicals, especially glue, but sometimes paints thinner, shoe polish, gasoline and cleaning fluid. Also, some people misuse medicines-especially certain strong painkillers, stimulants, and ‘appetite control’ drugs.
Drugs can be swallowed, injected, smoked, chewed, or sniffed. Different drugs create different effects on the body and mind. Cocaine or kola nuts may make a person feel energetic and happy, but some time later he will feel tired, irritable, and depressed. Some drugs, like alcohol, opium, morphine, heroin, may at first make a person feel calm and relaxed, but later they may cause him to lose his inhibitions, self-control, or even consciousness. Other drugs, such as marijuana, and peyote make a person imagine things that do not exist, or create dream-like fantasies.
Why do people take drugs?
People take drug out of Curiosity and “because others are doing it” or to feel good, to feel better, or to do better; most at times people usually start taking drugs to escape the hardships, forget the hunger, or calm the pain in their daily lives. But once they start, they often become hooked or addicted. If they try to stop, they become miserable, sick, or violent. In order to get more drugs, they will often commit crimes, go hungry, or neglect their families. Thus drug use becomes a problem for whole families and communities.
Some drugs such as cocaine and heroin are very addictive; a person may try the drug only once and feel that he needs to keep taking it. Other drugs become addictive after longer periods of time. Addiction is a dangerous trap that can lead to health problems or even death. But with determination, effort, and support, addictions can be overcome.
When a person first gives up a drug he is addicted to, he will usually feel miserable and act strangely. This is called ‘withdrawal’. The person may be extremely nervous, depressed, or angry. He may feel that he cannot live without the drug.
With some drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, withdrawal may be so severe that the person can become violent and injure himself or others. He or she may need the help of a special clinic. For other kinds of drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and chemical sniffing, medical care is usually not necessary, but the care and support of the family and friends is very important.
Here are a few suggestions to help solve the problem of drug use and addiction:
- Be as helpful and supportive as possible to someone trying to overcome drug use. Remember that their difficult moods are because of their addiction, not because of you.
- Members of the community who have been addicted to drugs but have overcome the habit can form a ‘support group’ to help others trying to give up alcohol or drugs. Alcoholics Anonymous is one of such organization. This group of recovering alcoholics has successfully helped people all over the world to deal with problems of addiction.
- Families, school, and health workers can tell children about the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Help children learn that there are other, healthier ways to ‘feel good’, to act ‘grow up’, or to rebel.
- Work to correct some of the problems in your community that may lead people to use drugs: hunger, exploitation working conditions, and lack of opportunities to lead a better life. Help disadvantaged persons organize and stand up for their rights.