History and Context of Substance Abuse

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  1. A History of Substance Use
  2. The Process of Addiction
  3. A Problem With Limiting Drug Use
  4. Tragic Consequences of Drug Abuse
  5. Drugs of Abuse

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction can be defined as a chronic, relapsing illness in which an individual develops a severe physical and pscyhological dependence on drugs, such that the compulsion to use drugs is overpowering, despite the knowledge of detrimental conseqences.
What is Drug Addiction?


A History of Substance Use

Since the beginning of human history, people have sought ways to alter levels of consciousness as well as the perceptions of our sensate bodies by taking substances such as herbs, alcohol, and other drugs. Many impressive, important contributions to science and culture have resulted from these practices—from the development of
modern medicine and the advent of skilled medical practitioners to the cultivation of grapes and other agricultural mainstays used in the crafting of fine wines and liquors. As a spiritual tool, some religions have historically found uses for mind-altering substances as a way to aid communion with a divine principle.

Still, for all the positives that mind and body altering substances have brought us, one fact is clear—there have always been people who are unable to restrict their use of drugs and/or alcohol to culturally prescribed limits, and who have fallen into the trap we know today as addiction. Learn more about specific drugs.


The Process of Addiction

Addiction usually does not happen overnight. Rather, people who develop substance abuse problems (with alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, prescription painkillers, etc.) are gradually introduced and desensitized to them over a period of time. They may initially enjoy the use of drugs in a recreational sort of way. For instance:

Alcohol Icon

Someone might get into the habit of having a beer or some wine each evening as a way of relieving the stresses of a busy workday.

Marijuana Icon

Someone else may smoke marijuana on an occasional basis as a way to share special time with friends or as an aid to appreciating food, music, or sex.

Cocaine Icon

Still another misguided person may start using cocaine as a way of staying up late at night to study for exams.

A Problem With Limiting Drug Use

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Some people may be able to keep using drugs on an occasional basis. Many others, however, do not possess this capacity for casual drug use. For this unlucky and perhaps more typical group of individuals, the use of drugs begins (gradually in some cases, abruptly in others) to increase. As a direct result, the amount of time, energy and attention they devote to thinking about getting high, purchasing drugs, preparing drugs and taking drugs increases until it becomes the center of their lives. Other responsibilities--work, friends and family, and community--fall by the wayside.

Tragic Consequences of Drug Abuse

As most drugs (with the exception of alcohol) are illegal or limited by a written prescription, some may become increasingly involved in questionable, dangerous and/or outright criminal activities (purchasing illegal drugs, driving while intoxicated, forging or diverting prescriptions, etc.).

consequences of drug abuse

  • If the process continues long enough, it may become impossible for the addict to hold a job - they may lose their relationships, their income, and their marriages.
  • They may resort to criminal activity (such as robbery, prostitution and drug dealing) in order to gain or maintain continued access to their drugs.
  • They may also kill or injure other people (through driving and firearm accidents) while intoxicated, and may get and pass along to others infectious diseases (like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis viruses).
  • Ultimately, they may end up causing serious harm or killing themselves--through suicide, malnutrition, overdose, or drug-related physical degeneration and disease--a grim picture that is all the more tragic because no one who starts out experimenting with a drug does so with the intention of experiencing any of these awful things.

Drugs of Abuse

Some of the most commonly abused substances can be grouped into a few broad categories such as:

  • Central nervous system stimulants (e.g. cocaine, crack, meth, ecstasy).
  • Depressants (e.g. alcohol, marijuana).
  • More precisely in various drug classes such as amphetamine stimulants (meth, Adderall, Vyvanse).
    • Dissociative anesthetics (ketamine), sedative-hypnotics (e.g. Ambien), benzodiazepines (e.g. Ativan, Valium and Xanax), opiates (e.g. heroin) and opioid painkillers (hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin).

Additionally, a conceptual division exists between commonly abused drugs obtained on the street or illicit market, and those intended for use as prescription medication. When considering the phenomenon of substance abuse, the distinctions are ultimately quite arbitrary - use of all of the following substances can result in a similar pattern of dependency or addiction. Indeed, all are major contributors to the clinical landscape of substance use disorders. More promisingly, however, substance abuse treatment efforts continue to make strides in helping the millions of Americans struggling with them.

If you're struggling with an addiction, treatment centers are available to help you and the path to recovery may be just a phone call away. Feeling reluctant, skeptical or helpless is a part of addiction, our treatment advisors are available 24/7 to guide you through the treatment options available in your area and make the process less overwhelming. Call us today at 1-888-993-3112Who Answers?

Additional Resources

As advocates of mental health and wellness, we take great pride in educating our readers on the various online therapy providers available. MentalHelp has partnered with several thought leaders in the mental health and wellness space, so we can help you make informed decisions on your wellness journey. MentalHelp may receive marketing compensation from these companies should you choose to use their services.

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