Drug Abuse Causes
The subject of drug abuse causes is very difficult to discuss, because everybody is different and the underlying reasons for one person abusing drugs, while another never even gets close to that situation are as varied as the individuals themselves.
Before we dive into causes of drug abuse, we first have to determine what drug abuse is and give it a working definition. Simply stated, drug abuse includes the use of any illegal street drug, the use of a legitimate prescription medication in any way other than its intended purpose, or even the use of any medication beyond its prescribed frequency or dosage.
- That means smoking marijuana is drug abuse.
- That means taking two pain killers instead of one is drug abuse.
- That means using a prescription pain medication to get high is drug abuse.
What drug abuse isn’t.
Let’s also define what drug abuse is not. Drug abuse is not drug addiction or dependence. The abuse of the drug is what leads to addiction, but not everybody becomes addicted. That fact has nothing to do with the frequency of use, or what drug they are using. Some become addicted, others don’t.
Drug abuse causes sneak up on people. Let’s say, for example, that a person has had a surgery to repair a knee injury and is prescribed an opiate pain medication to control the post-surgical discomfort.
Many physicians will do a pre-prescription assessment of some kind to determine whether or not the patient is at risk for developing dependence on the drug, but that assessment doesn’t mean problems won’t arise. The patient uses the prescription pain medication as directed by the doctor, only they still experience pain.
Drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, etc. are effective for moderate to severe pain, but they are not intended for extended, long-term use. But the patient feels pain, so instead of taking one every four hours, they take two. Or they take two every two hours. It’s sort of like eating Oreo cookies. If one is good, two is better.
The trouble is the body builds up tolerance to the drug and it takes more to achieve the same result. Anyway, we have moved from the legitimate medical use of an opiate into drug abuse.
Taking a pill for EVERYTHING!
People often think that they have the solution for a problem. We live in a society that is bombarded by television messages to use drugs every day. No matter the illness or condition, if you take a pill they say you will be healthier.
In fact, they seem to promote a drug-dependent lifestyle. You deserve to feel better. You deserve to feel better now. So take our drug. They say “Talk to your doctor about taking our drug.” We are brainwashed into thinking we know as much as the doctor about what is in our best interest. It opens the door for drug abuse.
Brain is changed.
When we take drugs, such as pain killers, the pathways inside the brain are altered. Communication is interrupted. The pain is still there, but we just don’t feel it. The nerve cells (neurons) talk to each other releasing neurotransmitters into the gaps or synapses between the cells.
Now, depending on the person and the drug, abuse is more likely with some people than with others. For example, I have a friend who has been living with cancer for the better part of 12 years. He has experienced pain and with his type of cancer pain is common. He has a prescription for an opiate pain killer, only he rarely takes one. Why? He has alternative ways of dealing with the pain.
He has learned to control his pain and has adapted. I have another acquaintance with the same type of cancer who can’t get enough pain killer to control the pain. He has been abusing his prescription, yet gets no relief.
Other risk factors
There are risk factors for drug abuse. For starters, there are genetic factors, as we are the product of our mothers and fathers, and their parents. Children whose parents smoke are far more likely to become smokers. If they drink, you’re probably a drinker too. This isn’t all the time, but it’s a factor. Drug abuse causes seem to pass from one generation to the next.
Your personality will play into the likelihood of your abusing drugs. Curious, adventuresome people will often experiment with drugs. That’s drug abuse. People who are sad or lonely might take a drug to relax or feel better.
That can be abuse, but it is not necessary to include having an after work drink to relax with friends. However, once that after work drink turns into several and you are impaired, that’s a different story. Drugs can give us instant gratification. We feel good, or we feel better.
Poor mental health can be risk factors for abuse.
People who have emotional problems or have a mental affliction are candidates for abusing drugs. The drug may be the only means by which they feel normal. The drug becomes a crutch. Those with low self-esteem may use a drug to feel better about themselves.
There can also be peer pressure that leads to drug abuse. Young people are impressionable and can succumb easily to this peer pressure and abuse drugs to fit in with the crowd or gain acceptance. Peer pressure is most powerful during our teenaged years. Kids want to be cool.
It begins as a social action, to take the drugs to be a part of the group, to be accepted. It’s not just teenagers, as peer pressure takes so many different forms. There is social etiquette, for example, to take a drink during a party. “I’m a social drinker.” How many times have you heard that? Some people actually believe that Drug Abuse causes you to be accepted and part of the 'popular' group.
An overview of a complex problem
Hopefully this has given you an example of drug abuse causes, and in particular, the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction. Every person is different and what impacts one person in a negative way may not have any impact at all on another person. Sadly, we all believe it could “never happen to me” and that lack of awareness is what fuels the runaway train that takes us from drug abuse to drug addiction.
Also visit Recovery from drug addiction to learn how to stop using.
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Dr. Al Wilson discusses harm reduction as a treatment option in addiction recovery, this week on Recovery Now!