Drug abuse is a significant and widespread social, health and economic issue. How significant? A UN report from 2010 estimated around 230 million people worldwide took an illegal drug during that year. That equates to approximately 5% of the entire world’s population. Now just taking an illegal substance doesn’t necessarily mean someone has a personal issue with drugs or is a chronic abuser.
However, estimates from a 2015 world drug report listed 27 million as the number of people considered to have a drug abuse problem globally. The real issue though is that only about 20% of individuals that need some form of treatment or intervention are actually receiving the appropriate support.
So what is drug abuse? Simply defined drug abuse is the patterned use of drugs whereby drugs are consumed at frequencies, quantities and via methods dangerous to an individual or those around him or her.
I know that for those of you who have not had a problem with substance abuse, or perhaps have never been exposed to sufferers of long term drug addiction, it can be hard to comprehend why someone turns to drugs. More importantly it is hard to understand why they cannot simply stop what is clearly having an impact on their quality of life.
Even for a chronic drug abuse victim it’s often extremely difficult to admit they have a problem. Often it starts out as casual drug use, joining in with friends on special occasions. Unconsciously this infrequent use becomes ever more frequent… on any occasion. Before you know it they have a habit. All the while the victim convinces him or herself they could quit at any time if they really wanted.
What started out as a bit of fun is now having a pronounced impact on their health and wellbeing, as well as those that care so much about them.
So what are these harmful impacts then?
The specific impacts can vary widely depending on the particular drug or drugs in question. However, one thing that is consistent with almost all drug abuse is the influence it has on the executive functioning areas of the brain.
What do I mean by executive functioning areas? This basically refers to the parts of the brain involved in important tasks such as thinking, planning, organising, prioritising and taking action (or not taking action as the case may be).
Chronic drug use can weigh heavily on the inhibitory functions of your brain. When faced with important decisions pertaining to certain impulses or actions, an affected brain may struggle to differentiate right and wrong, or at least become delayed in its response. This can have a profound impact on ones judgement, decision making and emotions.
Excessive drug use can also lead to serious health problems including heart disease, stroke or drug overdose. Prolonged and serious drug use has also been closely linked to various forms of mental illness and psychiatric disorders. A raft of social problems are prevalent including violence or antisocial and criminal behaviour. If not sorted out, drug use also can lead to undesirable long term personality changes.
The good news is that drug abuse and addiction is treatable. Users who commit to one of the range of treatment programs are frequently successful in stopping the cycle of abuse. In many cases they go on to lead productive lives. Drug abuse victims do not need to face this problem on their own. The support structures are available for those that are prepared to admit they need help.