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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.

  • 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
Last Reviewed 11/17/2017

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Symptoms of Drug Dependence and Abuse

When drug use, abuse, and dependence occur, you are more likely to have changes in your behavior than to have physical symptoms.

Changes in behavior

Behavior changes may include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits, less attention to dressing and grooming, or less interest in sex.
  • Up and down moods, a mood or attitude that is getting worse, or not caring about the future.
  • Anger toward others or treating others badly.
  • Sneaky behavior, lying, or stealing.
  • Poor family relationships, or relationships that are getting worse.
  • New problems at work or school, or problems with the law.
  • Not keeping up with old friends and activities, finding new friends, and not wanting old friends to meet them.

These signs don't always mean a person is using drugs. The behavior could be because of work or school stress, or it could be a sign of depression or another medical problem. But behavior changes like these are common in people who abuse drugs.

SOURCE: Healthwise

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