How Long Do Drugs and Alcohol Stay In Your System?

How Long Do Drugs And Alcohol Stay In My System

When people choose to use a substance, it isn’t usually for its benign properties. Substances are consumed for the mental and physical effects which are produced as a result. It isn’t often pondered how, or why, these good feelings are produced. The user just enjoys the change, while it lasts.

In fact, the changes in thinking, emotion, or bodily sensation which occur when under the effect of psychoactive substances are due to how the properties of the drug binds to our brain receptors. This binding tells the brain to release certain chemicals toward heightening some sensations, and dulling others. The messages to the brain are carried there by the tainted oxygen, water, and blood which is able to circulate past the blood-brain barrier.  As long as the substance is still circulating, you are considered under the influence.

When most people reference how long a drug stays in the system, they are referring to how long a substance might be likely to show up on a drug test. It is useful to keep in mind that the immediate effects of drugs and alcohol can dissipate after several hours or days, but the more devastating effects can remain for much longer. Your system is comprised of brain patterns; emotional responses; and organ functions, all of which can be impacted far beyond the amount of time that the drugs or alcohol are actually circulating.



Partaking of alcohol is a staple of our American culture. It is often depicted as the addition to every party; sports event; and backyard barbecue. It is also implemented as a factor in over 88 thousand deaths, annually.

Alcohol remains in the blood for up to 12 hours, and can be present for up to five days later in a urine test. A breath test can reveal alcohol use for up to 24 hours after drinking, and a hair follicle will store evidence of the alcohol for nearly three months. The length of time that alcohol can be detected by a test can depend on several factors, such as weight; sex; ethnicity; and time since the last bout of drinking.

The longer-term effects of alcohol on the system can include diminished brain matter; difficulty with learning, memory, and concentration; high blood pressure; irregular heartbeat; liver fibrosis; and stroke. Some of these negative system effects can be counteracted through time and abstinence, while others will remain for the rest of a life.



Benzodiazepines are a class of drug which produce a tranquilizing affect. Traditionally, they have been prescribed on an as-needed basis, and for treating anxiety or insomnia. More recently, there has been a surge in abuse of these drugs, resulting in both overdose and severe withdrawal symptoms. Popular benzodiazepines include Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin, along with their generic counterparts.

Due to their fast-acting nature, benzodiazepines enter the system relatively quickly.  The effects of the drug generally take up to an hour to be noticeable. Depending on the nature of the specific drug, getting them back out of the system can take much longer. For an occasional user, short-acting benzos can be observed in urine for two days after the last dose, and longer-acting benzos can be detected for up to 10 days. If there has been prolonged usage, these rates of detection are multiplied. The presence of benzodiazepines is also detectable in blood and hair follicle tests for several days following ingestion.



Opioids have been around for hundreds of years. They have played a role in the downfall of Chinese culture, and were a scourge on early American settlers. While initially considered to be a wonder drug, opioids such as morphine and heroin were eventually recognized as highly addictive and dangerous. The U.S. government stepped in during the early 20th century and put a stop to over-the-counter availability of the drug, but the damage had already been done.

Prescription opioids became a trend during the 1990’s, when pharmaceutical companies claimed to have mastered the devastating effects of the compound. Medications such as Oxycodone; Fentanyl; and Hydrocodone began to be prescribed, en masse, for those suffering from difficulties with chronic pain. Fast forward a couple of decades, and we are experiencing an opioid epidemic. More than two million Americans are reported as misusing opioids, annually.

Several factors play a role in how long opioids are detectable in the bodily system. Weight; sex; liver function; amount of body fat; level of hydration; age; and metabolism will all impact both the effects – and the elimination – of the drug. The type of opioid substance also affects the length of time that it is detectable. With heroin, urine tests will reveal the presence of opioids for up to seven days after use, but a blood test is only good for detecting usage within the past few hours.  Hydrocodone leaves the urine within only 2-4 days, and is detectable with a saliva test for only 12-36 hours after ingestion. Morphine detection is similar to that of Hydrocodone. With all opioids, the hair follicle test is the most consistent, revealing usage within the past 90 days.



Marijuana is becoming a tricky subject. In light of the recent efforts to relegalize it as a recreational substance, users are able to assert that its effects are as benign as daily coffee drinking or having  the occassional beer. Not having solid tests in place for determining the amount of effect that the substance is having on an individual – such as with the ability to measure blood alcohol content – has created a confusion for law enforcement.

The various, unregulated, strains of the substance also make it difficult to note the effects. In general, a casual user can expect that marijuana can be detected in the urine  for a few days, while a heavy user may find it in the urine for up to a month. Blood tests can reveal usage for anywhere from the past couple of days, to the past few weeks. And, once again, hair follicle tests produce results for up to 90 days after the last use.


Avoiding A Prescription Drug Addiction

Key Ways To Avoid Prescription Drug Addiction

Drugs come in many shapes and forms – from leaves to crystals, powder to pills. Yet while we often associate street drugs with ‘hard drugs’, legally-available drugs such as prescription medication and even alcohol are just as destructive, if not even more destructive, than illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. However, not all drugs are created equal.

While heroin was originally developed as an alternative to morphine, it has since been outlawed in most countries, save for a select few medical cases in the United Kingdom where it is rarely prescribed (as diamorphine). Meanwhile, many prescription drugs that continue to cause overdose deaths throughout the United States are arguably still critically important in pain management, and the practice of modern medicine.

Many are quick to decry all opioids as pure poison and point towards statistics showing rampant abuse and opioid consumption far exceeding the rest of the world, while many others point towards stories and anecdotes of loved ones and children being denied pain medication, causing traumatic experiences and life-altering pain.

For many who are forced to take a pill to deal with something excruciating, there is no easy answer for the question of addiction. However, no one develops an addiction overnight. It is a gradual process, and it begins with making the wrong choices and a few mistakes. Here are several things that should be kept in mind when attempting to avoid a prescription drug addiction in the US healthcare system.


Follow Doctor’s Orders

Although some might argue that Western societies are more susceptible to pain due to a more open interpretation of what counts as discomfort and what truly requires medication, one of the primary reasons why the opioid market is significantly larger in the United States than in any other Western nation is the presence and power of pharmaceutical lobbying in politics, as well as the lack of universal healthcare.

This often means that rather than receiving the right treatment, many Americans are given an option between an expensive non-opioid solution to their pain not covered by an insurer (such as expensive rehab and physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff), and a cheaper drug that will numb the pain for a fraction of the price, due to being covered by the insurer. Meanwhile, many doctors were previously incentivized to recommend painkillers and other prescription drugs to patients by pharmaceutical sales agents, effectively kickstarting and fueling the opioid epidemic in the 1990s alongside a massive swathe of pro-pharma advertisements, before the FCC declared many of them banned.

