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Substance Abuse

How Drugs Affect the Human Body

Arron Quentin Umberger 12/6/2011

Both illegal and legal drugs, such as prescription medication, can lead to addiction if abused. There are many types of drugs ranging from alcohol to designer drugs such as ecstasy. Here we will discuss the psychological and physiological effects of various common drugs of abuse.


Most drugs we take on a regular basis, such as antibiotics and over-the-counter pain and cold medications do not produce noticeable mind-altering effects. However, all drugs affect the brain at some level because they alter the function of neurotransmitters (Mun ar et al., !""!#. Most of these drugs do not get you $high% or produce euphoric feelings& however, some of these substances can have a very strong effect on the brain, and may dramatically alter a person's state of consciousness ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. ,sychoactive drugs are chemical substances that alter a person's mood, perception, or thought process. (hen these chemical compounds, such as anti-an-iety medications, are used for medical purposes, they are known as controlled substances. .f a substance is not approved for medical purposes and remains illegal to use for any medical or personal use, it is deemed as an illicit substance ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. /ver-the-counter cold medications, pain relievers, and even herbal remedies are psychoactive in nature. 0ome foods, such as chocolate, possess psychoactive properties as well (Macht ) Mueller, !""1#. 2ach and every sense of physical pleasure e-perienced by humans has the same neurological basis. (hether the pleasure comes to us in the form of a se-ual encounter or a psychoactive chemical compound, the sense of pleasure that is e-perienced is caused by that particular stimulus' effect on the brains neurotransmitters, notably the reward system ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 3his chain of events starts when the ventral tegmental area (43A# of the brain is triggered by a stimulus to release floods of dopamine to an area of the brain's limbic system known as the nucleus accumbens (5oob ) 6e Moal, !""7#. 3he 43A also distributes dopamine to the orbitofrontal corte- which is the part of the brain that serves as a filing system. 3he orbitofrontal corte- stores the associations of the substance and the feeling that it produces for future reference ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. .t has been found in research that the release
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of dopamine correlates with the reward and motivational effects of psychoactive substances (8arlson, +997#. 3his includes substances such as mari:uana, heroin (3anda et al., +991#, and nicotine (,ich et al., +991& ,ontieri et al., +99;#. 3he reason that various drugs cause different types of feelings of pleasure and euphoria is because the effect a substance has on the dopamine system is merely the beginning of a long line of reactions that affect the body's entire neurotransmitter system. 2very different type of drug has its own way of influencing the system, and each is associated with its own euphoric feelings and altered states of consciousness ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 3he effects of drugs are not all beneficial because when an individual takes too much of a substance, or combines too many substances, the effects can be detrimental. .n many cases, the body reacts negatively after prolonged e-posure to a chemical substance. /piates, for e-ample, are commonly prescribed to manage pain& but, after an individual has been taking opiate analgesics for a lengthy amount of time, the production of endorphins (the body's natural painkillers# is suppressed ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. (ith this malfunction of the body's natural pain management system, the brain then relies on the presence of opiates in order to continue functioning properly. 3his state is known as dependence. .f other depressants are thrown in the mi- and are taken in great amounts, the result can be devastating. 3he overabundance of depressant substances can lead to unconsciousness and even death ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 0timulant substances can cause damage as well. 2-cessive amounts of stimulant substances can send cause increased stress on the heart and can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes, and possibly death ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. *oth controlled substances and legal drugs, such as alcohol, can lead to dependence and addiction. 3he most addictive substances have euphoric effects that are felt almost
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instantaneously. 0ubstance abuse is a term used when an individual's use of a substance begins to interfere with a person's life roles in the home, at work, in school, or anywhere else and begins to lead to legal problems or psychological issue ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 3here are four key factors which influence the addictive potential of a chemical substance:
How <uickly the onset of the substance is felt How much pleasure is gained from taking the substance 3he length of time euphoric feelings last 3he amount of discomfort that is felt when the drug is no longer present in the

body (Med erian, +99+# =ast acting substances often lose their euphoric feeling after a very short amount of time. A prime e-ample of this would be crack cocaine. 3he onset of euphoria for an individual who smokes crack is only about 1 seconds, and the effects of the drug are only felt for about > minutes. ?rugs which are in:ected intravenously are often more addictive than those which are taken orally due to the rapid onset of euphoria when the drug is in:ected ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 2ven faster still is the onset of euphoria when a drug is smoked. 0moking most substances will normally have a slightly <uicker onset than in:ection or oral ingestion. 3here are two ma:or types of drug dependence. 3hese are physical dependence and psychological dependence. After prolonged e-posure to a chemical substance, the body develops a drug tolerance. A tolerance is formed when the body becomes adapted to a repeatedly abused substance and the user must take in more and more of that drug in order to get the same euphoric effects (5oob, !""7#. /nce a person's body has become tolerant of a substance, the body loses

