Psychoactive Substance Use and Abuse a Psychoactive Essay

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Psychoactive Substance Use and Abuse

A psychoactive substance refers to any chemical which both impacts the central nervous system and the way the brain functions. Psychoactive substances refer to stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine, dextroamphetamine), sedatives and analgesics (alcohol, heroin), hallucinogens (PCP, psychoactive mushrooms). As stated in the DSM-IIIR "psychoactive substance abuse is given the definition of being "a maladaptive pattern of use indicated by continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, occupational, psychological or physical problem that is caused by the use [or by] recurrent use in situations in which it is physically hazardous" (Nordegren, 2002, p.11).

Social Effects

The social impact of psychoactive substance use and abuse on widespread scale is enormously detrimental to society. "In a 2005 report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that alcohol was associated with 100,000 preventable deaths each year and that it cost taxpayers nearly $185 billion annually" (Lundy & Janes, 2009 p.483). This fact is exceedingly revelatory as it encompasses both use and abuse -- recreational drinkers and abusive ones as well. This fact demonstrates that even with the most socially acceptable psychoactive substance, there's a formidably negative impact on society, both for physical and emotional health as well as a tremendous economic burden. "The National Justice Institute asserts that abuse of alcohol and other drugs by criminal offenders, parolees, and probationers contributes to 80% of crime in the United States" (Lundy & Janes, 2009, p.484). This fact is nothing to be dismissed nor should its impact on society be underestimated. Psychoactive substance abuse makes the nation an unsafe place to live: it victimizes families, it overfills our prisons and it clogs the criminal justice system with cases. The negative social impact of these substances is substantial.

The social impacts of substance abuse on the individual are extremely isolating. Relationships are put in jeopardy -- connections with family members and friends -- particularly if these people don't also abuse substances as well (Lundy & Janes, 2009). Loss of one's job is also extremely common or increased truancy in school for teenagers (Lundy & Janes, 2009). It's important to note that the effects of substance abuse socially are incredibly far-reaching: the children of users often suffer from abuse and neglect not to mention bear the risk of becoming users themselves (Dennison, 2003).

Risk Factors for Experimentation

For individual adolescents, a combination of risk factors make one more likely to experiment with drugs. Factors like: a belief that drugs aren't harmful, early experimentation (ages 10-12) with alcohol, ADHD, mental conditions like depression, lack of impulse control and a rebellious attitude are all factors that can have an impact (, 2013).Furthermore, if an adolescent has friends who use drugs or believe that drugs aren't harmful, or have a generally favorable attitude to drug use, this puts all connected friends at risk for experimentation (, 2013). The familial home environment can be a risk factor for experimentation with drugs for adolescents for a variety of reasons, particularly if homes are characterized by some sort of trauma (such as death or divorce), little parent supervision or monitoring, inconsistent or overly harsh punishment, parental mental illness, lack of a strong message against drugs (, 2013). Finally, having drugs available in the community along with community poverty are both risk factors for drug use (, 2013).

With adult users, the reasons are generally different. A recent study entitled, "Risk Factors for Incident Drug Use in Adults" by Harrington and colleagues found that mental disorders were generally reasons for increased risk of development to drug use among individuals who had previously abstained (2011). Other factors like early life trauma or difficulties or addiction in family members played a part in some of the participants of the study as well (Harrington et al., 2011).

Intervention Strategies

There's a tremendous burden on schools to pick up the slack in communities and to help at-risk adolescents. While changing families or making parents more involved might be an impossible task, schools can truly work hard to reach kids and to communicate effectively about the dangers of drug use. Strong school anti-drug programs can harness the help of local celebrities and community leaders to talk to students about the danger of experimenting with drugs -- even once. Schools truly do have the opportunity to send a powerful message to students that can achieve a great deal of prevention. Furthermore, some of the best intervention strategies for kids involve their families and parents. Parents have to engage in classes and do work, and learn to see their kids from new perspectives, and often they have to be more loving (Wegrdzyn, 2012).

Impact of Trauma Causing Events on Addiction

In the past, people viewed addiction as a more black and white issue than they do today treating it generally as a moral failure on behalf of individuals (Aspen, 2011). Nowadays, experts view addiction as connected to brain dysfunction which often stems from traumatic events, very often childhood trauma (Aspen, 2011). "Traumas in childhood often create a predilection to addictions later in life. Trauma could be sexual abuse, physical abuse, long-term neglect, car accidents, divorce of parents, death of parents, being connected to an event such as a house fire, flood, or tornado, and more. It's now known that trauma is not merely a bad memory to "get over." Trauma causes changes in the brain and body, impacts emotions and behaviors, and can lead to addiction" (Aspen, 2011). It's important to bear in mind that individuals can experience trauma simply by bearing witness to it, even if they weren't direct victims of abuse. While at this time it's not clear exactly how trauma and types of trauma can impact the level of addiction, there appears to be a direct correlation between the two. For instance, intense trauma appears to breed intense addiction; the most obvious example of that is with Viet Nam vets -- more have died as a result of addiction or suicide than those who fought in the conflict (Becvar, 2013).

When it comes to the trauma-abuse and trauma-dependence connection, individuals first start to engage in substance abuse to deal with distressing symptoms which stem from the trauma. "Several studies have found that substance use developed following trauma exposure (25% -- 76%) or the onset of PTSD (14% -- 59%) in a high proportion of teens with substance abuse disorders" (NCTSN, 2008). Research also strongly suggests that trauma can create chemical dependence, as it can make it more difficult for a young person to stop using substances, "as exposure to reminders of the traumatic event have been shown to increase drug cravings in people with co-occurring trauma and substance abuse" (NCTSN, 2008). All these factors can easily create chemical dependency.

Trauma doesn't just occur to individuals or in separate family units; trauma can occur to entire communities. Communities who have lost members who have fought in wars, or who died in natural disasters, or which even experienced widespread unemployment. These are all types of traumas and the community can represent a vehicle for making substance abuse more or less permissible.

The best types of intervention strategies to prevent individuals or communities who have suffered from some sort of trauma are ones which address the trauma head on: this way the individual doesn't feel compelled to numb the symptoms of the trauma away with substance abuse. Individual counseling, group counseling, family counseling, community counseling, art therapy, cognitive therapy and other types of therapeutic means designed to address the root of the problem -- the trauma -- are best.

Genetic Impact of Chemical Dependency

As stated earlier, there was a time when people view chemical dependency as simply a weakness or overindulgence of the individual. Scientists and other experts are now aware of a range of other factors, some of them…

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