Despite this, doctors do often have their patients’ best interests in mind. Although they are aware that most of their patients can only afford the opioid rather than an alternative treatment, they carefully instruct patients on how and when to take their opioids, and many reserve opioid prescriptions for severe pain only, telling patients to rely on over-the-counter medicine to begin with. So, the first step to avoiding a prescription drug addiction when faced with a condition that requires you to take a pill, is to strictly follow what the doctor says.


Ask About Alternatives

Prescription drugs are not always the only form of treatment covered by your insurer. While this is one of the issues plaguing the American healthcare system, it never hurts to ask. If you’re worried about the potential risk of substance dependence, ask your doctor about alternatives.

It is not recommended to try herbal supplements as an alternative to prescription medication. While these can be very helpful, the emphasis is on ‘can’. All herbal supplements are unregulated by the FDA, and therefore do not have to conform to any standards regarding the efficacy of the substance, or the strength of each capsule. This might mean that no two dosages are completely alike.

Consider speaking to your doctor before you decide to take any supplements, as they may be interfering with your existing medication. If you decide to take different supplements at once, speak to your doctor about possible interactions. While they might not seem related at first glance, for example, melatonin and antidepressants can interact with one another. As can antidepressant herbal supplements, such as the serotonin-increasing St. John’s Wort.


Focus on Lifestyle Changes and Supplementary Treatment

Opting to forego prescription medication is not recommended when a physician tells you that you have no alternatives. However, if you do have alternatives, then consider pursuing them. In many cases, focusing on lifestyle changes and supplementary treatments can do a great deal to mitigate the symptoms of whatever it may be you’re dealing with without requiring you to take prescription medication.

No amount of lifestyle changes will strictly help with the pain of a broken arm as it slowly heals, but plenty of rest, compression, ice, heat, regular movement and rehabilitative exercises can help you deal with the pain of a healing shoulder after a minor tendon injury, or the post-operative pain you will encounter after major surgery on a torn tendon. Some pain can be lessened tremendously simply by taking care of the injured site properly, but other pain won’t go away without a pill.


Understand the Risks

Taking the example of opioid medication, enduring the pain still potentially means you’re paying a different price. The psychological toll of pain is severe, and proper pain management not only lessens pain, but it cuts the chances of developing chronic pain as a result of ongoing severe pain. If you’ve been an addict to a different drug in the past, severe pain may be a catalyst to push you towards taking that drug instead of pain medication, which will cause a relapse.

Speak to your physician about your past as an addict, and your worries regarding addictive prescription medication. They may likely have a medically-sound opinion to help you make the right choice and find a way through this issue without becoming addicted to prescription drugs. Developing an addiction to a substance requires long-term use, as well as a habit towards using the drug as a means to cope with issues that you should be coping with without the drug.

Tips for Managing Cravings and Withdrawal Symptoms

Dealing With Cravings In Recovery

Addiction is a physical and chronic illness, affecting the brain and body alike, and requiring committed and long-term treatment. One reason addiction is a chronic illness is because it is recurring. Addiction cannot be treated in a single session, and a single course of treatment often isn’t enough – to beat an addiction into remission and keep a person sober, one has to take on a multimodal approach that prioritizes the patient’s circumstances and challenges, rather than molding them to the treatment.

A large part of managing addiction in the long-term is working with a patient to find effective ways to avoid and deal with cravings. Withdrawal symptoms are also a common symptom of addiction, occurring a few hours after beginning abstinence.


Understanding Cravings and Withdrawal Symptoms

Cravings are, for lack of a better term, memories that the brain holds onto.  They resurface and gain traction in moments of stress, as well as boredom, or for no reason at all at times. Cravings can be weak or strong but do weaken over time. In line with the point about patient-centric treatment, managing a recovering addict’s cravings may involve any number of different techniques and approaches.

Withdrawal symptoms occur for a large variety of reasons. The first and most common is related to a person’s overall health. Addiction often causes neglect, especially in matters of hygiene and diet. As an addiction worsens, both the physical incentive and the emotional motivation to stay healthy fades away. Heavy drug use numbs the body and mind, causing lowered appetite, inducing an analgesic effect, and reducing cognitive function.

When the drug begins to wash completely out of the system and sobriety sets in, the body goes into a short recalibration. All the negative physical habits an addict may have been engaging in during their period of addiction come to light all at once.

In other cases, withdrawal symptoms are a matter of the changes ongoing within the brain during addiction. As a person begins to physically depend on a drug to function, their neurotransmission changes accordingly. An abrupt end of drug use can wreak havoc on a body that is used to the way the brain has been functioning under regular drug use.

Cravings and withdrawal symptoms can be successfully managed in any good recovery program, but these programs must be adjusted to the specific needs of each individual seeking help. How you approach them is a matter of personal preference, as well as a matter of finding an effective form of treatment specifically for you.


Cold Turkey vs. Gradual Weaning

Withdrawal symptoms occur hours after a person last used a drug. They last days to weeks, depending on the drug, the severity of the addiction, the age and size of the addict, and various other factors such as overall health and lifestyle during early recovery. After withdrawal is over, withdrawal symptoms may return weeks after the drug was last taken. This is called post-acute withdrawal, and occurs for different reasons than initial withdrawal, but with similar symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are rarely fatal, but they are always uncomfortable. Every addictive drug has the potential of producing extremely uncomfortable symptoms. These usually include feelings of nausea, sweating, heart rate increases, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, dizziness, and various other symptoms depending on the drug.

Some drugs are more dangerous than others to recover from. Going cold turkey (abruptly quitting) on heavy drinking can kill you. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very severe. Other depressants are similarly dangerous, including anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives like Xanax and Valium, as well as barbiturates and tranquilizers.

However, most addictive drugs produce uncomfortable but non-fatal symptoms. How long these last and how severe they might be will depend on person to person. It’s very important to discuss withdrawal with a medical professional and manage it with a doctor. You can go cold turkey if a doctor permits it, but if possible, try and go through withdrawal in a medical facility, rehab facility, or addiction clinic. It is not recommended to go cold turkey at home, unsupervised, and especially alone.

Do not go cold turkey on drugs like alcohol, benzodiazepine, and other similar depressants. Some also recommend weaning off opioids rather than go cold turkey, due to the intensity of the cravings experienced after an opioid addiction. Managing the cravings of an opioid addiction is very challenging, especially without proper support.

Medication, including methadone, buprenorphine (weaker opioids), and naltrexone (an opioid antagonist, counteracting opioids in the system), can help a recovering addict tremendously. However, many fear switching from one addiction to the next if they begin relying on their medication. Discussing these fears with a professional can help you assess your options and figure out the best path forward.


