The search for "that which eases the anxious mind of its burden" (Homer, first century B.C.) is endless. The list of drugs the person can choose from is endless. The problems arising from this abuse are endless.
There are as many reasons, as there are abusers, why a person takes drugs. They may be anxious for a new experience; just for fun; because the gang is doing it; for curiosity; and maybe just to get rid of that big void in his life.
The decision to use a drug is an individual decision, and if the person gets the effect he desires and continues the habit, addiction occurs and he is powerless to stop.
What are these drugs that are so powerful? They are narcotics, hallucinogens, stimulants, depressants and alcohol.
Opioids are those substances found in the body which mimic the action of opiates. Opiates are drugs with high addictive potential and they occur naturally in plants. Opioids include drugs derived from the poppy plant, such as heroin and morphine, as well as synthetic drugs, such as Demerol, codeine and methadone. Drugs are made synthetically by chemically changing or adding to the original molecular structure. All these drugs relieve pain and induce sleep.
Opium has been used for numerous medical purposes for centuries. Mesopotamia (Iraq) is believed to have been the original home of the opium poppy. Methods of obtaining opium from the poppy were about the same then as they are now. The cultivation of the poppy and the use of opium spread from Mesopotamia to other parts of the world. The Greeks, Romans, Persians and Egyptians became acquainted with the drug. Homer wrote about it in the ninth century B.C. Arab traders are believed to have introduced it into the Orient, which is now its principal source. Opium is a mixture of about 18 nitrogen-containing agents known as alkaloids.
In 1805, the alkaloids present in the largest amount in opium was a bitter-tasting white powder that was a powerful sedative and pain reliever. It was named morphine after the Greek god of sleep, Morpheus.
The hypodermic needle was introduced to America in 1856 and morphine was widely used to treat the soldiers in the Civil War. After the war, the veterans were so addicted to morphine that they called it "Soldier's Illness."
Some people are introduced to morphine after surgery. The immediate effect is a high, followed by a lethargic state in which all cares disappear. These effects last four to six hours, depending on the person. It is estimated that continual usage over a period of thirty days will establish an addiction. Users will become physiologically dependent upon the drug. A person addicted to opiates will start to experience withdrawal symptoms about eight hours after the last drug. The person develops a physiological dependence on the drugs morphine and heroin and will have withdrawal symptoms eight hours after the last dose. The severity of the withdrawal depends on the amount of narcotic usually taken, intervals between doses, the duration of the addiction and, of course, the person's health and personality.
Morphine may be prescribed legally for a legitimate injury or severe pain, such as that induced by a kidney stone. Heroin is obtained illegally. The expense of maintaining this habit contributes to crime. Some individuals have enough self-control to allow the habit not to interfere with their work or ruin their lives. But this is rare.
Scientists were anxious to discover something not as addictive as morphine. They treated morphine with a chemical called acetic anhydride and it was converted into the analgesic, heroin.
Heroin proved to be an even more dangerous drug than morphine. Its action was more rapid and intense, and more addictive. It was removed from use in medical practice.
Link says, "Heroin is too addicting. I know lots of other things are too, but you won't catch me sticking myself with heroin."
Heroin is expensive and an error in dosage can be fatal. Male heroin addicts outnumber women three to one. Polydrug abusers are persons who combine two or more drugs to get an effect. Sometimes the effect is death. One sad example of polydrug abuse is the young promising actor River Phoenix. He was at a popular nightclub in Hollywood and indulging in a mixture of drugs with the enhancer alcohol. He collapsed on the sidewalk outside the club. Too late, he died because his body was overloaded with toxins.
There are many, too many, examples of death by this accidental method, especially in the celebrity world. The reason for this is, they have easy access to the drugs and the money to buy them. Their lifestyle is competitive and stressful. Sometimes reality disappears.
Most people who are given narcotics after surgery never develop an addiction. Those who do get addicted are predisposed to the use of drugs. They may be individuals with immature personalities and have a low pain threshold.
Why give methadone if it causes another addiction? The response to that is that methadone addicts can function normally and hold jobs, but that is not possible for most heroin addicts. Methadone can also be given orally.
The most potent drug of the hallucinogens is LSD. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless and can produce intoxication with an amount smaller than a grain of salt. It is a chemically synthesized substance first discovered in 1938. It was introduced to America in 1950 for medical and therapeutic purposes. It has proven not to be therapeutic.
After taking LSD, a person experiences eight hours of changes in sensory perception. It was very popular in the 1960s, but after several well-publicized accidental deaths, it lost its popularity.
Ray was partying with a group and LSD was passed around. It was his first experience with the drug. He said, "The colors were calling to me and I could see the sounds of the music."