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its ability to function properly without the presence of the drug. .f the drug is no longer ingested, the user will e-perience withdrawal symptoms. 3hese are the physiological and psychological symptoms which precipitate once the use of an abused drug is stopped ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 3he feelings e-perienced during withdrawal are commonly the e-act opposite feelings e-perienced when the drug is still being used. A person who was addicted to a stimulant substance may feel depressed and e-hausted when going through withdrawal, whereas a person who has abused depressant drugs may become fidgety and restless. Many drug abusers relapse after they have stopped taking a drug because continued use of the drug is the only way to make these horrible withdrawal symptoms go away. Also, there are behavioral and cognitive effects that can also intervene when an individual is attempting to <uit using a drug ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. As stated before, physical dependence is not the only type of dependence in regard to drug addiction. 3he craving and irresistible urge to continue abusing a substance is called psychological dependence, and is often more difficult to fight than physical dependence (/'*rien, +99;#. .t is even believed by many e-perts that a neurological network which is independent from that which controls decision making is responsible for drug cravings (*echara, !"">#. 3his independent network is believed to act on impulses and desires for instant gratification ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. However, the network that is responsible for making decisions does identify the results of potential actions and can make a conscious decision to follow through with more constructive behaviors rather than follow the path of destructive behaviors. 3hus theory of two neural networks being in battle against one another may e-plain why addicts often relapse even though they know the negative conse<uences of doing so. 3he psychological part of the abusive habit influences the continued abuse of a substance in a person
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who is physically addicted. 3here are also drugs that have no physically addictive traits but can still possess strong psychologically addicting <ualities ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 4arious types of drugs are placed into different classifications depending on the effects of the drug. 0timulants, or $uppers%, speed up the activity in the body's central nervous system. 3hey can suppress a person's hunger and appetite, and can give a feeling of being more alert and energetic ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 0timulants cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and they also reduce cerebral blood flow (Mathew ) (ilson, +99+#. (hen taken in high doses, stimulants can make a person feel nervous, :ittery, and restless. /f all stimulants, caffeine is by far the most common. 8affeine is found in coffee, tea, colas, chocolate and countless over-the-counter and prescription drugs. 8affeine causes a person to feel more awake and alert ((esensten et al., !""!#. (hen people who regularly intake caffeine abstain from its use, they often suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to those felt by abusers of illicit stimulants. 3hey may feel drowsy, groggy, instable, and often have fre<uent headaches. 0imilar to caffeine, nicotine, which is found in tobacco, can also increase alertness in individuals who use it. 3he addictive power of nicotine is grossly underestimated by many ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. Many of the so-called $remedies% to help people <uit smoking have been found to be of very little help. @esearch has shown that hypnosis is not as effective as it was once thought, but over-the-counter nicotine lo enges, patches, and chewing gums have helped people to cut back on how much tobacco they use (Aeorge ) (einberger, !""7#. Another powerful group of stimulant drugs are amphetamines. Amphetamines can increase levels of arousal, increase alertness, and give the user a euphoric $rush%. @esearch on
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animals has shown that amphetamines cause dopamine to be released in the frontal corte- as well as the nucleus accumbens. 3his could play a significant role in why people seek it out for pleasure, as it can increase the attention span and improve concentration (=rant et al., !""!#. (hen taken in high doses of +"" milligrams or greater, amphetamine use can have negative effects such as disorgani ed and erratic behavior, mood swings, delusions, hallucinations, and may even cause manic episodes of paranoia (3hirthalli ) *enegal, !"";#. A more powerful form of amphetamine, known as methamphetamine ($ice%, $crank%, $meth%#, is available in a smokable form which may be the most addictive form of the drug. Amphetamine withdrawal leaves its sufferers physically e-hausted. Many times the individual withdrawing from amphetamines will sleep for e-tended periods of time and will awaken feeling e-tremely hungry. *ecause stimulants constrict small arteries and capillaries, repeated use of the drug can eventually reduce blood flow to the brain, causing lack of o-ygen supplied to the brain and hemorrhaging ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 8ocaine is another popular street drug which falls into the stimulant category. 8ocaine is derived from the processed leaves of the coca plant, and is most often found in the form of a white powder which can be insufflated through the nose or in:ected intravenously. 3he most powerful form of cocaine, crack cocaine, is found in a smokable $rock%. .n:ecting or smoking cocaine produces a <uicker and much more intense $high% due to its rapid uptake into the bloodstream (B.?A, !"++#. 3he effects of cocaine are felt within !-C minutes and last form C"D> minutes depending on the potency of the batch. After the drug wears off, the crash that follows is marked by agitation, an-iety, and an often uncontrollable urge to use more of the drug ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 8ocaine, like many other stimulants, causes dopamine to be released and triggers the brain's reward system, thus causing the $rush% and $high% felt from
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using the drug. After prolonged use, the user is no longer able to sense pleasure without the drug. 3he prevalent withdrawal symptoms of cocaine are psychological in nature and include the inability to feel pleasure and the intense craving for more of the drug. 8ocaine withdrawal can cause a sudden fall in the levels of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (B.?A, !"++#, which can cause the feelings of depression and an-iety once the drug has worn off. Another class of drugs which are commonly abused is depressants, commonly known as $downers%. ?epressants slow down and reduce the activity of the central nervous system, causing slow movement and reduced sensitivity to environmental stimuli ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. ?rugs which fall into this category are: alcohol, barbiturates, tran<uili ers, and narcotics. .f a variety of depressants are taken simultaneously, their effects build on one another and thus can become deadly. Alcohol is the most commonly abused depressant and it's not surprisingly so given that it is legal to consume. /nce consumed, alcohol decreases the activity of the central nervous system. .t is for this reason that when a person consumes alcohol, they may start to have deeper feelings of depression. (hile may assume that they can $drink away% their sorrows, this is not the case as alcohol use can actually intensify depression (Bag, !""7#. Alcohol can also increase stress and an-iety levels in a person who has grown dependent on the drug. (hile many find the drunken feeling pleasurable, it is commonly followed by spells of restlessness, nightmares, and sometimes overwhelming fear (Bag, !""7#. Heavy alcohol use can impair :udgment, coordination, and memory. *arbiturates are another form of depressant that are sometimes used as tran<uili ers or sleeping medications. *arbiturates can cause e-treme drowsiness and sedation, often leaving the