Find Ways to Spend Your Time

When managing cravings, the first thing you will want to look at is your schedule. Keeping yourself busy is a good way to avoid cravings and relapses, but it isn’t a perfect solution. You shouldn’t cram your schedule full of things to do to ensure you don’t have a second in the day to think of anything but the next hour or two. Instead, manage your schedule in a way that helps you live a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

Addiction symptoms and cravings are generally reduced when both the body and mind are in a better state of being. Pay attention to what you eat, eat regularly, get moving and do some exercise at least thrice a week, try and find a form of exercise you genuinely enjoy, and make sure to get enough sleep. This simple and short checklist isn’t easy and may take a while to transition into. Seek the support of family and therapeutic help to deal with sleep issues, manage your work and life obligations, find time to yourself, and set up a routine you can stick to.


Exercise Mindfulness

On the opposite side of the spectrum is being mindful. Mindfulness, when used properly with one-on-one psychotherapy, can help you find ways to deal with your cravings by reflecting, taking a moment to step away from your own perspective, and consider – objectively – why you shouldn’t give in.

Mindfulness does not always work and is often more useful as a diagnostic tool to help you figure out what’s causing you to crave, rather than ending cravings. But in conjunction with therapy, it can help you move past some very difficult roadblocks in your recovery process. Give it a go.

Many of the suggestions above involve finding professional help. However, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, finding a professional to talk about your problems isn’t an option – but finding a sober living home could be. Through sober living, you enter a drug-free environment and can often continue to maintain your regular obligations towards work or school life while fighting against cravings. Sober living homes live and breathe recovery, encouraging tenants to engage in group meetings, find meetings or therapy outside of the community, and help contribute to the community through chores and group activities.

Regardless of what works for you, learning to manage and overcome cravings and withdrawal symptoms is a big step in early recovery, and will continue to be valuable throughout life.

Recognizing Drug Overdose Symptoms

Drug Overdose Symptoms

Drugs are dangerous. This goes for all kinds of drugs – from cigarettes to alcohol, marijuana to Xanax, cocaine to heroin. It might come from a doctor, or a bartender, or a dealer in an alley, but if it’s a scheduled substance or only available through prescription, it’s something you should treat very carefully.

Drugs are also helpful, often. Some people seek and find relief for their seizures through medically-available cannabinoids. Others need amphetamine in small dosages to deal with the debilitating symptoms of ADHD. Sometimes, highly addictive opioid painkillers can be helpful for a short time, so a terminally-ill patient can live out their last days with some dignity and less pain.

But all drugs come with a certain risk, and that risk is multiplied when you’re using a drug you shouldn’t be using. Drugs are addictive, and over time, you’ll find that you need more and more of them to feel the way you used to. In time, that can cause serious physical and mental ramifications – including a drug overdose.

Drug overdoses claim roughly 44,000 lives per year, most of which occur due to opioids like heroin and certain prescription painkillers. If you or a loved one has a history of addiction, knowing what a drug overdose looks like and who to call when one occurs is important. If you see someone going through a drug overdose, call 911 (emergency services) immediately and get an ambulance. If you have any medical training whatsoever, proceed to start rescue breathing.

If you don’t know how to perform rescue breathing but know someone with a history of addiction (especially alcohol, depressant or opioid abuse), it’s a good idea to learn it. Most overdoses include respiratory failure or heart failure due to lack of oxygen, so helping someone breathe is a good first step while waiting for EMTs. It’s a good idea to seek out training, but a quick step-by-step would be:

  • Ensure the person is on their back.
  • Tilt their chin back, so their neck is long, and their airways are free.
  • Open the mouth and check for anything in the mouth or throat (pills, fentanyl caps, a syringe cap)
  • Plug their nose with your hand
  • Place your mouth over their mouth, creating a seal with your lips
  • Blow twice into their mouth, enough to make the chest rise
  • Wait five seconds, and repeat

Make sure to keep the nose plugged and airways free by tilting the chin up. If you don’t see the chest rise, something may be blocking the air from getting to their lungs. If the person was an opioid addict, then a naloxone injection would help. Some carry them around, and it’s a good idea to have naloxone in the house if your loved one was addicted or is addicted to opioids. Naloxone can be administered through the nostrils through a special delivery device, or it can be injected into a thick layer of muscle (buttocks, thigh, shoulder).


Why Overdoses Happen

When a person takes a drug, it makes its way through the bloodstream into the brain. There, it latches onto certain receptors in the brain – like a key slips into a keyhole – and begins sending out signals to manipulate the function, distribution, or quantity of certain neurotransmitters.

Most addictive drugs increase the amount of dopamine in the reward center of the brain, which is how an addiction begins. But they also have a series of other effects, many of which are useful medically. Knowing what type of drug, a person has used can help you identify how they’re overdosing and give you a better idea of how to help.

As a person continues to use drugs, their brain and body become more efficient at processing and metabolizing the drug, causing a rising tolerance level. The brain seeks to normalize new stimuli, as a way to adapt to things. Quick adaptation is one of the reasons humans are hardy and resourceful – but in the case of drug use, it also means we get used to certain drugs after a while. This incentivizes more drug usage, which can amplify the risk of too much of a certain drug entering the bloodstream.

In some cases – especially with drugs that aren’t pharmaceutically-produced – impure quality and mixing can cause an overdose as a person takes too much of a drug, they don’t completely know the composition of. In other cases, a person can overdose when taking a combination of drugs, as the effects of two drugs are additive, one making the other stronger. This is why it’s important not to mix alcohol use with pills or heroin.


Recognizing the Signs of a Drug Overdose

In an overdose, the body begins to go into a dangerous state of near-death. The most common overall symptoms include nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, and dangerously slowed breathing/heartrate. Different drugs cause different overdose symptoms.


Stimulants (Adderall, Meth, Cocaine)

Stimulants heavily affect the heart, raising the heartrate, getting your blood pumping, and filling you with motivation and focus. Famously, stimulants like cocaine and meth have been used to enhance concentration, lose weight, or even do better at school (even though these drugs aren’t proven to be effective study aids).

However, an overdose can occur if a person takes too many stimulants or takes a stimulant from an unknown source with a different purity/dosage. The most common symptoms are seizures, cardiac arrythmias, and respiratory failure (causing oxygen deprivation and death).


Opioids (Heroin, Prescription Painkillers)

Opioids quickly slow a person’s heartrate and breathing. Unlike most other drugs, an opioid overdose can be alleviated, and a life can be saved with the use of an opioid antagonist, like naloxone. Naloxone enters the bloodstream, makes its way to the brain, and essentially kicks opioids off the brain’s cells, bringing the body back to normal.

The primary symptom in an opioid overdose is respiratory failure, and vomiting. Sometimes, people die of oxygen deprivation because they’re unconscious, and choking on their own vomit.


Alcohol and Other Depressants

Symptoms of an alcohol overdose (or alcohol poisoning) start with severe drunkenness (slurred speech, incoordination, behavior changes), and lead to vomiting, confusion, blackouts, skin flushing, and eventually, unconsciousness and death. If medical attention is provided too late, alcohol poisoning can put someone in a coma.

