A drug is a chemical that has medicinal, performance-enhancing or intoxicating effects when introduced into the body of a human or other animal. Substances which are foods are not considered to be drugs, although active ingredients from foods make be purified for use as drugs. Also, some chemicals used as drugs are identical to substances made in the body (e.g., insulin, testosterone). The chemical is considered a drug only if it is introduced into the body from the outside, such as by ingestion, injection or topical application. The most common types of drugs that people abuse fall into four categories: stimulants, depressants, hallucinogenics and opioids. While the effect of each group of drugs is different, all of them are harmful to your body. Drugs affect the way your body functions, but also, using drugs put you at risk of a fatal overdose. According to a report done in 2000, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drugs kill more people than alcohol-even though seven times more people use alcohol than use drugs. Illicit Drugs:
The Effects of Specific Substances of Abuse
Each drug affects your body in different ways. In addition, the long-term effects of drugs are different than the short-term effects.
-Stimulants – like cocaine, crystal meth and amphetamines-give you an increased amount of energy. Repeated use of stimulants can cause violent behavior, panic attacks, psychosis and mood swings. People who abuse stimulants also have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
-Opioids, like Heroin, Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin, depress your respiration, so people who use opioids could develop pulmonary issues, such as pneumonia. They also have a risk of developing collapsed veins, liver disease and
infections in the heart and valves.
-Depressants, like Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin, slow brain function, which often causes people to lose concentration easily and become dizzy and fatigued. Long-term effects of depressants use include sexual problems, sleep problems, breathing difficulties, chronic fatigue and depression. These drugs also increase your risk of developing high blood sugar and diabetes.
-Hallucinogenics can have psychological and physical effects on your body. Users can become paranoid, have mood swings, have outbursts of violence or develop extreme depression
-Some people start using drugs simply to see what the drug high is like. Unfortunately, this begins the drug cycle, which eventually leads to a chemical dependency to the drug. People continue to use drugs because they don’t like the way their body feels when they come down from their high. The vicious cycle continues until their body develops a tolerance to drug, which causes them to consume it in higher does. Over time, a chemical dependency develops and their body doesn’t function correctly without the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction occurs when a chemical dependency to a drug is combined with an overwhelming urge to use the substance.
How do drugs affect the brain?
-When drugs get into the bloodstream they are carried to all parts of the body and some reach the brain. The quicker the drug reaches the brain, the more intense the effects. The quickest way to get a drug into the brain – and also the most dangerous way of using any drug – is to inject it intravenously, or into the vein. Almost as quick is smoking a drug. followed by sniffing or snorting and then by mouth. Eating or drinking a drug is the slowest route, because the drug has to pass through the stomach first.
-Once in the brain drugs affect chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are the chemicals that control the flow of information within the brain between the neurons or brain cells, forming a synapse. Neurotransmitters also alter people’s moods and feelings. Different drugs can affect different neurotransmitters. For example, ecstasy appears to affect a neurotransmitter called serotonin by reducing the amount of the chemical in the brain. Those people with lower levels of serotonin in the brain tend to suffer from depression and also there are concerns that taking too much ecstasy for too long might make a person chronically depressed.
-Experiments with animals have shown that certain drugs like ecstasy can damage brain cells but experts are not agreed on whether this happens with humans to the same extent. There have been concerns about damage to the brain from taking a wide range of drugs including ecstasy, LSD and solvents but the evidence is, so far, inconclusive. However, excessive and long-term use of alcohol has been shown to lead to possible brain damage.
How do drugs affect the heart?
-Once drugs are taken and enter the bloodstream the heart pumps blood containing the drug to the brain where it will affect how people feel. -Drugs can also have an affect on the heart directly and exacerbate heart disease. Heavy drinking of alcohol, for example, can weaken the heart’s ability to pump blood and lead to heart failure although some studies have suggested that moderate consumption may be better for the heart than not drinking alcohol at all. -Taking regular and high doses of stimulant drugs like amphetamine, cocaine/ crack, ecstasy, anabolic steroids and even possibly caffeine may increase the risk of heart attacks, especially for people who already have heart problems or high blood pressure. -Heavy tobacco use can also lead to greater risk of heart problems. Nicotine, as a kind of stimulant, increases the workload of the heart, while carbon monoxide deprives the heart of the oxygen it needs. Smoking also tends to thicken the blood hence making it less able to flow through narrowed arteries.
The effects of drugs on the liver
-The liver breaks down or alters the chemical structure of drugs, gradually neutralising the affects of the drug.Excessive, long term drinking of alcohol can result in damage to the liver, including cirrhosis, which can be fatal. Suggestions that ecstasy use can damage the liver have been made but research is, so far, inconclusive.
The effects of drugs on the lungs
-Because the lungs provide the oxygen directly and very effectively to the body, anything that is inhaled similarly enters the blood and ultimately the brain very quickly. This is most promounced in drugs that are normally snorted but are chemically altered to make them more smokable, such as cocaine into crack and amphetamine into methamphetamine. The lungs’ ability to absorb large amounts of these drugs in a short space off time, roughly 8 seconds, mean that the effects can be almost instant and very powerful.
-Some drugs can also be inhaled, such as solvents and poppers/nitrites Again, the solvents are absorbed into the lungs almost instantly.
-Another, relatively more dangerous, method is insuffelation. This is the method often used by asthma sufferers when using inhalers, where a fine spray is rapidly inhaled into the lungs. Done properly this method is as efficient as smoking, but safer, because it doesn’t damage the lungs in the same way smoke does. Done wrongly and it can cause permanent damage to the lungs, due to the drug attacking the lungs’ cells bronchils, or even suffocation or overdosing, due to the drugs clogging the bronchils.