Physiological effects of taking LSD include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, rapid respirations and augmented muscle tone. Objects seem to become clearer, sharper and brighter. There is a feeling of depersonalization and detachment. The LSD trip is not always pleasant. It can be extremely traumatic and frightening. Sights and sounds can be distorted, and there is documented evidence of people setting themselves on fire or jumping to their death from high places. The same person may have a different experience another time. Anyone who takes a "bad trip" doesn't want to do it again.
Marijuana is a mild hallucinogen that comes from the leaves and flowering tops of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa. Marijuana is ordinarily smoked in the form of cigarettes. These are called reefers or joints. It can also be baked into cookies or other foods. Some cultures steep the leaves in hot water and drink it like tea.
Hashish is related to marijuana as it is derived from the resin exuded by the cannabis plant and made into a gummy powder. Both these drugs were listed in the history of herbs compiled by a Chinese emperor in 2737 B.C.
The experience of taking marijuana varies greatly with each person, the environment, the mood of the user and the size of the dose. If the person is unhappy, the unpleasant mood may be exaggerated. When the drug is inhaled and the person is happy, the sensory input is enhanced and euphoria and mellowness is the result. The explanation for this is that the serotonin chemical in the brain is almost doubled. Serotonin is the chemical that controls the senses.
Marijuana, once thought to be a harmless weed, is now found to be a combination of 421 chemicals—61 of these have effects on the brain. Because of the mixing of plants from South America and Asia, the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) chemical that most affects the brain has increased. Studies show that the tar content in one joint is equal to twelve tobacco cigarettes. This can cause lung cancer.
The reproductive organs of men and women are also affected. Men who use marijuana over a long time are likely to have a low sperm count and there's an increase in the number of abnormally shaped sperm. Women's menstrual cycle may become irregular, and there is a reduction in the growth hormone in the fetuses of pregnant users.
Long-time smokers of marijuana will still have deposits of THC in the brain for as long as a year after abstinence. These deposits disrupt the natural flow of the neurotransmitters. THC does not dissolve in water and therefore is not eliminated by the kidneys. It lodges in the white blood cells and reduces their capacity to fight infection.
Marijuana remains many people's drug of choice, and they do not understand the harm it can cause. It is also used as a second drug of choice. It is commonly used with crack cocaine in a joint. Because marijuana causes an imbalance of the brain's chemicals, it creates withdrawal symptoms all its own, mild though they may be.
PCP or angel dust, as it is called on the street, in small doses raises the blood pressure and the heart rate and may cause agitation, hallucinations, violence, psychosis and even coma and death.
PCP was developed in the 1950s as a tranquilizer. Because of its unpredictable and at times violent effects, it was not made commercially available. It was used to anesthetize animals, but that use has now been discontinued. It is now manufactured by home chemists for street use.
When taken in moderate doses, the drug produces a stuporous coma or condition which lasts for hours or days. Psychoses that resemble paranoid schizophrenia are common. It is a very dangerous drug. The physician may order haloperidol (Haldol) to control severe psychotic behavior.
These are two hallucinogens that have been used for centuries in ceremonial rites by Indian peoples. The Aztecs used them for their mind-altering and hallucinogenic properties.
Mescaline is derived from the small, knobby growths (mescal buttons) at the top of the peyote cactus. Psilocybin is a drug obtained from a variety of Mexican mushrooms known as "psilocybe mexicana."
There is no definite evidence that mescaline and psilocybin actually expand consciousness, but they seem primarily to alter or distort experience. These drugs are popular with high school students.
MDMA (Methoxyamphetamine), also called the "love drug," is the most widely used hallucinogen by teenagers today.
Jake talks about his first experience with hallucinogens. He calls it acid. "I put it on my tongue, and held it there for a while and then....I was seeing things, and hearing sounds, and tasting colors. You can't do this alone. You can really freak out on this stuff. But this time it was no big deal."
Sometimes the hallucinogens are stored in the brain cells and released at a later date. This experience is called a flashback.
Stimulants are widely used drugs in our society. Amphetamines and cocaine have the chemical effects to stimulate or speed up the central nervous system. The first amphetamine to be introduced was benzedrine, or amphetamine sulfate, first synthesized or manufactured in 1927, and it became available in the early 1930s as an inhalant to relieve stuffy noses. These preparations were considered to be "wonder pills" that helped people stay alert and function temporarily at a level beyond normal. They were popular with people who had to work nights and with truck drivers and students studying for exams. They were widely prescribed by physicians.
In 1970, the passage of the Controlled Substance Act classified amphetamines as Schedule II substances, that is, drugs with high abuse potential. People were taking sedatives at night and amphetamines during the day. This combination can lead to a very nervous state.
Frequent use of amphetamines can cause permanent brain damage. The brain operates on a low level of neurotransmitters, and this causes an amphetamine "crash," or severe depression. Many entertainers are addicted to amphetamines. They are used to heighten their mood and give them a burst of energy needed to perform.