Alcohol is a depressant and slows down the respiratory system. It’s important to prevent alcohol poisoning by cutting someone off from drinking when they start to slur their words and struggle walking. Other depressants like Xanax do not have similar symptoms but can lead to respiratory failure. However, benzodiazepine overdoses are relatively rare and require a large quantity of medication. It is, however, more common for someone to die of an overdose by combining depressants with alcohol.


Preventing a Drug Overdose

Drug overdoses can be prevented by getting treatment for drug addiction before they occur. However, a person can still relapse and overdose after receiving treatment. It’s important for the friends and loved ones of an addict to provide support and keep a watchful eye on them in the first few months after treatment, to help them figure out their path through sobriety.

Another good option would be to check into a sober living home, where sobriety is enforced, and where many recovering addicts can continue treatment without the temptation of using.

Hard Drugs vs Recreational Drugs: Why Both Are Bad

Hard Drugs vs Recreational Drugs

Drugs and drug vernacular can be confusing, and it’s particularly difficult to figure out which drugs are bad, and why, and which drugs are less bad, and why.

Of course, it’s not even that simple. Drugs are neither bad nor good, and most of the drugs that we openly condemn today – including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine – are still used for medical treatments. Meanwhile, drugs we don’t usually consider “hard” fit every definition of the term more than other drugs do, including nicotine and alcohol, both of which are highly toxic in high doses while being very addictive, causing more deaths through intoxication, related diseases and overdose than any other drug in the country.

Don’t think of drugs as good and bad. Think of them as addictive and non-addictive. Drugs that are addictive can still be critical for the treatment of several diseases and mental disorders. Drugs that are non-addictive can still kill and be dangerous if used to often, causing liver damage or kidney failure.


What Are Hard Drugs, Soft Drugs, and Recreational Drugs?

Hard drugs are drugs that are considered addictive with a risk of causing an overdose, while soft drugs are not considered addictive, but may still be illegal. For example: you cannot feasibly overdose on cannabis or coffee, but you could overdose on synthetic cannabinoids and pure caffeine. One is addictive and the other is not – caffeine is mildly physically addictive and can induce withdrawal symptoms. Neither is considered a hard drug, by definition nor by common vernacular.

On the other hand, drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are often considered hard drugs. These are all very addictive, illegal outside of medical purposes, and high dosages can lead to organ failure and death by overdose. Alcohol fits the bill as well but is not typically known as a hard drug. Nevertheless, alcohol poisoning kills 2,200 Americans per year, and an estimated 15.1 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism).

Recreational drugs refer to drugs taken recreationally. Almost all drugs are used medicinally or for research – including hallucinogens, although they are not FDA-approved – so it is difficult to pinpoint drugs that are purely recreational. However, any drug can be taken recreationally.

This is usually because addictive prescription drugs – including stimulants prescribed for ADHD, sedatives prescribed for anxiety, analgesics like cocaine and codeine, and other addictive drugs – elicit a psychological reaction through the release or amplification of feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. More so than any other substance or action, these drugs can calm people, make them feel happier, or put them in a state of bliss.

The side effect is that the brain begins to crave these drugs more and more with continued use, eventually leading to a crippling dependency on these drugs for everyday functioning, as well as a myriad of lasting – and in some cases permanent –damage to the body, brain, and mind.

Hard drugs, soft drugs, and recreational drugs all refer to addictive drugs, and they’re all dangerous in one way or another. While there is some general consensus to what’s a hard drug and what’s a soft drug, these categorizations aren’t very helpful to most. Addictiveness can vary, and “hard” and “soft” doesn’t accurately describe what makes some drugs more dangerous than others.

Some only consider drugs that are illegal but not addictive, like cannabis, DMT and LSD, to be soft drugs. Others consider alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis to be soft, but consider heroin, LSD, and MDMA to be hard drugs. Some make a distinction between “grown” drugs like tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis, and “designer drugs” like MDMA and fentanyl. Lines blur and definitions become harder to follow the more one looks at what soft and hard might mean.

Some people are more susceptible to one type of drug versus another, so it’s hard to say which drug is the most dangerous. If the important metric is how much harm the drug causes to society, then the most dangerous drugs are inarguably tobacco, alcohol, and opioids (both prescription opioids and street heroin). Everything else ranks under these behemoths.

If ranked by addictiveness – which is difficult to gauge – then the most dangerous drugs tend to be heroin, cocaine, tobacco, barbiturates (which are only very rarely prescribed these days), and alcohol.


Are All Drugs Bad?

Drugs refer to either to psychotropic substances or all medication, and no, they’re not all bad. Very few are entirely bad, as a matter of fact. Most hallucinogens were studied with the intent of producing medicine, and some have shown efficacy in the treatment of select disorders and conditions, within controlled environments.

Depressants, stimulants, and opioids alike are all highly addictive in some cases but have been and continue to be used to treat patients all over the world, with success. Meanwhile, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, blood thinners and anti-inflammatory drugs also by definition count as drugs but are neither addictive nor significantly mind-altering.


Can I Still Drink/Smoke/Take Drugs in Moderation?

Don’t do anything illegal. That’s the basis to which we all need to hold ourselves, simply to protect one another from the wrath of the law. That means you shouldn’t be in possession of any drug that your country considers illegal.

Then, consider the risks and the reward. All science points towards alcohol in any amount being dangerous to a person’s health, reducing your lifespan and opening up the possibility of a myriad of different diseases and conditions. However, you could also get hit by a bus tomorrow. Ultimately, it’s up you as an adult to decide if you’re going to smoke, drink, or take drugs.

But if you’ve ever struggled with addiction and have gone through recovery, then one thing is for sure: you’re done with drugs. Drug use – especially early on in life – primes us for taking other drugs, regardless of what drug you started with. And if you’ve been addicted to one drug, you’re also more likely to get addicted to something else. If you’re in recovery and want to try something else, just don’t.

Ultimately, a sober life is neither boring nor bad. You’re not missing out just because you’re not drinking alcohol or skipping smoking. There’s much more to life than drugs.

The Damage You Can Do to Your Body with Drugs & Alcohol

Damage to Your Body From Drug Abuse

“Drugs and alcohol are bad for you.” Almost every American has grown up with a similar message, yet there’s a severe disconnect between what people say and what people do. Despite decades of anti-drug messaging, drug use is still generally high – most Americans have tried illicit drugs at some point in their lives, and over half of Americans have had alcohol at some point in the past month.

It’s not just the allure of something taboo – drug use is undoubtedly glorified, and while a lot of effort is given in spreading the message that drugs can wreck lives, not too much time is devoted to helping people understand exactly how and why drugs and alcohol are so dangerous.

We’re going to go over some of the basic examples of how drugs and alcohol can damage the body, beginning with the surface level.


Drugs, Alcohol, and Skin Health

The skin is the body’s largest organ, spanning pretty much all of our surface area save for a few select exceptions. Skin is generally robust, keeping the body itself safe from a very large list of dangers, while being susceptible to just a few things, including certain strong bases and acids, excessive heat, or lack thereof, radiation, and threats from within.

