Substance Addictions

substance addictions

Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

According to Health Canada, roughly 80% of Canadians drink alcohol regularly. The social acceptability of alcohol makes it a dangerous substance to become dependent on and a difficult one to abstain from. Often times, people use alcohol to cope with other mental or physical disorders. It is also a substance that many people use along with other addictive substances, a behaviour known as polydrug use. If left untreated, alcoholism can destroy a person’s mental and physical health, derail their career, damage their personal relationships and worse.

Signs of alcohol addiction or abuse include:

  • Decreased involvement in work or school
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities
  • Depression
  • Decrease in social activities
  • Preoccupation with drinking
  • Restlessness
  • Erratic or violent behavior

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Blackouts
  • Liver disease
  • Some types of cancers
  • Brain damage
  • Memory loss
  • Immune system obstruction

Alcoholism, like any other substance abuse disorder, is rarely an isolated condition. It is commonly accompanied by co-occurring mental health problems or disorders, or an inability to cope with stressful or traumatic experiences and situations.

In order to overcome addiction, treatment should focus on the individual’s personal reason for abusing alcohol.

Drug Abuse and Addiction

At Aurora, we believe in the disease concept of addiction. Drug addiction is a complex and serious illness. While many people don’t understand why or how people become addicted to drugs, the reality is that drugs can rewire the brain and affect a person’s ability to resist urges to use. Drug addiction is characterized by compulsive, uncontrolled drug use despite negative or harmful consequences.

Drug addiction is characterized by compulsive, uncontrolled drug use despite negative or harmful consequences. Prolonged drug use can often begin to affect the user’s self-control and decision-making, making it increasingly difficult to stop. When a person is addicted to a drug, the addiction can begin to interfere with the user’s health, relationships, employment and finances.

However, since there are many different types of drugs, attributing the root cause of an addiction is not so cut-and-dry. Here are some of the most frequently abused and addictive drugs, and their most common signs and symptoms.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter perception, thoughts, and feelings. They cause hallucinations or sensations and images that seem real, though they are not. Some hallucinogens also cause users to feel out of control or disconnected from their body and environment. Hallucinogenic drugs include:

  • DMT
  • D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Peyote (mescaline)
  • Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM or cough syrup)
  • Ketamine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Salvia plant

People use hallucinogens in a variety of ways, including smoking, snorting, and absorbing through the lining in the mouth.

Hallucinogens interfere with actions of brain chemicals responsible for functions that include mood, sensory perception, sleep, body temperature, muscle control, pain perception and memory.

In the long-term, hallucinogens may not be technically addictive as other drugs can be, but they can be detrimental in the same way as any other mind-altering substance. For example, LSD is not considered an addictive drug because its users don’t experience symptoms of withdrawal. However, users can develop tolerance to LSD, so some regular users must take higher doses to achieve the same high. This is a dangerous practice, given the instability of the drug.

On the other hand, PCP is a hallucinogen that can be addictive. People who stop repeated use of PCP experience cravings for the drug, headaches and sweating as common withdrawal symptoms.

Opioids

Opioids are a class of powerful, addictive drugs that are typically medically prescribed for patients with chronic pain. The class includes illegal drugs like heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The class is also predominantly made up of pain relievers that are legally available by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and others.

When a person abuses opioids, they may experience feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria or, quite easily, an overdose. The drug naloxone is capable of counteracting and reversing symptoms of an opioid overdose.

Tolerance develops quickly to the euphoric effects of opioids, causing the user to use increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the same high. Withdrawal from opioid drugs is accompanied by very unpleasant symptoms, such as strong cravings, sweating, muscle aches and insomnia.

Cannabis

Cannabis (marijuana, pot, weed) is a psychoactive drug derived from the Cannabis plant intended for medical or recreational use. The three main forms of cannabis are marijuana, hashish and hash oil.

  • Marijuana is made from dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant and is the least potent of all the cannabis products. Marijuana is usually smoked or made into edible products like cookies or brownies
  • Hashish is made from the resin of the cannabis plant. It is dried and pressed into small blocks and smoked. It can also be added to food and eaten.
  • Hash oil, the most potent cannabis product, is thick oil obtained from hashish. It is also smoked

Cannabis is usually smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes (known as ‘joints’) or in water pipes (‘bongs’).

Although cannabis is not a technically addictive substance, its users can still become dependent on its high. Cannabis high causes feelings of mild euphoria, relaxation and drowsiness. People who use cannabis regularly may start to choose using the drug over life’s other more productive activities, which is a characteristic behaviour of a chemically dependent person.
In the long term, cannabis use can cause:

  • Increased risk of respiratory diseases associated with smoking
  • Decreased memory and learning abilities
  • Decreased motivation in areas such as study, work or concentration
  • Anxiety and/or paranoia

Stimulants

Stimulants, also known as “uppers” are a class of drugs that temporarily increase alertness and energy. Stimulants speed up the central nervous system and act like adrenaline, a hormone that is one of the body’s natural stimulants. Drugs with stimulant effects include amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, caffeine and others.

The most commonly abused stimulant drugs are cocaine and amphetamines. Although both of these stimulants produce a similar “high” for their users, the drugs look physically different and are used in very different ways—some more harmful than others.

Cocaine hydrochloride: Cocaine hydrochloride is the form in which cocaine is snorted or injected—looks like a white crystalline powder. The base form of cocaine can be chemically processed to become ‘freebase’ or ‘crack,’ which are crystal or rock forms of cocaine that can be smoked.

Amphetamines: Pure amphetamines are white, odourless, bitter-tasting crystalline powders. Illicitly prepared amphetamines may be whitish with traces of gray or pink. They may be in the form of a coarse powder, crystals or chunks. Methamphetamine resembles shaved glass slivers or clear rock salt. Amphetamines are injected, smoked, snorted or taken as pills.

The immediate consequence of using stimulants is the inevitable comedown. Coming down from a stimulant high can cause exhaustion, apathy and depression. The discomfort involved with coming down is what drives the user to crave the drug again. In the long term, stimulants are very addictive and can result in hostility, paranoia, hallucinations, irregular heartbeat, high body temperatures, psychosis and seizures. Methamphetamine in particular can cause severe tooth decay, weight loss and noticeable skin sores.

Recovery from drug abuse and addiction is possible.


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