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.

Mixing Alcohol And Drugs Is Deadlier Than You Might Think

Mixing Drugs Alcohol | Transcend Texas

The idea behind mixing alcohol and drugs is usually to “improve” on a user’s experience. Experimenting with drug combinations might lead to new highs, or ways to deal with a drug’s immediate negative “comedown” effects. However, in reality, mixing alcohol with other drugs only serves to create an extremely dangerous and very potent combination, landing you in the ER or worse.

Knowing how alcohol interacts with different drugs may help give you an idea of why you should never mix booze and pills.


How Alcohol And Xanax Mix

Perhaps the deadliest combination on the list, alcohol mixed with sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) like Xanax or Valium creates an extremely powerful sedation effect that not only potentially knocks you out, but also slows down your breathing and negates your coughing reflex, rendering you unable to breathe and unable to cough up vomit or any other blockage.

This is because alcohol and sedatives are extremely similar. Both are depressants, which means they have a calming and sedating effect on the body and the brain, lowering inhibition, slurring speech, and slowing down breathing.

Because they both require the same enzymes to be properly metabolized, the use of both sedatives and alcohol causes each substance to spend much more time in the user’s bloodstream, greatly amplifying the effects of each drug. In other words, a “normal” dose of alcohol mixed with a “normal” dose of Xanax is much more powerful than each drug individually.

Beyond using the same enzymes in the liver and causing the same sedative effects, using multiple drugs at once – also known as polydrug use – greatly amplifies your chances of struggling with multiple addictions.


How Booze And Opiates Kill

While alcohol and sedatives are extremely dangerous, they’re abused as often as opioids and booze are. Prescription painkillers (or opioids) are natural or synthetic derivatives of opium. Heroin, another commonly abused opioid, is also often taken alongside alcohol. When consumed together, these drugs also cause a “slowdown” of the body’s processes, often leading to death through oxygen deprivation.

Unlike Xanax, opioids are metabolized separately from alcohol. However, taking both at the same time can make the dangerous side effects of heroin and prescription painkillers – namely, the risk of passing out and choking to death – much more pronounced.

Beyond that, opioids are also known for being some of the most addictive drugs in the world. Up to 5% of all prescription drug users end up getting hooked on painkillers, with recovery taking months or years.

The biggest danger in this combination is how common it is. Throughout the years, the American healthcare system prioritized the sale of painkillers to aggressively fight the emergence of chronic pain in America, leading to a flooding of unused and resold prescription medication, as well as a dangerous misuse and eventual abuse of painkillers in hundreds of thousands of Americans. This arose from a combination of aggressive marketing tactics from pharmaceutical companies, as well as a growing concern among physicians that pain was undertreated in the US.

Before an official crackdown, the growth of the internet and the online prescription drug business further fueled the fire. Today, America is dealing with the biggest opioid crisis in history, with overdoses from heroin and prescription painkillers higher than ever before.


Alcohol, Cocaine, And The Brain

Alcohol and cocaine is another common combination because of the widely opposing effects of cocaine and booze on the mind. While alcohol suppresses inhibition, causes slurred speech, and slows a person’s coordination and cognition, cocaine works in the opposite direction as a stimulant, introducing a powerful euphoric high alongside a sharp increase in motivation and energy levels.

However, the use of both at the same time are thought to cancel out each other’s negative effects. In reality, using alcohol and cocaine may dampen the effects of each, causing many to use excessive amounts of cocaine or alcohol to achieve the desired high. This poses a greater risk of overdose and death. In fact, the risk of death is up to 20 times higher when taking both cocaine and alcohol, rather than just cocaine.


The Risks Of Alcohol And Cannabis

On its own, the negative effects of cannabis may be milder than most other drugs. Yet when combined with alcohol, its potency expands greatly. Aside from being a depressant, alcohol is also a diuretic and a vasodilator, meaning it affects the rate at which your endocrine system works, and expands your blood vessels, accelerating the effects of drugs in the bloodstream.

With modern methods of cannabis use including smoking high concentrations through e-cigarettes or consuming THC oils, the effects of THC can be greatly amplified by combining with alcohol. Misjudging your cannabis use while drunk can lead to nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and more.


