Drug addiction is a human tragedy.
by Ned Wicker
Drug addiction is a human tragedy. In searching for pleasure, or a better way, or just a method of feeling better, people get lost in the black hole of dependence and sadly some never get treated and ultimately lose everything.
We are all body, mind and spirit and drug addiction impacts all three areas of the human experience, destroying everything in its path, leaving nothing behind but empty dreams and misery.
Body Mind and Spirit
The effects of drug addiction need to be measured in terms of all three areas of life. Because all three are interconnected, it is difficult, if not impossible, to entirely separate them from one another.
Drug addiction changes people and not for the better. The stories from family members and friends, who recall what an addict used to be like and wish so desperately for them to come back, tell of the decline of the addict not just in terms of their health, but what the disease has done to their spirit, to their very essence.
Starts before you have first use
Depending on your point of view, drug addiction actually begins before the substance is introduced into the brain. Addiction has various factors that contribute to the disease. For example, genetics can play a part, as we are all the product of our parents. My mother was an alcoholic and I carried a predisposition to alcoholism because of that. Another factor would be the environment.
If your parents were smokers, chances are better than average that you too will be a smoker. Another factor is your personality, which may or may not be related to genetics, but it plays a part in your way of looking at the world and dealing with problems, large and small. You may be a thrill seeker, or perhaps you are more reserved, or sullen. This would be an indicator of your “drug of choice” and what you might be tempted to abuse.
All of these points are very general, but understanding some basic factors does help to identify some reasons why some people get into trouble.
Many use but don’t get addicted
Not everybody who uses an illegal drug for recreation, or takes a drink of alcohol is going to become an addict. Even people who use frequently may never develop the disease of addiction, and so all of the effects of drug addiction would not necessarily come into play. So now we will begin to examine the effects and how they develop.
Drug addiction is a disease of the brain. The drug, be it alcohol or an opiate or marijuana or cocaine, changes the brain chemistry. If a person is using an opiate under the care of a physician to control pain, they are given a prescription and instructed to take a certain amount at certain times of the day. The opiate blocks the pain and the patient feels better.
The effect of the drug is positive, but the patient may desire more, so they take more of the drug, more often. That is drug abuse. Over time they can develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning that it takes more of the drug to achieve the same effects. That’s the start of dependence.
Some people will choose to ignore the instructions, because they feel better when they take the drug. The patient’s brain chemistry changes over time with continued use of the drug. The brain is tricked into thinking that it needs the drug to feel normal. At some point, addiction sets in and the person can no longer choose to use the drug, they are compelled to use the drug. The effects of the drug become negative.
Some of the effects of drug addiction are unintended consequences. As addiction develops, there are several warning signs that trouble is ahead. People will lose interest in their hobbies and activities, or withdraw from family and friends. They might sleep too much, or very little. They might not eat and lose weight. They may not take care of themselves and become unkempt, whereas in the past they were well groomed.
People may choose different friends, friends who like to use drugs and drop those who do not. Kids in school may neglect their studies and suffer poor grades. Job performance and attendance may be impacted. Granted some people are good at hiding their disease and they appear to be functional, but the ultimate effect of drug addiction, left unchecked, is that the drug is going to win.
Devastating effects on our society
The effects of drug addiction on our society are devastating. The prisons are filled with drug offenders, many hospital emergency rooms are flooded with drug overdose patients, addicts have lost their jobs and are homeless on the streets, the courts are jammed with DUI suspects and drug dealers, and criminal acts of all types are committed under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The effect of drug addiction costs communities countless millions annually.
Addiction robs a person of his/her humanity. The emotional effects are huge, as the drug becomes the way a person deals with life. We are bombarded in America with television commercials calling for us to use a certain drug to feel better. People may think the drug is the answer to their problem. As a person develops a psychological and physical dependence, the drug becomes the focal point of their life. They lose themselves.
Low self-esteem contributes to addiction, as people struggle to cope with life and the disease becomes, in effect, suicide by the installment plan. Addiction will arrest the emotional development of a teenager, twisting and altering his/her perception of the world and place in it. Drugs will often cause paranoia, anxiety and other bad emotional side-effects. Because the drug alters brain chemistry, addicts and even recreational users, can become psychotic after using their drug of choice.
Drugs destroy many parts of the body
The physical effects of drug addiction are many as heavy drug use can destroy the kidneys. Alcoholics are in jeopardy of developing cirrhosis of the liver. That is a part of the tragedy of the disease, as that which the addict feels is necessary to feel good and to function is killing him/her.
Addicts will continue to use their drug of choice, regardless of the consequences, until it literally kills them. That is why treatment is so essential, because an addict cannot just quit. Addicts have to use their drug. They will forego food, sleep and relationships with those who love them to chose they high they crave, or just feel “normal.”
Heart problems are very common
The list physical effects are long. Cardiovascular disease is common, as is respiratory failure, central nervous system disorders, cancer, malnutrition, dental decay are just some of the destructive forces at work in the body of an addict. Methamphetamine addicts for example often appear like walking zombies, seriously underweight, emaciated, and have no direction in life other than to use the drug they crave.
Addiction will cause a person to do things they never would have imagined doing. They will lie and steal from their families, cheat their friends, rob convenience stores, break into pharmacies and engage in criminal activities of all kinds to support their habit. People ask, “What happened to him/her?” The drug took over, that’s what happened. The effect of drug addiction on that person’s life has turned them from a happy, productive citizen into a criminal.
Suicide is very common with addiction
Suicide and addiction are old friends. Addicts so often are depressed and even though they think the drug is going to make them feel better, it isn’t enough. Sometimes, their tortured mind cannot process information in a logical, healthy manner and they make a fatal decision. Sadly creative and artistic people can often fall into the trap of addiction and wind up taking their own lives.
Perhaps the most devastating effect of drug addiction is the toll it takes on families. Addiction is not personal, it is a family disease as anyone who loves the addict is negatively affected. Organizations like Al-Anon exist to help families deal with addiction. Like the addict, the family members need treatment.
Treatment centers have programs for families, like parents who do not know what to do about their teenager who is using drugs. Addiction rips families apart. Courts will take children out of the home when the parents are addicts, and sometimes adult children are estranged from their parents because of addiction.
Seemly endless effects and all or negative
The effects of drug addiction are seemingly endless, as so many people have either abused a drug, or have developed addiction. Just about every family has a story to tell, or knows somebody who has been addicted, or who is in treatment. The effects of drug addiction are cross-generational and the cycle must be broken for families to completely recover. The effects of drug addiction can be stopped but the entire family must work together to stop them.
Take away the effects of drug addiction in the United States and you’d probably save taxpayers and insurance companies around $75 billion a year. It’s really a staggering number. But the addiction doesn’t have to win. There is hope. Treatment is the answer. It may take several attempts, but people can overcome this disease by learning the manage it and live a healthy and productive life.