-These methods should not to be confused with snorting (as with cocaine or amphetamine powder) which is absorbed through the thin tissue (nasal membrane) in the nose into the blood stream – though some powder can enter the lungs.
-The dangers of tobacco smoking, such as tar build up, asthma, swelling and damaging of the lung walls and bronchils (the cells that absorb oxgen and drugs into the blood stream) and ultimately cancer, are pertinent to most drugs that are smoked. Cannabis for example has its own carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals. If smoked with tobacco in a joint, these dangerous chemicals can double up, increasing the chance of developing lung cancer.
-A common misconception is that smoking addictive drugs such as heroin is safer and less addictive than injecting. While smoking a drug allows the user to monitor and control the amounts entering the body more easily, the drug is no different. Whether smoked or injected, heroin still has the same addictive potential.
-Drugs that can be smoked are cannabis, cocaine (usually sprinkled in a cigarette or joint), crack, ecstasy (in a joint), heroin, opium, ice/methamphetamine, DMT, and tobacco. Drugs that are inhaled are solvents, poppers and nitrous oxide (laughing gas).
Issues around the use of drugs in pregnancy
-Heavy drug use can damage the health of a pregnant woman, cause complications during pregnancy and possibly damage the foetus. Drugs can affect an unborn baby through the mother’s bloodstream. It is relatively rare that this actually causes malformations. Heavy use of certain drugs during pregnancy, particularly alcohol, tobacco, heroin and other opiates and tranquillisers, can lead to premature birth, low birth weight and increased risk of losing the baby around the time of birth. Babies born to mothers who are dependent on the drugs mentioned above (other than tobacco) may experience withdrawal symptoms but this can usually easily be treated medically.
-Moderate drug use during pregnancy does not often result in these problems. Whilst it is usually safe for a pregnant woman to stop using drugs during pregnancy this is not always the case for heroin, other opiate drugs or tranquillisers. Suddenly stopping use of these drugs during pregnancy can be dangerous to the foetus and medical opinion is sometimes that it is safer for the mother to continue using till the baby is born.
-Drug use and pregnancy is a very emotive issue. The most publicised example has been of ‘crack babies’ in America. Panic stories have sometimes exaggerated the damage done to babies whilst ignoring the fact that most of the mothers were living in very poor and deprived circumstances, factors which themselves are implicated in having a difficult pregnancy and complications in childbirth and for newly born babies. However, cocaine use is reported to increase risks, for example of miscarriage and still birth, low weight babies and pre-term (premature delivery). Adverse effects have been largely reported in heavy crack/cocaine users rather than ‘recreational or occasional users. Mothers-to-be are advised not to use cocaine or crack in pregnancy if they possibly can. The danger of being judgmental about drug using pregnant women is that they will be reluctant to seek out the medical help they and their babies need.
Common Types of Drugs
Study Drugs: Ritalin/Adderall
-Alcohol is a liquid substance containing ethanol, an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. It’s produced by the fermentation of grains, fruits, or vegetables. People enjoy drinking as a social activity because alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can make for a more relaxed, friendly, fun atmosphere.
– One of the most widely used drugs in the U.S., tobacco is a bunch of dry leaves that contain the drug nicotine, which acts as a stimulant or relaxant when ingested. It can be smoked, chewed, dipped, or snuffed.
– a water pipe used to smoke flavoured tobacco, hookahs are increasing trend in the U.S., especially amongst the youth set. After being heated with charcoal, the tobacco smoke passes through water before being inhaled from the mouthpiece. Smoking hookah is usually a social activity, in which people smoke from the same mouthpiece and pass it around the group. Like cigarettes, hookahs contain the addictive drug nicotine, which acts as a stimulant or relaxant. Many people think that hookahs are a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes; however, this is not true. In fact, smoking hookah is just if not more toxic than smoking cigarettes.
-Ritalin and Adderall (methylphenidate and amphetamines, respectively) are stimulants prescribed to patients with ADHD in pill form. They work by altering the brain’s supply of dopamine, which in ADHD patients has a calming effect that improves their ability to focus. People abuse Ritalin and Addreall for performance enhancement (to increase alertness, attention, focus) by swallowing them, or for the euphoric effects, usually achieved by injecting, snorting, or crushing them.
-Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances resembling testosterone. Steroids work by binding to the hormone receptors on a cell and stimulating muscle growth. They can be prescribed for hormone deficiencies or weight gain by people with body-wasting diseases like cancer or AIDS. People who abuse steroids usually take them to build muscle mass or enhance their athletic performance. They are ingested either orally or by injection, usually in cycles, though some users will take several different steroids at once to try to maximize their effects, which is called “stacking.”
Dangers of Anabolic Steroids
Steroids are dangerous for two reasons: they are illegal, and they can damage a person’s health, especially if used in large doses over time. Also, the health problems caused by steroids may not appear until years after the steroids are taken. Although they might help build muscle, steroids can produce very serious side effects. Using steroids for a long time can negatively affect the reproductive system. In males, steroids can lead to impotence, a reduction in the amount of sperm produced in the testicles, and even reduced testicle size. Females who use steroids may have problems with their menstrual cycles because steroids can disrupt the maturation and release of eggs from the ovaries. This disruption can cause long-term problems with fertility. Steroids taken for an extended period of time also can cause: stunted growth in teens (by causing bones to mature too fast and stop growing at an early age)Liver tumors abnormal enlargement of the heart muscles violent, aggressive behavior and mood swings blood lipid abnormalities that contribute to heart disease acne (or a worsening of acne) increased breast growth in males, especially teens irreversible stretch marks a heightened tendency for hair loss and male-pattern baldness muscle aches Teen girls and women risk these additional side effects: male-type facial and body hair growth and male-pattern baldness deepening of the voice enlargement of the clitoris
-any of a number of common industrial or household substances.