Alcohol in particular is one of the bigger causes of overall damage to the body, simply because the body produces more toxic byproducts when metabolizing alcohol over other drugs.

While drugs like cocaine and heroin have a much higher risk of developing physical dependence and leading to dangerous, lethal consequences through overdose or continuous organ damage (particularly to the heart), alcohol produces acetaldehyde when broken own in the liver, stressing the body, causing dehydration, flushing the skin due to a release of histamines (often released in response to allergic reactions or bug bites), and causing dilation of the pores, pimples, acne, white/blackheads, and inflamed cysts.

Alcohol also damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to malnutrition through lack of proper nutrient absorption. This can cause mineral and vitamin deficiencies, which has a great impact on the health and appearance of the skin, and generally leaves your body prone to diseases and illnesses.

Other drugs also affect the skin. Skin sores are particularly common in meth addicts, due to the unique quality of severe itchiness in the skin, coupled with dryness, leading to easily broken skin. Depressants and drugs that negatively affect blood pressure and circulation, like opioids and sedatives, can slow heartrate to such a degree that abscesses and wounds begin to form on patches of skin due to poor circulation.


Weight Fluctuation

Fast weight gain and weight loss also commonly accompany drug use, particularly in the use of stimulants and alcohol. Alcohol is surprisingly high in calories, while offering no nutritional benefits most of the time. While it depends on what you’re drinking, you usually end up consuming little to no nutrition while drinking, and the stronger the booze, the more calories it has per ounce.

This leads to weight gain despite very poor nutrition. Being drunk a lot of the time doesn’t leave much room for exercise or hygiene, often leading to uncontrollable and rapid weight gain. The term “beer belly” is not unique to the consumption of beer and is simply the cause of consuming too many calories, often in liquid form. Alcohol is often accompanied by fatty foods or salty foods. While alcohol affects the absorption of nutrients, leaving you significantly weakened, it does nothing to halt the process of turning beer, dietary fat, or sugar into energy, and stored fat.

Stimulants, on the other hand, are more likely to help you burn calories – at an alarming rate. Amphetamine and methamphetamine are often abused not only for their highs, but as a way to quickly shed some pounds. This is because meth and amphetamine cut into a person’s appetite, leaving them satisfied with little to no food. You tend to forget about your caloric and nutritional needs when you’re high on speed or Adderall, and this coupled with other unhealthy habits usually leads to a skin-and-bones figure, alongside other consequences of malnutrition such as dental problems, dehydration, hair loss, nail loss, and sores.


Drug Use and Organ Health

While the long-term effects of alcohol and drugs are usually the most noticeable on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that’s arguably more dangerous and disconcerting.

When taken regularly for weeks and months, every single addictive drug leads to damaged organs.

  • Stimulants such as amphetamine, methamphetamine and cocaine bump the heart and brain into overdrive, greatly increasing the risk of a stroke and of a heart attack. Methamphetamine in particular is very damaging to the brain, and is neurotoxic in a sense, potentially altering the way the brain perceives and processes serotonin, a crucial drug in mood management, appetite, sleeping cycles, and several other functions. Meth and other stimulants also damage the kidneys at high dosages.
  • Depressants like benzodiazepine (when coupled with other depressants), tranquilizers, and other sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs have an opposite effect, slowing down blood pressure and heart rate often to dangerous levels if misused, sometimes leading to death due to oxygen starvation and arrested breathing.
  • Alcohol damages the liver, kidneys, brain, heart, stomach, colon, pancreas, and throat, while drastically increasing a person’s risk for developing cancer.
  • Nicotine and marijuana when smoked line the lungs with tar, which has long been proven to be highly carcinogenic, as well as dangerous for other people due to the amplified effects of second-hand smoke.
  • Much like depressants, natural and subscription opioids can also slow down breathing to the point of death, or in cases of survived overdoses, may cause paralysis due to oxygen deprivation.

Drugs like marijuana and most hallucinogens are not physically addictive, but they are dangerous in a non-therapeutic setting, as misuse or psychological dependence can lead to other dangers. There are also few studies pointing towards long-term damage caused by these substances, but there also isn’t enough evidence to suggest that they are completely safe for recreational use.


Excessive Risk Taking

Drugs and alcohol have direct effects on the human body, but they also severely impair the way we think. This usually leads to a lack of inhibition and an increased amount of risk-taking behavior, sometimes leading to potentially violent confrontations, sexual promiscuity (leading to an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases), and physical harm.

Drug use is something we think we can control, especially when we’re younger, and especially when skirting the edge of danger without having tasted the consequences is both fun and exhilarating. But as countless stories and lives have proven, it’s never fun to be addicted, and even if most people who experiment with drugs once or twice don’t get hung up on them, millions of Americans struggle with drug abuse every year, with tens of thousands of them dying form overdoses, or ending up in hospital beds.

Combining Alcohol and Drugs Yields Deadly Results

Combining Alcohol and Drugs

We know that certain things don’t mix. But some things can react quite violently if put together. Bleach mixed with a strong acid produces deadly chlorine gas, for example, and taking certain medication with other medication can lead to fatal side effects.

NSAIDs can prolong bleeding in the body by inhibiting the formation of a chemical that aggregates platelets and helps in the clotting of blood cells and stopping of bleeds. Taking an NSAID with a blood thinner can be a very dangerous combination. And in the realm of addictive drugs, the use of several different drugs can yield deadly results.


How Alcohol Affects the Body

Alcohol is one of the most used drugs in the country, consumed at least once by an estimated 86 percent of American adults. Alcohol is older than humanity, some researchers posit, as evidence shows we may have been consuming alcohol in one form or another before the modern human showed up. In fact, we’re not the only species to enjoy booze deliberately, and addiction is not a problem unique to humans.

That being said, even after millennia of alcohol consumption, we haven’t necessarily learned to take our liquor very well. Alcohol is still destructive to the human body, and potentially very dangerous, leading to symptoms such as memory loss and lack of coordination before crossing over into dangerous territory, often causing death through automobile accidents and overdose.

Yet certain drugs can amplify the effects of alcohol or are amplified by alcohol.


Alcohol & Cocaine

Alcohol and cocaine, when mixed, form cocaethylene, a chemical that builds up in the liver for a very long time due to having a significantly increased plasma half-life, putting both the heart and liver under immense amounts of stress. This causes an overdose as a faster rate than taking the drugs separately, and also leaves lasting damage in both the heart and the liver. It carries an up-to 25-fold increase in risk for immediate death over cocaine.


Alcohol & Heroin

Heroin and other opiate drugs work very differently to alcohol yet possess many of the same qualities. Both drugs cause people to feel sluggish and drowsy, and both have the potential to stop a person’s heart and respiratory organs from functioning properly. Taken concurrently, the risk of that happening increases significantly. This goes for both heroin and other opiates, including prescription opiates. When taken together, heroin and alcohol significantly impair motor function and lead to a person potentially suffocating. Even surviving an overdose like that can leave lasting damage, as the central nervous system begins to die without oxygen, causing paralysis and other problems.