As with other drugs, the effects of amphetamines vary with the type, dosage, length of time they are taken and the general condition of the user. They are not considered to be physiological¬ly addictive, but the body does build up a tolerance to them very rapidly. When the person exceeds prescribed dosages of amphetamines, the results are high blood pressure, unclear or rapid speech, profuse sweating, tremors, loss of appetite, confusion and insomnia.
Some of the street names that amphetamines go by are speed, crank, crystal, black beauties, uppers, dexies and bennies. Ritalin and Cylert are prescription amphetamines. Some diet pills containing amphetamines are: Fastin, lonamin, Bontril, Didrex, Tenuate, Trimtabs and Sanorex. Dexitrim, Acutrim, Control, Appedrine and Contac are products that contain the drug phenyl-propanolamine, which acts like an amphetamine.
Withdrawal from amphetamines is usually painless physically, because physiological addiction is absent. But psychological dependence is another matter, and an abrupt discontinuation of the amphetamine results in depression.
Judy Garland (Dorothy in Wizard of Oz), the talented and popular movie star, is a classic example of the dangers of diet pills. She was 13 years old when a doctor prescribed Dexadrine to keep her weight down. As her career advanced, so did the number of pills she was taking. She had a stormy life of insomnia, paranoia, fits of rage, was temperamental and had periods of inertia. Audiences came to see her in the hope that she would disintegrate before their eyes. Her publicized vulnerability helped people identify with her. Her accidental death was the result of a high level of barbiturates in her blood. Judy Garland had an identity crisis and all the pills in the world couldn't blot out the pain.
Just like amphetamines, inhalants contain volatile hydrocarbon compounds that stimulate the brain cells causing them to release great amounts of neurotransmitters. The user feels an instant rush. Initial euphoria may include lightheadedness. Some users feel a sense of empowerment which can result in dangerous behavior.
Some of the materials that sniffers experiment with are: gasoline, felt-tipped pens, lighter fluid, nail polish remover, air freshener, cleaning fluids and plastic cement. These inhalants are available for little money and mostly used by young people.
The vapors pass from the lungs directly to the bloodstream and rapidly to the brain and the liver. The chemicals pose the danger of blocking and irritating nasal passages and coating the lungs. Long-term effects include pallor and weight loss, frequent nose bleeds, and sores in the nose, mouth or throat. The bone marrow is affected in heavy users. Liver or kidney damage is common.
The power of the inhalant depends on its ingredients and on how concentrated they are. Some inhalants can kill. Abusers who breathe concentrated vapors from an aerosol can in a paper bag may suffocate.
Cocaine is a stimulant derived from the cocoa plant. Like opium, cocaine was discovered and used in ancient times. Its use increased in the 1980s in the United States, but its popularity has now been replaced by heroin.
Cocaine may be ingested by sniffing, swallowing or injecting. Cocaine alters ten neurotransmitters in the brain. When it enters the brain, there is a release of dopamine from the brain cells creating a powerful high. It is chemically similar to NE (norepenephrine) and so the brain thinks it has produced too much and cuts back its own production. Because the effect of cocaine is short-lived—it is gone within an hour—it leaves the stores of NE and dopamine depleted. The result is "coke crash," and the person becomes severely depressed.
The experienced substance abuser avoids the crash by taking some more cocaine. More dopamine is released, but because of the depleted amount, the high is not as powerful as the one before. When he runs out of cocaine, he takes other chemical depressants. This could be alcohol, Valium or heroin. This is a dangerous situation.
Ray Sharkey, popular for his role as a crime boss on the TV series "Wiseguy," fought addiction to alcohol and drugs for most of his adult life. He injected himself with "speedballs," a mixture of cocaine and heroin and contracted AIDS from an infected needle. He was 40 years old when he died.
The craving for cocaine is strong, even stronger than the craving for sex. If cocaine is chronically abused, acute toxic psychotic symptoms may occur, similar to schizophrenia. Frightening visual, auditory and tactual hallucinations may occur.
Cocaine is physically and psychologically addicting, because there are chemical changes in the brain. Some of the changes may linger in the brain for a year after the usage is stopped.
Crack is cocaine in crystal form. It is a purer form than the powder form of cocaine, and so it is more powerful and addicting. Crack may contain sulfuric acid or other acids that were not removed after crystallization. This is a poison and may contribute to some crack-related deaths.
Mainlining (injecting directly into a vein) is the fastest method of receiving cocaine, or any other drug. Snorting or inhaling is the slowest way to get the drug to the brain.
In the 1930s powerful sedatives called barbiturates were introduced. Before that time, chemical compounds known as bromides were popular as sedatives. Many people were admitted to mental hospitals with a variety of neurological disturbances because of abuse of bromides.