Prescription Drugs Vs. Illegal Drugs: It’s All Still Drug Abuse

Illegal Drugs & Prescription Drugs | Transcend Texas

Over 60,000 Americans died from drug addiction in 2017, mostly from overdoses caused by illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methadone, and methamphetamine. Yet while much of the spotlight is on the illegal drugs coursing the streets of America, there is a potentially more sinister villain at the center of all of this: misused medication.

Awareness on the dangers of prescription drug addiction has risen extensively, but so has the rate at which they cause deaths. A lot must be done to understand that addiction is addiction, and drug abuse is drug abuse – regardless of who is abusing what drug, in what neighborhood, with what capital.

There is an unbelievable amount of stigma around addiction, and all addicts must struggle with it. But stereotyping and misinformation has framed the issue of addiction around illegal drugs and criminal behavior. But that’s not what addiction is. It is not a consequence of character, or a moral weakness. It is a diagnosable brain disease with severe mental and physical consequences, and a long and difficult treatment process. But like many other diseases, it can be treated, and managed despite its chronic nature.

But nothing will change in the long term without a societal shift in perspective. To truly solve our addiction crisis, we must understand addiction as a disease, and mitigate the factors that develop it. In America, one such factor is the over-prescription and overconsumption of prescription drugs, and the near-ubiquitous American diagnosis and perception of pain.


Drugs Are Drugs: A History

Prescription drugs are prescription-only for the fact that they play a role in causing addiction, since they can be abused to do more than treat a medical condition. Our relationship to these drugs goes back as far as the 1800s, when pharmaceutics began utilizing and effectively marketing opium and opium-derivatives as painkillers and soothing medicine, causing addiction and overdose deaths.

On the scientific and developmentary front, new medicines hit the market and almost immediately became subject to stringent regulation, including tranquilizers as medication, amphetamines, and barbiturates. An unsettling trend sets in across households as housewives abuse the drugs for self-medication, and soldiers get addicted while in combat tours overseas. Synthetic opiates hit the market, more powerful and potent than their natural counterparts.

Since then, many changes have occurred in both the pharmaceutical industry and in law. Government agencies like the FDA have largely squashed the quackery and snake oil salesmanship that openly promoted dangerous and highly addictive drugs as child-friendly medicine, while many drugs that at the time were available over-the-counter are now considered illegal drugs even in personal possession without a medical license, including cocaine, heroin, and morphine.

In the 50s, the Durham Humphrey Amendment set up a clear legal distinction between prescription and over-the-counter medicine, while the government began crackdowns on the smuggling and distribution of narcotics, and the manufacture of both natural and synthetic addictive medicines. Non-addictive medicines, including aspirin and acetaminophens, are exempt from this. Yet despite these efforts, advertisements for addictive medicines as being generally safe continued. Drug addiction created the industry of drug treatment, and rehab clinics started opening across the country starting in the 60s.

The 60s, 70s and 80s saw an explosion in the use of cocaine and marijuana, through South America. Yet while illegal drugs were on the rise and started the panic that sparked the War on Drugs and led to skyrocketing rates of mass incarceration, a rise in prescription drug advertising and a growth in both the perception of pain and pain-related lifestyle illnesses meant Americans started being prescribed more and more prescription medication – including opioids like Oxycontin and Percocet, and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium.

Doctors were incentivized to sell patients more drugs than they needed, and profit became an additional motive behind the primary driving factor in America’s lurking addiction to prescription medication – a war on pain. Yet what many doctors did not know was that their efforts to combat pain would later unfold in extremely dangerous ways.


How Medicine Can Kill

Opioids slow down breathing, to the point of respiratory failure, paralysis, and death. Adderall and other amphetamines cause heart issues and can lead to long-term brain damage and stroke. Benzodiazepines can kill through sedation.

Understanding the dangers of addictive substances – regardless of what purpose they serve – is important for solving the drug issue. We need alternatives to addictive medicine, especially in cases where said medicine may not be a good treatment tool to begin with.


America And Pain

It is no coincidence that the United States is going through an opioid crisis at the same rate that perceived pain is on the rise. Not only do Americans claim to feel more pain more often than people in less developed countries across the world, but the rate at which that trend has been growing is relative to the rate at which opioid consumption has increased.