Alcohol & Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, has been a growing phenomenon in the US, overshadowed by the meteoric rise of opioid addiction and opioid overdose. On its own, methamphetamine ranks as one of the most dangerous and common stimulants in the world, because it is rather cheaply manufactured, requiring only a few precursor chemicals, and because it is far more potent than most other stimulants, including amphetamine (Adderall).

However, the risks that meth pose to the body are significantly amplified by alcohol usage. Meth with alcohol can lead to damage in the circulatory and nervous systems, hallucinations, psychosis (experiencing things that aren’t real), seizures, and a host of related issues due to cognitive impairment and emotional instability.


Alcohol & Marijuana

The main effect of combining alcohol with marijuana is that it significantly increases the length of a high, and the potency of a high. Because the liver prioritizes metabolizing alcohol before THC, the THC in your bloodstream ends up waiting in a queue of sorts, leading to a much longer high than usual. It also leads to significantly increased blood concentrations of THC.

Furthermore, THC is known for its antiemetic effects. These are often quite useful for terminally-ill patients and cancer patients going through chemotherapy, as antiemetic drugs prevent vomiting. However, when taken with alcohol, inhibiting the ability to vomit actually massively increases the risk of the drug. This makes it more difficult for the body to purge alcohol out of itself prior to an overdose.


Alcohol & Benzodiazepines

It’s crucial to recognize the dangers of combining depressant drugs. Drugs with similar effects often compound each other, leading to an additive effect. This means that combining two drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepine, which both affect the brain in similar ways, can be highly dangerous.

However, the results are rarely fatal. Instead, benzodiazepine plus alcohol points towards an entirely different sort of fatal mistake: most forms of benzodiazepine abuse and dependence also involve the concurrent use of alcohol.

Even if the drugs are rarely fatal, benzodiazepines when mixed with alcohol still become potentially fatal, while the drugs by themselves cannot usually cause an overdose without ingesting an extremely large amount of them. The effects of taking benzodiazepine and alcohol together include:

  • Fatigue
  • Impaired Cognition
  • Impaired Memory
  • Memory Loss
  • Depression
  • Slurred Speech
  • Stumbling/Lack of Coordination

Benzodiazepine is used to treat severe anxiety symptoms, and while it can be addictive, it is generally considered low risk compared to other forms of anti-anxiety medication. Older, more potent sedatives such as barbiturates and tranquilizers are far more powerful, and far more dangerous. Mixing alcohol with stronger sedatives can cause slower heart rate and respiration, causing the body to slow down to the point where it no longer supports vital functions.

Drugs are dangerous, period. However, most Americans try an illegal drug at least once in their lifetime. That being said, only a fraction of them get addicted. The numbers seem to suggest that few people end up getting hooked on drugs – but the reality is that the factors that determine drug use and dependence are often uncontrollable. Genetic predisposition towards a certain drug accounts for a significant amount of the risk, meaning, while your friends might experiment with drugs without developing a habit out of it, you might find yourself struck more potently by a drug’s addictive potential. Stress, especially at a younger age, compounds the issue and makes it worse.

Research also suggests that a significant amount of people hooked on a substance are often using more than one drug, together. The interactions between certain substances can at times be fatal, and without the right knowledge, taking the wrong two drugs can lead to death. It’s important to recognize how certain drugs interact especially with alcohol, as it is arguably the most ubiquitous drug in the world.


What a Continued Drug Habit Can Do to Your Professional Life

Drug Habit Impact on Professional Life

It’s clear that drug use is not the smartest thing to engage in when planning for a career, yet it’s also important to understand that drug use is not something you can hide or manage while going to work.

Even if you’re running your own company and engage in drug use recreationally while in “complete control”, every single hit, tab, pop or use of an illicit drug puts you at risk for developing a physical (and emotional) dependence. That is not something you can easily recover from, and in most cases, it’s not something your professional life can survive, either.

Being a fully-functioning human adult today means accepting certain responsibilities and being aware of the pros and cons of any decision. It means being rational, taking risks into account, and not doing anything too rash if other people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line. It means thinking of your family first, of the people who depend on you, like your partner or your children. It can mean taking care of others toward whom you have a moral and legal obligation, such as employees and business partners.

All these things are nigh-impossible while supporting a drug habit. What might start as fun and games can quickly turn into a nightmare. The realization can come swiftly and painfully, but the process is slow and gradual.


Struggling to Keep Up Appearances

The thing about addiction is that no one is strictly above it. Habitual drug use puts you at a massive risk of developing an addiction. It doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time for the brain to adjust to a drug, until it eventually struggles to function without a consistent amount of drug use.

This is the core of what makes dependency such a difficult disease to combat – not only are you effectively damaging your brain, which affects memory, cognition, risk assessment, inhibition, intelligence, and personality, but dependency also makes it so that despite a commitment to sobriety and better living, cravings can be powerful enough to make you return to the drug a few times before you can finally call it quits.

All throughout this process, you will be slowly losing your judgment. Your ability to think rationally will be limited, and most of your priorities will be completely overridden by a need for the next high. Your relationships will suffer, you’ll come up with soft lies and outright falsehoods to avoid responsibility or avoid facing the reality that you’re addicted, and people will lose trust in what you say and faith in what you do.

It’s a bleak image, but that’s often what the road to addiction looks like – a steady loss of control, and the destruction of your reputation.


Drug Use and the Brain

Drugs are dangerous not only because they often come from dubious sources and can lead to accidental overdoses and poisoning, but they’re dangerous because they massively affect the way we process dopamine, a neurotransmitter intimately linked with our concepts of pleasure and reward. By increasing the release of dopamine and/or blocking the reuptake of dopamine, drugs create a very powerful and short-term euphoric effect, followed by a spectacular crash, and the neurological equivalent of your brain saying, “let’s do that again!”.

Aside from beginning and enveloping individuals in a cycle of addiction, tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse, drugs usually also damage the brain. Some are worse than others: for example, a heroin addiction can lead to an overdose, typically resulting in respiratory failure and oxygen deprivation. Surviving an overdose can leave a person permanently paralyzed, and brain damaged. Methamphetamine is also dangerous for the brain, possessing neurotoxicity, much more so than its cousin amphetamine.

Research also shows that other drugs, including sedatives, alcohol, and marijuana, reduce the amount of grey matter in the brain, effectively eating away at your ability to reason, think critically, and make decisions. This can cripple your ability to work and provide for yourself and others.