Insomnia and anxiety have been the common complaint of men and women for ages. Miltown was the popular tranquilizer among housewives, and Seconal and Nembutal were the prescribed sedatives. Then in the 1960s, a new class of tranquilizers, called benzodiazepines were available. The first was Librium (chlordiazepoxide) followed by "the all-time favorite" Valium (diazepam).
The barbiturates are popular with the youth and are called "downers." The person intoxicated with a downer has difficulty making judgments and has impaired motor coordination. The experience is similar to an alcohol high. Drug users combine barbiturates and amphetamines for a greater effect. This combination of two drugs is called synergism. The ill effect on health is doubled as well.
Valium, the most frequently prescribed nonbarbiturate, has a half-life of 24 to 48 hours which means it stays in the system long after it is taken. The urine can test positive for benzodiazepines for several weeks after long-term use.
Valium erases all anxiety and tension and leaves the person in a tranquil mood, but it is very addictive. Tolerance develops quickly and Valium overdose is one of the leading causes of overdose admissions to the hospital. Withdrawal from Valium produces severe symptoms. Prolonged use can cause severe anxiety, tension, irritability and loss of concentration. Permanent liver and pancreas damage may also be the result. Elvis Presley was one of the most famous abusers of Valium. He died from an overdose of Valium and pain medications.
Anyone subject to anxiety or panic attacks will be prescribed one of the benzodiazepines just to function normally. So long as they follow the physician's orders and do not take alcohol or other drugs, the drug will be beneficial for them.
Xanax is a prescription drug that is abused. This anti-anxiety pill works in the same manner as alcohol. It controls anxiety by substituting the drug for endorphins and enkephalins. Because of the mind-altering properties of this drug, it causes a psychological dependence.
Other anti-anxiety drugs that are in common use today include:
Librium, Ativan, Tranxene, Serex, Versed and Librax. It is difficult for the individual to recover from the addiction to anti-anxiety pills. They need psychological therapy and group therapy. The nurse can help by suggesting exercise, hobbies, sports, reading and other means to help the person rid themselves of that nervous energy.
Drowsiness and motor impairment are common side effects of the minor tranquilizers. A barbiturate prescribed for sleep can have a deadly effect when taken with alcohol and a tranquilizer. Accidental deaths are often a result.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant with sedative-anesthetic effects. It is legal, socially acceptable, and it is high on the list of substance abusers.
Because of the increased acetylcholine, reflexes are impaired and cause the drunk's stumbling walk and slurred speech. The altered serotonin levels cause the drinker to feel sleepy. The change in the chemical flow in the brain results in loss of memory and lack of concentration. Furthermore, heavy indulgence impairs the body's ability to utilize nutrients and a nutritional deficiency occurs. The chronic drinker suffers from fatigue, oversensitivity and depression. Moderate amounts of alcohol may, however, be beneficial. The combination of antihistamines such as Benadryl and alcohol has an addictive sedative effect. Drivers using antihistamines and alcohol are a great threat to themselves and others when driving on the road.
Aspirin interferes with blood-clotting mechanisms, and when taken in large quantities, increases the danger of gastric hemorrhage.
Immediate care for the substance abuser is focused on preventing him from injuring himself or those around him. A person taking drugs can be agitated and combative. Symptoms that indicate stimulants were taken are hyperactivity, talkativeness and irritability. Other symptoms may be elevated blood pressure, dilated pupils, rapid pulse, shallow respirations and high fever.
Depressants affect the body the same way as alcohol and narcotics. Be on the alert for respiratory problems, diminished gag reflex and nausea. Vomiting can cause asphyxiation. Watch for respiratory arrest. Patients in the midst of a seizure need to be protected. Make certain the air passages are open and they are receiving an adequate air exchange.
An attempt should be made to find out what kind of drug was taken. If the patient cannot respond, try to get information from the ones who brought him to the hospital or ask those who found him. Take any syringes or drugs found near him. An analysis of the vomitus will identify the drug. Restraints are a last resort. They only add to the patient's panic. The patient needs only kind support and empathy at a time like this.
Drugs are classified as narcotics, hallucinogens, stimulants, depressants and alcohol.
Opium has been used for centuries. It is obtained from the poppy plant and its main source now is the Orient.
Heroin is more addicting and dangerous than morphine. Hallucinogens develop physiological dependence.
Marijuana, no longer thought of as a harmless weed, causes an imbalance of the brain's chemicals and has withdrawal symptoms of its own.
PCP can cause severe psychotic disorder.
When a person takes an overdose of an amphetamine, he can experience elevated blood pressure, rapid and unclear speech and insomnia.
Valium has a half-life of 24 to 48 hours. Anti-anxiety drugs can cause psychological dependence.