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user of the drug in a state of confusion. 3hinking and :udgment are affected, as are one's coordination and refle- actions (Henningfield ) Ator, +97;#. *arbiturates can be especially dangerous. As little as three times the recommended dose can prove fatal ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. *en odia epines are another popular form of depressant, and are commonly prescribed for an-iety disorders. 4alium, Eana-, Ativan, and 6ibrium are all forms of ben odia epines. *en odia epines are minor tran<uili ers, and each year over 9" million prescriptions for these drugs are filled ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. Many of the side effects associated with abuse of ben odia epines are associated with poor cognitive functioning and amnesia-like memory lapses (,araherakis et al., !""+#. Barcotics are a powerful branch of drugs which fall under the classification of depressants. Barcotics are pain-killing derivatives of the opium poppy. Although opium's primary effects are felt in the brain, it also slows down the digestive system, making it a useful treatment for diarrhea as well. 0ome cough syrups contain opium derivatives because of its suppressant effect on the body's cough center ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 3here are numerous forms of opiates which are popular drugs of abuse. Heroin, morphine, hydrocodone (6ortab#, o-ycodone (/-y8ontin#, and hydromorphone (?ilaudid# are only a few. Heroin is an addictive derivative of morphine which usually comes in the form of a white or brown powder, or as a black, sticky substance (black tar# (B.?A, !"++#. Heroin can be in:ected, smoked, or insufflated. Heroin is converted to morphine within the brain and binds to the opioid receptors, which are found throughout the brain, especially in areas which involve the perception of pain and reward (B.?A, !"++#. After using heroin, the user feels a $rush% which