Recovering from Drug Addiction

To avoid succumbing to the consequences of continuous drug use, you must do just one thing: stop

It’s simple, but not easy – just like walking a tightrope over an endless chasm, the path is straightforward but very daunting. A drug addiction changes the way the brain works, and aside from leaving you moody and difficult to be around, it also makes you rely on your drug of choice to function at all. Quitting altogether can temporarily shut you down through a series of uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms. For cocaine, these symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Soreness
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Slow thinking
  • Sluggish movement
  • Mental agitation

Unlike some other drugs, including nicotine and heroin, the low mood introduced by cocaine withdrawal can last over month or longer. Furthermore, withdrawal is often followed by intense cravings, and there is a chance of developing another bout of withdrawal symptoms through post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Because of these severe mental symptoms, addiction treatment always focuses first on helping a patient make it through the initial stages of recovery. This means surviving withdrawal, PAWS, and the general awkwardness and moodiness of early recovery, where emotions come and go like a rollercoaster.

The hard part starts afterwards, when most treatment programs end, and you’re confronted with getting back into the game. If your drug habit ever became an addiction, then it may take some time to adjust to permanent sobriety. Focusing on your job can be a good way to redirect your attention, away from cravings and temptation, and towards seeing results in the workplace.

However, if your old profession reminds you too much of your drug usage, then you may want to change jobs. One of the hardest parts of coming back home after treatment is being surrounded by memories in the form of sights, sounds and smells. For some, something as mundane as the commute to work can trigger memories of drug use. You’ll have to play it by ear. It’s a good idea to stay in touch with an addiction specialist or therapist even after treatment, so you can discuss how you feel and come up with ways to tackle your new post-sobriety challenges.


What Makes Synthetic Drugs So Dangerous?

Synthetic Drugs are dangerous

The term “synthetic drug” has become more popular over the past few years, with growing awareness of the fact that new drugs are being developed in labs around the world, sometimes for illegal profit, and at other times for benign research, misused and sold on the black market. Synthetic drugs differ from the more common illicit substances that the public is commonly aware of, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. However, the distinction is neither immediately apparent, nor is it emphasized enough.

Understanding the dangers of synthetic drugs – and what they are – can help you identify them, report them, and warn your friends and family to stay away from them. While all drugs are dangerous in their own way, there are certain factors that specifically make synthetic drugs much more potent.

What is a Synthetic Drug?

Synthetic drugs, as opposed to other psychoactive and addictive drugs, are specifically designed to function like other drugs while evading the law. These so-called designer drugs are built in laboratories from an assortment of entirely legal and mundane chemicals available globally as research material. Because of their synthetic nature, they are often far more potent than their “natural” or original counterparts and come with a bevy of extremely dangerous side effects.

The biggest danger in synthetic drugs is the fact that they are often complete unknowns. These are drugs built to be chemically like popular illicit drugs whose side effects are known, sold under the guise of being a legal alternative. Legal, because due to the speed at which these drugs are developed and sold, it is difficult to catch up and regulate each iteration.

Instead, awareness is needed. Not only are these drugs dangerous in general, but their nature as knockoffs makes them dangerous to addicts with preexisting drug use, and an intimate knowledge of their own limits and tolerance. Because these drugs are often more potent than their counterparts, synthetic drugs have caused countless ER visits and several tragic overdose deaths – a figure that is unfortunately rising, in no small part due to these drugs.

Synthetic drugs have existed for decades, termed after the fact that they are completely synthesized in a laboratory without the use of “natural” ingredients. To process cocaine, you need to harvest the coca plant. To make heroin, you need poppy. To sell cannabis, you need a cannabis plant. Alcohol is made from fields of hops, barley, grapes and more. But drugs like fentanyl, LSD, MDMA, and synthetic cannabinoids can be made anywhere with the right equipment and the right chemical compounds, cutting out the logistics of growing and transporting plant matter for drug production – a fact that allows synthetic drugs to grow unhinged across the world, aided by faster delivery systems and online black markets.  

Commonly Known Synthetic Drugs and Their Effects

Synthetic drugs come in many forms, but the most popular have been around for years. These include:

Methamphetamine: Known also as meth or crystal meth, this drug mimics the euphoric and empowering effects of amphetamines, together with numerous side effects including tooth decay, skin irritation, open sores, and rapid cognitive decline.

Synthetic Cannabinoids: While these drugs bind to the same receptors as THC, a drug that is debatably harmful, synthetic cannabinoids are much more powerful than their natural counterparts and can cause severe side effects such as nausea, hallucinations, psychosis, and organ damage.

Synthetic Cathinones: Known also as “bath salts”, these drugs are powerful hallucinogens and highly addictive, mimicking the psychoactive compound present in the Middle Eastern khat plant. An amphetamine-like substance in these drugs gives the same feeling of euphoria as ecstasy and meth, furthering its addictiveness. It acts as a stimulant.

LSD: While not addictive and rarely the cause of an overdose, LSD is potentially dangerous due to its nature as a powerful hallucinogen, and it is a synthetic drug, accidentally conceived by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the 30s. It is illegal due to its nature as a powerful mind-altering substance, rather than severe side-effects or addictive properties.

Krokodil: A notorious albeit rare drug used in Eastern Europe and more recently in the US, Krokodil is a mixture of several substances for the explicit purpose of a very powerful high, at the cost of poisoning, tissue necrosis (tissue death), and death. Known as desomorphine, it is made by mixing codeine with household items including paint thinner and petrol.

MDMA: Also known as Molly or Ecstasy, MDMA is a “euphoric stimulant” much like cathinones, popularized through rave culture and dance festivals for years – and in other circles, more recently. Abundantly available as colorful tabs and tablets, MDMA is a common party drug, known for altering perception, and causing long-term negative side effects such as depression and addiction. Like LSD, the medical and psychological potential for MDMA is under research, but recreational use of the drug is very dangerous.

One or two positive experiences with these drugs does not negate their dangers. Side effects are a possibility, rather than a guarantee, but they are often more severe and more common with synthetic drugs due to manufacturing mistakes, bad mixes, and other elements of human error. Synthetic cannabinoids, for example, are mixed and sprayed onto desiccated plant material. Sometimes, this spotty application can result in plant pieces with a much higher – and much more dangerous – concentration of the active drug.

Why Synthetic Drugs are a Growing Issue

Synthetic drugs like meth, LSD and ecstasy have been around for decades, but the recent explosion in their use and popularity has several factors. For one, they’re part of a growing trend among teens. MDMA, and to a lesser degree, synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, have become popular at parties and gatherings. Furthermore, meth production has increased as the number of meth users continues to grow. It’s a matter of supply and demand.

Beyond that, these drugs are relatively easy to produce from a logistical standpoint and by continuously changing their makeup, labs can keep them dubiously legal, marketing them as harmless household items like jewelry cleaners or potpourri, while catering to a clientele that knows where to find these drugs.

Over the last decade, synthetic drugs have left in their wake countless deaths, long-term injuries, hospitalizations, poisonings and even comas. Staying away from them is an important priority for parents and teens alike.

