Drug Use And Abuse Basics


Ways that People Use Alcohol and Other Drugs

Use: Alcohol and other drugs may be used in a socially accepted or medically authorized manner to modify or control mood or state of mind. Examples include having a drink with friends or taking an anti-anxiety agency as prescribed by a physician. Described below are different ways that people use alcohol and other drugs without necessarily becoming addicted.

Experimentation – Out of curiosity and/or at the urging of peers, individuals may try drinking or using drugs illegally. If the illegal drug use is not repeated, or discontinues after a short time, such experimentation may not be problematic. Likewise, deciding to drink alcoholic beverages after early experimentation is not problematic for most adults.

Social/Recreational – Drinking alcoholic beverages is permitted in American society, and some excessive use may even be condoned. If use doesn’t cause problems for the user, or those around him/her, most people would consider such use to be social or recreational. Some use marijuana in a similar manner – only in certain social or recreational situations and without immediate adverse consequences. However, marijuana use is illegal, except in a few states.

As a Stress Reliever – Many people use alcohol or other drugs to help them cope with pressure or stress. If this type of use is infrequent and doesn’t create more stress or difficulties for the user, or those around him/her, it may not lead to addiction, but alcoholism and drug addiction often begin with relief drinking.

Abuse: The use of a substance to modify or control mood or state of mind in a manner that is illegal or harmful to oneself or others is considered problematic use, or abuse. Examples of potential consequences of harmful use are:

• Accidents or injuries
• Blackouts
• Legal problems
• Poor job performance
• Family problems
• Sexual behavior that increases the risk of HIV infection

Addiction: A number of individuals occasionally use or abuse alcohol or drugs without becoming addicted, but for many abuse continues despite repeated attempts to return to more social or controlled use and leads to addiction. Addiction is the irresistible compulsion to use alcohol and drugs despite adverse consequences. It is characterized by repeated failures to control use, increased tolerance and increased disruption in the family.

Understanding Addiction

Unfortunately, it is not possible to tell early on whose use may lead to abuse and/or addiction. For one in ten people, abuse leads to addiction.

Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is:

Chronic – Once you have developed an addiction, you will always have to deal with it. You may manage to stop using alcohol or other drugs for significant periods of time, but for most the disease doesn’t disappear but rather goes into remission. Should you attempt to resume ‘normal’ use, you will rapidly return to addictive, out of control use and abuse.

Progressive – Addiction gets worse over time. With some drugs, the decline is rapid; with others, like alcohol, it can be more gradual, but it does get worse. Alcohol and other drugs cause a biochemical change in the nervous system that can persist even after the substance leaves the blood. Repeated use causes progressive damage.

Primary – Addiction is not just a symptom of some underlying psychological problem, a developmental stage or a reaction to stress. Once your use of alcohol or drugs has become an addiction, the addiction itself needs to be medically treated as a primary illness.

Terminal – Addiction to alcohol and/or other drugs often leads to disease and possibly death.

Characterized by Denial – One of the most disturbing and confusing aspects of addiction is that it is characterized by denial. The user denies that his/her use is out of control or that it is causing any problems at home or work. The user often seems to be the last to know that his/her life is out of control. There are effective strategies employed by professionals for helping to break through this denial, which must be overcome before treatment can take place.

Risk of Addiction:

Some people with a history of substance abuse in their family are more susceptible to developing problems with addiction. Children of alcoholics or addicts are three times as likely to develop problems. If both parents are addicts or alcoholics, the risk increases to five times as great. This is due to heredity as well as learned behavior. It is important for parents to realize that children learn much more from watching their behavior than listening to their advice.

Prior abuse of alcohol and other drugs has a great impact on developing future problems:

A pattern of abuse develops and can lead to addiction and psychological reliance on drugs and/or alcohol. This can be a slow progression for some and a rapid decline for others. Research demonstrates that the later in life an individual first drinks alcohol or uses other drugs, the less likely he or she will be to progress to problem use.

Other contributing factors:

Some people abuse alcohol and drugs as part of a self-destructive lifestyle. Other people start to use substances to seek relief from depression or crisis in their lives. Although some fortunate individuals never develop serious problems and use diminishes or ceases once the precipitating events change, others develop a serious problem before they even realize it.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Abuse of alcohol and other drugs affects people emotionally, behaviorally and physically.

Emotional Effects:

• Aggression
• Burnout
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Paranoia
• Denial

Behavioral Effects:

• Slow reaction time
• Impaired coordination
• Slowed or slurred speech
• Irritability
• Excessive talking
• Inability to sit still
• Limited attention span
• Poor motivation and lack of energy

Physical Effects:

• Weight loss
• Sweating
• Chills
• Smell of alcohol

Impact on Others:

Enabling: Action that someone takes to protect the person with the problem from the consequences of his or her actions. Unfortunately, enabling actually helps the person to NOT deal with his or her problem.

Examples of enabling include:

Covering Up – Providing alibis, making excuses or even doing an impaired worker’s or family members work rather than confronting the issue that he/she is not meeting his/her expectations.

Rationalizing – Developing reasons why the person’s continued substance abuse or behavior is understandable or acceptable.

Withdrawing/Avoiding – Avoiding contact with the person with the problem.

Blaming – Blaming yourself for the person’s continued substance abuse or getting angry at the individual for not trying hard enough to control his/her use or to get help.

Controlling – Trying to take responsibility for the person by throwing out his/her drugs, cutting off the supply or trying to minimize the impact by moving him/her to a less important job.

Threatening – Saying that you will take action (ceasing to cover up, taking formal disciplinary action) if the employee doesn’t control his/her use, but not following through.

Examples of traps that family members and coworkers may fall into:

Sympathy – Trying to get you involved in his/her personal problems.

Excuses – Having increasingly improbable explanations for everything that happens.

Apology – Being very sorry and promising to change. (“It won’t happen again.”)

Diversions – Trying to get you to talk about other issues in life or in the workplace.

Innocence – Claiming he/she is not the cause of the problems you observe, but rather the
victim. (“It isn’t true.” “I didn’t know.” “Everyone is against me.”)

Anger – Showing physically intimidating behavior, blaming others. (“It’s your fault.”)

Pity – Using emotional blackmail to elicit your sympathy and guilt. (“You know what I’m going through. How can you do this to me now?”)

Tears – Falling apart and expressing remorse upon confrontation.