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Drug Abuse - Treatment, Symptoms and Causes

Last Updated: Nov 30, 2023

What is Drug Abuse?

The persistent use of addictive substances as a habit by an individual, following a specific pattern of use is called drug abuse. Prolonged, repetitive and compulsive use can make the user tolerant to the effects of the substance of abuse. Use of such substances becomes ingrained in the system of the abuser, and withdrawal results into a set of specific symptoms, encouraging one towards a relapse. This vicious cycle of use and withdrawal leads to a condition called drug addiction.

While the widespread notion is that drug abuse and resultant addiction is a behavioural disorder, this truly is a misconception. The effects of drug use are more pervasive. Constant use of drugs alters the neural functioning of brain cells. Among the mechanisms that are observed as the effects of drug abuse on the brain are 'imitation of natural chemical messengers' and 'reward circuit over-stimulation’, making substance abuse a brain disorder.

With medical advancements of the last few years, the previous underestimation of drug abuse has been reduced, diagnosing and treating it like a brain disorder, instead of a mere behavioural deflection. Among the primary steps to identification and corresponding cure of drug abuse is a strong understanding that treatment is beyond one’s willpower. In most cases treatment is an appropriate combination of medical assistance and counseling. This may be variable for different cases.

Causes of Drug Abuse.

p>Using drugs is a common practice among teenagers and young adults. But the stage where the individual cannot bear abstinence from such substances leads to drug abuse. The most prominent causes are:

  • Genetics: It has been observed that several drug abusers and addicts have a family history of the same. While no direct relation has been established between drug abuse and genetics, it can be inferred that family members of drug abusers have a higher predisposition to abuse.

  • Co-occurring conditions: Mental illness, profound stress, verbal, physical or sexual abuse are among the top causes of drug abuse. The victims of such ailments/abuse need a channel to went out frustration, or respite from anxiety they face. Thus, they turn towards drugs as a distraction.

  • Environmental causes: Environmental causes mainly comprise of peer pressure or bullying. Adolescents abusing drugs may be vouching for attention of ignorant parents.

What is the symptoms of Drug Abuse?

Physiological signs: As an individual’s abuse habit strengthens, they increase their drug dosage, as they face higher tolerance towards smaller quantities. This enables overdose, giving out clear physical symptoms. These include bloodshot or glazed eyes, pupil constriction or dilation, abnormal or unprecedented weight alterations, wounds or bruises, afflicted at the site of drug entrance. Apart from these, organ failure can also be observed.

Behavioural changes: Sudden changes in behaviour, towards family and friends can be observed. The victim shows negative behavioural modifications especially when unable to use their usual drug. A shift in one’s priorities, lowering of inhibitions towards previously restricted activities are indications.

Treatment of Drug Abuse.

Several treatment plans can be followed for victims of drug abuse. Usually, the course of action is decided based on case specific factors such as substances involved, frequency of abuse, the patient's condition at the time of admission to program etc.

The most important aspects of treatment are consistency and intensity. Generally, the course of treatment is a combination of medical assistance and counseling or other behaviour therapies. Treatment must be continuously reviewed to check the patient's progress and modified as required. Treatment for any previously encountered or currently faced mental illness must be included.

The patient is particularly vulnerable during treatment course. Due to characteristic withdrawal symptoms of each drug, a relapse is highly likely. Therefore, close and careful monitoring of the patient is of utmost importance.


Prevention to avoid Drug Abuse.

The first step towards prevention involves proper awareness about the multiple aspects of drug abuse. It has been previously established that drug abuse, and subsequent addiction is essentially a brain disorder. This puts young abusers, mostly teenagers and adolescents at a greater risk. The most effective prevention tactics are informative discussions about the effects and consequences of drug abuse. For most children, this will eliminate the fascination, and therefore the possibility of abuse for leisure. Preventing drug abuse at an early age shall be most advantageous. Excessively stressful conditions can lead to drug abuse in adults, which can be avoided by repetitive guidance and mental support from well-wishers.                

Withdrawal symptoms of Drug Abuse.

The common symptoms of drug abuse withdrawal are restlessness, muscle cramps and full-body ache, fatigue, profuse lacrimation, anxiety, insomnia, runny nose etc. Apart from these, each drug has its categorical withdrawal symptoms. Here are a few:

Heroine: Symptoms begin to exhibit within 12 hours of last dosage, peaking between 24-48 hours. The symptoms of withdrawal and common flu are similar.

Cocaine: Depression and restlessness are commonly observed symptoms. Withdrawal begins within hours of last dose, peaks within a few days, and can persistent from 7-10 days, up to a few months, depending upon the intensity of abuse.

Prescription Opiates: Withdrawal usually spans for 5-10 days, beginning within 8-12 hours and peak is observed in 12-48 hours.


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Written ByDr. S.Sagin Raj Diploma in Diabetology,CCRH (certificate in reproductive health),MBBS,F.F.M(family medicine)General Physician
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