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many claim to be as powerful as an orgasm. =ollowing the initial effects, the user usually drifts off into a state of drowsiness where they may find themselves $nodding out%. (ith regular use, tolerance to the drug develops, and more heroin is needed to feel the same effect. .t is estimated that !C percent of all user who try heroin will become addicted to it (B.?A, !"++#. @epeated abuse of all opiates such as heroin, morphine, and o-ycodone can <uickly lead to physical and psychological dependence (B.?A, !"++#. (ithdrawal symptoms of opiates include muscle pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and kicking movements when in a rested state. (hile in a state of withdrawal, an opiate addict will face an e-treme craving for the drug, which can easily lead to relapse. Although opiate withdrawal is considered to be less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal, if a person <uits $cold turkey%, without tapering off doses, it can be fatal (B.?A, !"++#. ,sychedelic drugs, also known as hallucinogens, are substances which alter a person's perception or reality. 3hey often distort the perception of time and alter mood ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. 3he effects of hallucinogens are not as predictable as the effects of other drugs. ,sychedelic substances often magnify the mood the person is in at the time they ingest the drug. Mari:uana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the Fnited 0tates (B.?A, !"++#. Mari:uana induces euphoria, distorted perceptions, impairs the formation of memory, and causes difficulty in problem solving (B.?A, !"++#. A long term study of 8osta @ican men has proven that prolonged use of mari:uana has a detrimental effect on short-term memory (=letcher et. al, +99;#. Mari:uana abuse has been linked to poor performance in school and lack of motivation. However, mari:uana is not without its benefits. @esearch has proven that it has promising values as medical treatment for various conditions such as glaucoma, cancer, and A.?0 (=ackelmann, +991#.
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/ther forms of psychedelics include 60?, ,8,, and ecstasy. 60? (lysergic acid diethylamide# is commonly known on the street as $acid%. A single acid $trip% can last from +"+! hours, and will often produce e-treme visual hallucinations (B.?A, !"++#. ,8, (phencyclidine# was originally intended as an anesthetic until it was discontinued due to its adverse effects. ,8, is a dissociative drug which produces feeling of detachment from the environment and one's self (B.?A, !"++#. ,8, has drastically last popularity, but is still abused by some because of the invulnerable feeling associated with its abuse. /ne of the more popular designer drugs of our time is ecstasy (M?MA#. 6ike other designer drugs, M?MA is derived from amphetamines, but also possesses hallucinogenic effects as well ((ood, (ood, ) *oyd, !"++#. M?MA, which is most often taken in tablet form, gained popularity in the underground dance scene. M?MA use is e-tremely popular among gay males, but the profile of the average ecstasy user is ever-changing, and the use of the drug is crossing cultural borders (B.?A, !"++#. (ithdrawal from most psychedelic substances is purely psychological, with the e-ception of M?MA. M?MA users have reported some physical withdrawal symptoms, which are believed to be caused by the addition of physically addictive drugs (mainly heroin# to the tablet or capsule when it is manufactured (B.?A, !"++#. 6earning processes are crucial to maintaining a psychological addiction to any substance. 8ues are a huge factor in craving a substance. Any people, places, or things which are associated with the drug may cause irresistible urges to abuse a substance (5oob, !""7#. .n fact, there has been research on opiate users that states that an opiate addict may even selectively ignore all non-drug cues while they are in the present of drug related cues (6ubman et al., !"""#. 3his idea of $selective attention% is probably not the most accurate portrayal of the inner workings of an addict's brain, however. 3here have been studies involving ,23 scans done on the brains of
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cocaine addicts which have shown that such drug cues activate a cue-specific neural network. 3his could potentially provide an e-planation of why it is so difficult for addicts to ignore such cues (*onson et al., !""!#. .t is findings such as these which emphasi e the importance of change in an addict's physical and social environment during the treatment of physical and psychological addiction. (ith drug abuse becoming more and more widespread every day, there have been many programs established to help addicts stop their drug abuse. Aroup organi ations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA# and Barcotics Anonymous (BA#, have established meeting places and sessions in almost every city nationwide. 3here are even special clinics which prescribe medications to lessen the withdrawal symptoms of narcotic users. Methadone is a synthetic opiate which binds to the same receptors as other opiates, and is given orally to suppress cravings and eliminate withdrawal symptoms (B.?A, !"++#. *uprenorphine is another prescription medication that acts similarly to methadone in treatment for opiate addiction. *uprenorphine has a lower chance of causing physical dependence than methadone, and is steadily becoming more popular because it is easier to stop using than methadone (B.?A, !"++#. Baltre-one, yet another medicine used in opiate dependence, blocks the effects of opiates, thus preventing any feeling of euphoria one may get while taking opiates (B.?A, !"++#. Baltre-one is not as commonly used as methadone or buprenorphine due to patient non-compliance. ?ue to its opiate blocking properties, an individual must be opiate-free for several days before starting naltre-one treatment in order to prevent the precipitation of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms (B.?A, !"++#.

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