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drug addiction and drug abuse

Effects of Substance Abuse

The effects of substance abuse can be felt on many levels: on the individual, on friends and family, and on society.

On the Individual

People who use drugs experience a wide array of physical effects other than those expected. The excitement of a cocaine high, for instance, is followed by a "crash": a period of anxiety, fatigue, depression, and an acute desire for more cocaine to alleviate the feelings of the crash. Marijuana and alcohol interfere with motor control and are factors in many automobile accidents. Users of marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs may experience flashbacks, unwanted recurrences of the drug's effects weeks or months after use. Sudden abstinence from certain drugs results in withdrawal symptoms. For example, heroin withdrawal can cause vomiting, muscle cramps, convulsions, and delirium. With the continued use of a physically addictive drug, tolerance develops; i.e., constantly increasing amounts of the drug are needed to duplicate the initial effect. Sharing hypodermic needles used to inject some drugs dramatically increases the risk of contracting AIDS and some types of hepatitis. In addition, increased sexual activity among drug users, both in prostitution and from the disinhibiting effect of some drugs, also puts them at a higher risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Because the purity and dosage of illegal drugs are uncontrolled, drug overdose is a constant risk. There are over 10,000 deaths directly attributable to drug use in the United States every year; the substances most frequently involved are cocaine, heroin, and morphine, often combined with alcohol or other drugs. Many drug users engage in criminal activity, such as burglary and prostitution, to raise the money to buy drugs, and some drugs, especially alcohol, are associated with violent behavior.

Effects on the Family

The user's preoccupation with the substance, plus its effects on mood and performance, can lead to marital problems and poor work performance or dismissal. Drug use can disrupt family life and create destructive patterns of codependency, that is, the spouse or whole family, out of love or fear of consequences, inadvertently enables the user to continue using drugs by covering up, supplying money, or denying there is a problem. Pregnant drug users, because of the drugs themselves or poor self-care in general, bear a much higher rate of low birth-weight babies than the average. Many drugs (e.g., crack and heroin) cross the placental barrier, resulting in addicted babies who go through withdrawal soon after birth, and fetal alcohol syndrome can affect children of mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy. Pregnant women who acquire the AIDS virus through intravenous drug use pass the virus to their infant.

Effects on Society

Drug abuse affects society in many ways. In the workplace it is costly in terms of lost work time and inefficiency. Drug users are more likely than nonusers to have occupational accidents, endangering themselves and those around them. Over half of the highway deaths in the United States involve alcohol. Drug-related crime can disrupt neighborhoods due to violence among drug dealers, threats to residents, and the crimes of the addicts themselves. In some neighborhoods, younger children are recruited as lookouts and helpers because of the lighter sentences given to juvenile offenders, and guns have become commonplace among children and adolescents. The great majority of homeless people have either a drug or alcohol problem or a mental illness—many have all three.

The federal government budgeted $17.9 billion on drug control in 1999 for interdiction, prosecution, international law enforcement, prisons, treatment, prevention, and related items. In 1998, drug-related health care costs in the United States came to more than $9.9 billion.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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