Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Drug abuse, also called substance abuse or chemical abuse, is a disorder that
is characterized by a destructive pattern of using a substance that leads to
significant problems or distress. It affects more than 7% of people at
some point in their lives. Teens are increasingly engaging
in prescription drug abuse, particularly narcotics (which are prescribed to
relieve severe pain), and stimulant medications, which treat conditions like
attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy.
What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction, also called substance dependence or chemical dependency, is a
disease that is characterized by a destructive pattern of drug abuse that leads
to significant problems involving tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance,
as well as other problems that use of the substance can cause for the sufferer,
either socially or in terms of their work or school performance. More than 2.6% of people suffer from drug addiction at some time in their life.
The term dual diagnosis refers to the presence of both a drug-abuse or
dependence issue in addition to a serious mental-health problem in an
individual. Substance abuse or dependence unfortunately occurs quite commonly in
people who also have severe mental illness. Individuals with dual diagnosis are also at higher
risk of being noncompliant with treatment.
What types of drugs are commonly abused?
Virtually any substance whose ingestion can result in a euphoric ("high")
feeling can be abused. While many are aware of the abuse of legal substances
like alcohol or illegal drugs like marijuana (in most states) and
well known is the fact that inhalants like household cleaners are some of the
most commonly abused substances. The following are many of the drugs and types of drugs that are
commonly abused and/or result in dependence:
Alcohol: Although legal,
alcohol is a toxic substance, particularly to a
developing fetus when a mother consumes this drug during pregnancy. One of the most common addictions, alcoholism can have devastating effects on the alcoholic individual's physical health, as well as his or her ability to function interpersonally and at work.
Amphetamines: This group of drugs comes in many forms, from prescription
medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and
amphetamine (Adderall) to illegally manufactured drugs like methamphetamine
("meth"). Overdose of any of these substances can result in seizure and death.
Anabolic steroids: A group of substances abused by bodybuilders and other
athletes, this group of drugs can lead to terrible psychological effects like
aggression and paranoia, as well as devastating long-term physical effects like
infertility and organ failure.
Cannabis: More commonly called marijuana, the scientific name for cannabis
is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In addition to the negative effects the drug
itself can produce (for example, infertility, paranoia, lack of motivation), the fact
that it is commonly mixed ("cut") with other substances so drug dealers can make
more money selling the diluted substance or expose the user to more addictive
drugs exposes the marijuana user to the dangers associated with those added
substances. Examples of ingredients that marijuana is commonly cut with include
baby powder, oregano, embalming fluid, PCP, opiates, and cocaine.
Cocaine: A drug that tends to stimulate the nervous system, cocaine can be
snorted in powder form, smoked when in the form of rocks ("crack" cocaine), or
injected when made into a liquid.
Ecstasy: Also called
MDMA to denote its chemical composition
(methylenedioxymethamphetamine), this drug tends to create a sense of euphoria
and an expansive love or desire to nurture others. In overdose, it can increase
body temperature to the point of being fatal.
Hallucinogens: Examples include
LSD and mescaline, as well as so-called
naturally occurring hallucinogens like certain mushrooms. These drugs can be
dangerous in their ability to alter the perceptions of the user. For example, a
person who is intoxicated with a hallucinogen may perceive danger where there is
none and to think that situations that are truly dangerous are not. Those misperceptions can result in dangerous behaviors (like jumping out of a window
because the individual thinks they are riding on an elephant that can fly).
Inhalants: One of the most commonly abused group of substances due to its
accessibility, inhalants are usually contained in household cleaners, like
ammonia, bleach, and other substances that emit fumes. Brain damage, even to the
point of death, can result from using an inhalant just once or over the course
of time, depending on the individual.
Nicotine: The addictive substance found in
cigarettes, nicotine is actually
one of the most addictive substances that exists. In fact, nicotine
addiction is often compared to the intense addictiveness associated with opiates
Opiates: This group is also called narcotics and includes drugs like
heroin, codeine, Vicodin,
OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan. This group of substances
sharply decrease the functioning of the nervous system. The lethality of opiates
is often the result of the abuser having to use increasingly higher amounts to
achieve the same level of intoxication, ultimately to the point that the dose
needed to get high is the same as the dose that is lethal for that individual by
halting the person's breathing (respiratory arrest).
Phencyclidine: Commonly referred to as
PCP, this drug can cause the user to
feel extremely paranoid, become quite aggressive and to have an unusual amount
of physical strength. This can make the individual quite dangerous to others.
Sedative, hypnotic, or antianxiety drugs: As these substances quell or
depress the nervous system, they can cause death by respiratory arrest of the
person who either uses these drugs in overdose or who mixes one or more of these
drugs with another nervous system depressant drug (like alcohol, another
sedative drug, or an opiate).
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 4/9/2012