Whether one caused the other, or whether they are both in a tangled relationship, is up to more research to decide. But the facts are that beyond a flawed perception of pain, the American healthcare system still has a flawed perception of pain management. Doctors are too quick to prescribe addictive medication or expensive surgery for injuries, while putting patients through a battery of unnecessary tests further driving up their medical bills. Despite the costs associated with American healthcare, it is often no better or even worse than the healthcare in other developed nations, where doctors are far less likely to prescribe painkillers of any kind, going so far as to teach patients instead to cope with the pain, and work through it as part of a healing process instead of putting them on a slippery slope towards illegal drugs.

Americans are not just reluctant to explore and live with their pain, but they are also at greater risk for chronic pain than others. The decades-old obesity issue does more than increase the American waistline, it also leads to more cases of chronic pain caused by joint stress, arthritis, diabetes, and inflammation.


More Than Just Opioids

Painkillers are not the only kind of addictive prescription drug on the rise. Anti-anxiety medication is in spot number two, as benzodiazepines like Xanax cause overdose deaths to grow, accompanied by an ever-increasing number of patients struggling with anxiety disorders. Amphetamines are also overprescribed – Americans consume more Adderall than any other nation on Earth.

This is not to say that medication and treatment are important in tackling anxiety disorders, chronic pain, and ADHD. Many Americans struggle with mental and physical health issues that are debilitating and rely on medication to get out of bed in the morning and function as human beings. Yet there must be safer alternatives in our healthcare than opiates and stimulants. Billions are spent producing and selling pharmaceutical answers, while therapeutic treatments and mental health facilities are understaffed and underappreciated.

If you’re struggling with an addiction due to a pre-existing medical condition, get help. Your diagnosis does not excuse addiction no matter if it’s to “legal” or illegal drugs, and the two can make each other worse. Addiction treatment today emphasizes the unique nature of each case, and how important it is to treat all underlying issues, rather than focusing on the superficial symptoms.


Synthetic Drugs Are the New Danger On The Market

Synthetic Drugs Abused | Transcend Texas

Synthetic drugs are an unfortunately confusing case of terminology, as most street drugs undergo a lengthy chemical process to make it to the consumer level. However, unlike drugs like alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and even heroin, which are all based on natural plant crops, synthetic drugs are produced in a lab through a mixture of chemicals and require no crop or major field to source their base ingredients.

Instead, synthetic drugs can be produced anywhere given the right equipment, without the need to source vast amounts of plant material from a tract of land. This makes them easy to produce, transport, smuggle in base form and distribute all over the globe, bypassing international law by getting sold online as research material. These dangerous new drugs have come to be described by public health officials as “new psychoactive substances”, or NPS.

Synthetic drugs come in many shapes and sizes, with different names and dangers. We will go over some of the more common examples, and exactly why they are so extremely dangerous – and why they have grown in popularity recently.


What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs typically count any drugs developed chemically as an alternate version of an existing psychotropic compound, in an attempt (usually) to bypass the law. Also known as designer drugs, these are man-made compounds often capable of a much more powerful high of a similar kind to its natural analog.

For example, cannabis affects the brain in a very specific way. The active compound in cannabis, THC, binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and affects your motor function, memory, feelings, pain tolerance, cognition and more.

It has different effects based on how much of the drug is taken, and based on a person’s own individual brain structure, mood at the time, and reaction to the drug. Some people use medicinal marijuana as a prescribed treatment for certain mental health problems, while others smoke or ingest the drug and end up spending hours doing practically nothing.

Synthetic cannabis is far viler. While it is similar in that it binds to the same receptors as THC, it is a far more addictive and powerful drug, and unlike THC, it can be quite easy to suffer from an overdose of synthetic cannabinoids. More on that below.

Aside from being analogous to “natural” drugs in that synthetic drugs bind to the same receptors their effects can be drastically different – and far more dangerous – than those of their already addictive counterparts.

Not all synthetic drugs are designed for addiction and recreational use. Many are developed first as medicine, or studied for medical efficacy, before eventually ending up somewhere far outside a lab. Some synthetic drugs – such as synthetic opioids – are still in use for certain conditions.


Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids bind to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors but have little else to do with THC or cannabis. However, because of recent media around cannabis usage and its potential in certain industries, some people have mistakenly taken on the view that cannabis is completely safe – and that by extension, synthetic cannabis cannot be much worse.

Also known as K2, spice, fake weed and a series of other names, synthetic cannabinoids can be extremely toxic even in “normal” doses. They are typically produced by spraying the cannabinoid mixture onto dried plant material, which is then sold as “incense” or some other innocuous product. However, because of the uneven application of a spray bottle, one hit from the wrong bit of plant material can lead to dangerous side effects and even hospitalization.

Nausea, vomiting, and a dangerously high heart rate are just a few of the possible complications arising from synthetic cannabinoid use.


Synthetic Cathinones

Known infamously as “bath salts”, synthetic cathinones can lead to psychotic episodes and dangerous hallucinations. Cathinones are usually derived from khat, a plant indigenous to Africa and the Middle East, chewed much like South America’s coca plant (cocaine). On its own, chewed khat acts as a mild stimulant. Synthetic cathenones, on the other hand, are sold as cheap yet powerful stimulants with very nasty side effects.

Dubbed Bliss, White Lightning, Vanilla Sky, and a series of other names, synthetic cathinones or “bath salts” can lead to bouts of extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delirium, panic attacks and more.


Synthetic Opioids

A common synthetic opioid still used in the treatment of certain types of pain, including end-of-life, is fentanyl. Fentanyl is an incredibly potent and powerful opiate, several times stronger than heroin and morphine, and thus several times more dangerous. More than a few specs in your bloodstream at once is enough to stop your breathing, which is why it is often administered to patients in the form of a fentanyl lollipop.

However, fentanyl and its ludicrously toxic cousin, carfentanil, have also become part and parcel in certain productions of heroin. Some drug dealers are getting into the habit of cutting their heroin to save on costs, while increasing potency by mixing fentanyl into it. However, the mix ends up being uneven, and in many cases the result is a much more powerful product with certain hits here and there than can – and often enough are – fatal.

Carfentanil should never be used, let alone mixed into heroin. Its potency is so high that officials have dubbed it a nerve gas at one point, citing instances in drug raids where clouds of synthetic opiates from the raid were enough to hospitalize officers for complications from an overdose.


Why Synthetic Drugs Are So Dangerous

Synthetic drugs have become more dangerous than ever due to an influx of materials for local production right in America, as well as a demand for cheaper alternatives to existing drugs for people with the desperate need to get high, and a very low budget for it.

Aside from a reduced cost of production and distribution worldwide, new synthetic drug production out of markets in China fueled by the online drug market and black-market websites has led to the development and sale of many chemicals and finished product right into the US – and into the hands of unsuspecting addicts, causing overdose deaths to rocket up even further.

Drugs are bad – but synthetic drugs are a special kind of evil, in most cases and professional treatment with a stint in a sober living community is often necessary to break the hold synthetic drugs have on people.


Why Is Drug Addiction So Prevalent In Cities Like Houston?

Drug Addiction In Houston | Transcend Texas

Like any big city, Houston has its fair share of problems – crime and drug addiction among them. As serious as drug addiction is, it only affects a very small fraction of the total adult population of the US, despite lax attitudes towards alcohol, and in some places, marijuana.

However, in Houston, Texas as well as other large cities in states across the country, the concentration for drug abuse grows and becomes more apparent. So, what it is about big cities like Houston that seems to make the phenomenon of addiction grow?


Drug Addiction In Houston

As is the case with many other big cities in the country, drug addiction is a substantial and growing problem. In Houston alone, heroin and meth are particularly troublesome, causing the most deaths and drug-related crimes in the city for decades. On the flip-side, to accompany high drug usage, Houston also has a prodigious selection of rehabs and treatment centers.

Many factors affect why Houston is struggling with drugs, the biggest being that it is a.) an incredibly populous city in a country with well over a quarter billion people, and b.) the most populous city in the state of Texas, a state that has established drug issues, and struggles to fight against the illegal trade of drugs out of Mexico.

Among other substances, gangs produce and smuggle marijuana, meth, and cocaine over the border into the United States, with meth being the biggest problem in the region, while street heroin and prescription opiates take a second spot.

