Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a potential crisis that many families may experience. Substance use disorders are conditions that arise from misuse of alcohol, psychoactive drugs and other chemicals.

Substance use disorders are usually classified further as follows:

  • abuse (harmful use)
  • dependence
  • intoxication
  • withdrawal states
  • psychotic disorders
  • amnestic syndromes 

The term abuse refers to maladaptive patterns of substance use that harms health in a broader sense. It is possible for an individual to show signs of misuse without being dependent. However, wherever dependence is present then it replaces abuse in the diagnosis. Most people can drink alcohol in moderation. They can have one or two drinks and not encounter problems. Others develop alcohol related disorders, such as alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. These individuals drink to excess and become a danger to themselves and others.

Although addiction begins when an individual makes a conscious choice to drink or use other drugs, most individuals who experiment with addictive substances do not become addicted. Addiction develops over time and, once established, is a chronic and relapsing illness. Substance use can be associated with impulsive, aggressive or violent behaviour, which can result in criminal activity and injury to the person or others. This can also vary greatly depending on the substance that is being abused.

Substance-related disorders affect every segment of the population, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual orientation. People who also have substance related disorders usually find that their general health deteriorates.

Many people who use drugs use more than one at any given time. Polydrug abuse poses a serious health problem as the effects of the drugs taken together can produce a stronger reaction than individually.

Traumatic Effects that may Lead to Drug Use

Our community accepts, and in some cases values, drug use. Alcohol is a central part of many people's lives. Medicinal drugs are widely used and vital to the health of our community. They are sometimes misused. Illicit drugs are currently used for their psycho-active properties, but potentially some could be used for medicinal purposes (for example, cannabis and heroin).

Defining some drugs as 'illegal' and 'demonising' the users has not eliminated their use. Some users suffer serious health or other problems as a result of their drug use.

Psychoactive drugs will cause changes to consciousness by changing the biochemistry of the body. Though psychoactive drugs are considered a problem in many societies, they are used in almost every society, though not necessarily in a way that causes harm or distress. Many societies intentionally use drugs in rituals or for recreation, yes such drugs are so much a part of our lives that many of us use them without realising that we are altering our biochemistry and affecting our consciousness. 

Tobacco and caffeine are stimulants that heighten out alertness, energy and mood. Tobacco is also a major cause of death, and caffeine increases can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and high blood pressure. Alcohol and many widely prescribed tranquillisers are depressants, reducing our anxiety but also slowing our reactions and leading to possible psychological problems, as well as some potentially fatal physical reactions.

There is some evidence that problematic and harmful drug use most often occurs where people are vulnerable or lack self-esteem, such as at times when they are experiencing a crisis or traumatic event. The illegal status of the drugs and the stigma attached to users further entrenches their marginalisation. Provision of information, support and treatment is made more difficult in these circumstances.

There are potentially serious health consequences that arise from misuse of illicit drugs. The level and nature of the consequences varies between drugs and is, to some degree, dependent upon the circumstances of their use. Many people who use illicit drugs will be polydrug users/abusers - that is, using more than one drug at any given time. Polydrug abuse poses serious health problems as the effects of drugs are sometimes synergistic, that is, the effects of each interact to produce an especially strong reaction.. 

People who go through traumatic experiences often have symptoms and problems afterwards. How serious the symptoms and problems are depends on many things, including a person's life experiences before the trauma, a person's own natural ability to cope with stress, how serious the trauma was, and what kinds of help and support a person gets from family, friends, and professionals immediately following the trauma.

Because most trauma survivors don't know how trauma usually affects people, they often have trouble understanding what is happening to them. They may think it is their fault that the trauma happened, that they are going crazy, or that there is something wrong with them because other people who were there don't seem to have the same problems. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to make them feel better. They may turn away from friends and family who don't seem to understand. They may not know what they can do to get better.

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