All Drugs Have Potential for Abuse

There is little doubt about the dangers of synthetic drugs – we’ve gone over their death tolls and injury statistics, the potential side effects and the growing popularity – but it’s important to remember that this does not make other illicit drugs any better, or substantially safer. A “clean” cocaine or heroin addiction is going to land you in the ER and kill you at a statistically slower pace, but regardless of what you’re addicted to, not seeking treatment means accepting the risk of death from every high.

That, and with the flooding of synthetic drugs in the market, many “plant-grown” drugs are being sold laced with synthetic drugs and cut with dangerous and cheap fillers to drive up profitability. Street-level heroin in particular has often been notably laced with fentanyl, a far more potent synthetic opioid. If mixed badly, one hit can cause an overdose.

Stories about new and powerful drugs don’t make the other ones any less dangerous, and it’s important to remember that all addictive drugs can easily lead a person to a life of struggle and possible overdose.

Addiction to Synthetic Drugs Can Be Treated

An addiction to these types of drugs is more dangerous because we don’t really know what it might entail. While unpredictable side effects, violent physical reactions, poisonings and even comas caused by badly mixed drugs are part of a growing list of worries, the long-term effects of many synthetic drugs are virtually unknowable, especially drugs like synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, because studies were never organized to research just how the body reacts to long-term use. Speculation includes potential heavy metal poisoning due to the heavy metal content in drugs like K2/Spice, among other dangers.

Yet aside from these factors, an addiction to synthetic drugs is similar to an addiction to other illicit substances – which means it can be treated in much the same way. While the risk of death or overdose from a relapse is higher with synthetic drugs, treatment does exist – and an addiction to these new drugs can be overcome. Sober living homes can help individuals completely distance themselves from these substances and take the time they need for their bodies and minds to recover.

Outside of treatment, family involvement and a strong support system  of friends is important to maintain abstinence and stay strong in the face of stress. It may take months or years to cravings to completely subside, but as with other addictions, it does get easier with time and accumulated experience.


The Effects Of Opioids

Addiction to Opioids

Humanity has a long history with opioids, stretching back to antiquity. While some ancient remedies, such as mercury and mouse paste have been completely abandoned, opium and its derivatives are key painkillers in today’s prescription medicine market – and they are the key to understanding the country’s current opioid crisis.

Opium is the sap of the poppy plant, known for vibrant red and yellow flowers, and its black edible seeds. After centuries of use as an analgesic, a German chemist derived the alkaloid morphine from opium, and this was further developed into heroin decades thereafter.

Through morphine and heroin, Western medicine revolutionized anesthesia and painkilling – at the cost of a rising addiction problem. Thus, opioids became a controlled substance, obtainable only for medical or research purposes, through a prescription.


What Are Opioids?

Opioids are substances that bind directly to the brain’s opioid receptors and induce a state of euphoria coupled with powerful analgesic effects. Opioids are defined by the symptoms produced by morphine and other opium derivatives: happiness, pain relief, and slowed breathing. Aside from natural derivatives like morphine and heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil exist as well. These are extremely dangerous substances, potent enough to mimic a nerve gas.

Opioids are widely considered the world’s most dangerous kind of drug. Most opioids are extremely addictive and very potent and are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide – nearly 40 million in 2013 alone.

In the US alone, opioids caused over 142,000 overdoses between July 2016 and September 2017. In 2016, this class of drugs caused over 64,000 deaths. Even when survived, opioid overdoses can cause lasting damage, from memory loss and cognitive damage to permanent paralysis.

When opioids bind to the brain, one of the side effects is slowed breathing. This is amplified by depressants such as benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) and alcohol. Illegal heroin is often also cut with more potent synthetic opioids to save costs and improve potency, leading to dangerous results such as badly mixed batches and extreme concentrations, resulting in more overdoses. When the brain is flooded with opioids or a combination of several drugs inducing this respiratory slowdown, the body passes out and you stop breathing.

In an overdose, the lack of oxygen can cause brain damage and death. It happens quickly, and often.


The Addictiveness Of Opioids

The biggest danger behind opioids is not their tendency to kill, but their tendency to addict, which often leads to death. Opioids are extremely potent and leave a lasting impression on the brain, making people far more susceptible to drug abuse than most other drugs.

This change in the way your brain works progressively increases as you continue using the drug, until you develop a full-blown physical dependency. This is defined as a tipping point when trying to stop leads to painful withdrawal symptoms, as your body has adapted to a consistent stream of opioids in its system, to cope with this powerful drug.

Emotional dependency is also possible – people may abuse illegal painkillers to deal with emotional pain, or stress, or to calm down after an argument. It becomes a habit, one they cannot break because they rely on a regular hit of chemical happiness.

Most cases of addiction are a mixture of both types of dependency – and in both cases, it’s important to seek help as quickly as possible.


Surviving Opioid Withdrawal

Although opioids are very addictive and dangerously fatal due to the abundance of imported synthetic opioids, opioid withdrawal is not as dangerous as alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal. The body does not treat opioids as a toxic substance, and withdrawal symptoms – while painful – are rarely fatal. They are still dangerous.

It is always best to undergo withdrawal under medical supervision, in a treatment facility or clinic, rather than at home without proper healthcare or emergency equipment. Opioid withdrawal is best described as a painful flu, lasting a few days to a week. Unassisted withdrawal may lead to a relapse, due to pain and cravings.


Is One Hit Enough For Addiction?

Because of the potency of many opioids – from painkillers to heroin – there is a myth that a single hit is enough to “ruin your life” or trigger an addiction. There is no drug that gets you addicted in one hit – but drugs like heroin do make your brain susceptible to more drug use, basically putting you “in the mood” to try said drug again.

Usually, addiction is a slippery slope. In some cases, it starts as a use of medication and turns into abuse. In other cases, it might be experimentation or peer pressure, eventually turning into a habit.

Not everyone on painkillers gets addicted – in fact, only a fraction gets addicted due to prescribed medication. Most opioid addicts today start with heroin, and prescription pain medication is not the only cause for today’s crisis.

But that does not change the fact that there are too many prescription painkillers in America’s healthcare system, and that pharmaceutical companies pressured doctors into selling more drugs, while utilizing misleading statements to market painkillers and anti-anxiety medication to garner a greater profit, leading to an abundance of unused drugs landing on the streets – or more accurately, floated from real patients to their relatives and friends.

Chronic pain may not be adequately solved with opioids, and effective, personalized pain management is a healthier and safer option to creating a better quality of life in many patients struggling with long-term pain. However, people who take pain meds do not usually get addicted, even if some do.


Opioid Treatment Today

In the past, addiction was a problem medicine was not quite sure how to address. It wasn’t until the stigmatization of addiction dropped considerably before we began revolutionizing our concepts of addiction and addiction treatment.

While rehab and sober living has existed for decades, new psychotherapy methods and addiction medication can help opioid addicts today find a personalized and safe way to beat the addiction, and eventually be rid of it completely.

There is no single effective path towards long-term abstinence, but there are many methods available to help professionals craft the right path for you.