Legal or illegal, drug abuse results in medical consequences: cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease and stroke, HIV, hepatitis and lung disease, to name a few. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, untreated addiction and risky use of drugs causes or contributes to more than 70 conditions requiring medical treatment. These effects of drug abuse are also responsible for 20 percent of all the deaths in the U.S.
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Addictive drugs flood the brain’s reward center with the neurotransmitter dopamine in amounts that are 2 to 10 times greater than those released during pleasurable activities, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA. With continued use, brain chemistry changes and more of the drug is needed to produce the same euphoric experience. With some drugs, more is needed just to feel normal. When not taking the drug, users commonly experience depression that leads to compulsive drug use. Long-term substance abuse affects brain functioning, causing memory loss, learning difficulties and impaired judgment. Marijuana causes short-term memory problems. Alcohol shrinks the brain over time and increases the risk for dementia. Inhalants damage brain cells faster than any of the other substances.
Inhaled substances, including tobacco, marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin and aerosols, damage the lungs. These substances cause coughing, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and worsen asthma. In addition, heroin, narcotic pain killers and sedatives disrupt the drive to breathe and may cause respiratory arrest. Most deaths from obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancer are linked to smoking tobacco. Use of inhalants can cause asphyxiation as the concentration of inhaled fumes replaces the oxygen in the lungs.
Alcohol causes a wide range of damaging digestive system effects, including acid reflux, liver cirrhosis and inflammation of the stomach and pancreas. Sixty percent of cases of pancreatitis result from excessive alcohol intake, reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Liver damage is common with use of heroin, inhalants, anabolic steroids and alcohol. Cocaine abuse can lead to painful gastric ulcers and damaging reductions in blood flow to the intestines due to powerful blood vessel constriction. Nausea and vomiting often occurs shortly after drug use, and is a symptom of heroin and prescription drug withdrawal.
Most abused substances have adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. Heroin and prescription drug use can slow or disrupt the heart rate to the point of death. Cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and amphetamines can cause life-threatening effects, including an irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, stroke and cardiac arrest. Tobacco smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers, warns NIDA. The risk for heart attack, stroke, circulatory problems and aneurysms is also increased for smokers.
Sharing injection equipment while using heroin, cocaine, steroids and methamphetamine puts users at risk for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Risky sexual behaviors while under the influence also contribute to an increased rates of HIV, viral hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Other health issues due to injecting drugs are collapsed veins, infections of the heart and joints, and organ damage from reduced blood flow. Alcohol increases the risk for many cancers, including the mouth, throat, stomach, liver, lungs, pancreas and bladder. Tobacco use accounts for 90 percent of all lung cancers, notes NIDA.
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Inhalants can be defined as commercially produced chemicals that are inhaled into the body to produce psychoactive (mind-altering) and often adverse effects. Inhalants are aerosols, solvents, and cleaners. Examples include cleaning fluids, hair sprays, paints, cooking sprays, nail polish, and anesthetics such as halothane and nitrous oxide, which is often referred to as laughing gas. Also abused are amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite.
Amyl nitrite is a clear, yellow liquid that is sold in a cloth-covered, sealed bulb. When the bulb is broken, it makes a snapping sound; thus, amyl nitrite is nicknamed "snappers" or "poppers". Amyl nitrite is medically used for heart patients because it dilates the blood vessels and makes the heart beat faster. It can, therefore, be classified as a stimulant.
Butyl nitrite is packaged in small bottles and sold under many names such as "locker room" and "rush". It is also classified as a stimulant, and like amyl nitrite, it produces a "high" that lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. The immediate effects include decreased blood pressure, followed by an increased heart rate, flushed face and neck, dizziness, and headache.
Inhalant abuse is on the rise among young people, especially between the ages of 7 and 17. This is because inhalants are readily available and inexpensive. In fact, kids in the 7th grade are more likely to use inhalants than seniors in high school. Children can unintentionally misuse inhalant products that are often found around the house. Parents should see that these substances, like paints, medicines, and hairsprays, are kept away from young children.
Inhalant abuse may result in losing touch with one's surroundings, a loss of self-control, violent behavior, unconsciousness, nausea, vomiting, violent choking, and even death. This is a high risk of sudden death from spray inhalation. These sprays can interfere with breathing, or they can produce heartbeats (arrhythmia's) leading to heart failure and death by suffocation. The inhalants displace the oxygen in the lungs and depress the central nervous system so much that breathing slows down until it stops. Most of these deaths have been associated with the propellants used in aerosol sprays. Death from inhalants is usually caused by a very high concentration of inhalant fumes. Deliberately inhaling from a paper bag significantly increases the probability of suffocation. It is recommended that when using aerosol or volatile (vaporous) products for legitimate purposes, such as painting and cleaning, one should do so in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.
Many people believe that inhalant abuse is not a serious concern. They believe that inhalant abuse is an "inner city problem" that will never hit their home. Inhalant abuse, however, is widely abused by kids no matter their location. This is because...
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