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Drug Dependence and Abuse

Drug Dependence & Abuse Overview

Drug abuse and drug dependence represent different ends of the same disease process.

Drug abuse is an intense desire to use increasing amounts of a particular substance or substances to the exclusion of other activities.

Drug dependence is the body's physical need, or addiction, to a specific agent. There is therefore virtually no difference between dependency and addiction. Over the long term, this dependence results in physical harm, behavior problems, and association with people who also abuse drugs. Stopping the use of the drug can result in a specific withdrawal syndrome.

Drug abuse is a common problem that plagues all ethnic groups and social classes worldwide. For example, statistics on drug abuse in England include a tenfold increase in the use of amphetamines, cocaine, and LSD in individuals aged 50 to 64 years. In the United States, more than 38 million adults binge drink on average four times per month and consume an average of eight drinks at a sitting. In 2009, nearly 9% of Americans 12 years of age and older, an estimated 22.6 million people, reported using an illicit drug in the month prior to being interviewed. Past-month marijuana use rose from about 6.1% in 2008 to 6.9% in 2010, or about 17.4 million people.

  • Facts about teenage drug abuse include that as of 2009, nearly 5 million Americans 12 years of age and older had abused cocaine in any form in the past year.
  • Control of drug abuse is a top priority of the United States Surgeon General as outlined in the Healthy People 2010 goals for the nation.
  • Different people are affected by drugs in different ways. Some people are more prone to alcoholism and other drug addictions than others.
  • Drug abuse and dependence is a disease and not a character defect. A person being treated for this condition should be given the same respect as a person with any other medical condition.
  • A person who abuses drugs may not realize that he or she has a problem. Family members often bring the abuse to the attention of a health care professional. Unfortunately, some people who abuse drugs only realize they have a problem after they have been arrested for a drug-related violation of the law.
  • A wide variety of substances can be abused. These take the form of illegal drugs (hallucinogens such as phencyclidine known as PCP, LSD and illicit narcotics like heroin), plant products (such as marijuana or hallucinogenic mushrooms), chemicals (the inhalation of gasoline, for example), or prescription drugs (like Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycontin). More information can be found at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • Substances can be taken into the body in several ways:
    • Oral ingestion (swallowing) as with alcohol or Ecstasy
    • Inhalation (breathing in) or smoking as with tobacco cigarettes or marijuana
    • Injection into the veins (shooting up) as with heroin
    • Depositing onto the mucosa (moist skin) of the mouth or nose (snorting) as with cocaine
  • In addition to health care costs from drug abuse, society pays a huge price for the effects of drug addiction.
    • Monetary costs from theft by abusers to support their drug habits
    • Additional tax money to pay for law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard
    • Loss to society of the potential contributions the drug abuser would have made to his or her community had he or she remained sober and productive

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