Methamphetamine has grown to become an issue in Houston. The amount of meth seized from 2014 to 2015 grew by other 400 percent, while Houston reported over 780,000 cases of addiction in 2008 throughout the entire Houston area. In schools, about a third of students report having been sold/offered drugs on school property.

Aside from being the most populous city of Texas, Houston also struggles with growing poverty, a possible factor that contributes to the growth in addiction alongside an explosion in the local drug supply.


Drug Use And Big Cities

Cities grow organically through a continuous cycle of supply and demand in the workforce – opportunities are created by industries pioneering in a region, bringing jobs, and creating a need of real estate and residences around the industry. Decade after decade, the city grows because of its people, and its population grows because it is a city.

But with this growth comes the many downsides of living in an urban environment, especially in poverty. Large cities can become incredibly cramped, destitute, and unhealthy places to live in. For many, drug addiction provides a relief from that lifestyle that otherwise cannot be afforded.

Aside from there, where there are many people, there are many different people problems. Drug dealers specifically target urban neighborhoods to reach a large density of people and sell as much as possible, as quickly as possible, turning cities into the areas in the country with the largest drug problem.

Drug addiction is not only an issue in large cities. All of America is struggling with drugs, particularly opioids, methamphetamine, alcohol, and marijuana. But there are distinct differences in the way urban and rural addictions work.

Reports show that, among other key differences, ages between rural and urban addictions were very different with rural admissions to treatment being typically much younger. In addition, rural addictions primarily revolved around alcohol and non-opiates, while urban addictions had the countryside beat with its opiate abuse.

Why Texas Is Struggling With Drugs

Aside from the methamphetamine problem out of Mexico, another big issue hitting the streets is the recurrence and abundance of black tar heroin being sold, alongside an increase in opioid overdoses, and a decrease in the average age of both overdose victims and patients on opioid medication.

The overall demand for heroin in Texas has increased dramatically, alongside a larger number of reported calls to the Texas Poison Center Network regarding heroin. Although heroin usage has increased, opioid prescription abuse has decreased, suggesting perhaps that some addicts have moved on from getting their fix through street heroin rather than painkillers.

While these drugs picked up, others have dropped in usage. Both synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids have dropped in overall usage since their peak in 2011, and emergency calls due to ecstasy (MDMA) have dropped since 2009.

With its proximity to the border, large population, and its reputation as a major economy, it is no wonder that Texas is a common source of business for drug dealers and manufacturers.


What Can Be Done?

Enacting major political and economic change to help shift the state of healthcare and poverty in the US is not something most people can hope to affect in their lifetime – but there are little differences we can make to create a drastic impact in our own little communities, and with a little luck, within entire towns and city districts. You do not have to look towards politics and policy for answers, nor do you need a lot of money.

All it takes is to spread awareness on recent facts around drug addiction, dispel old myths, build a better understanding of addiction among your friends and family, and most importantly, help those around you who struggle with addiction to this day.

Over 6% of all Americans over the age of 12 struggle with substance abuse and drug addiction. Many of them are our relatives, our friends, our colleagues, or neighbors. Just by reaching out and offering help, addressing the issue without judgment, or by promoting local causes that focus on outreach and change, you can make a little difference and help change lives. In a city of over 2 million people, there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to helping others – but everyone focuses on helping those in their immediate vicinity better take on their life’s challenges, we can all build stronger, better communities. Men and women’s sober living facilities can also provide a safe haven for those trying to stay sober.

Not every attempt will be a success, and not everyone will reach and maintain their sobriety. But anyone can. And no one deserves to be given up on.


How Does Someone Become Addicted?

How You Become Addicted | Transcend Texas

Addiction is multifaceted in both its appearance and ill effects. Some people become addicted quickly, while others go through months of drug use and quit at the drop of a hat. Some people exhibit terrifying and destructive behavior, while others can successfully go through great lengths to hide their addiction, suffering underneath the surface.

There is a misconception that only certain “types of people” become addicted. It is true that addiction is more likely in times of distress, or as a result of escalating self-medication – but it is also true that anyone can fall prey to addiction. Society’s poorest addicts are every bit as human and personable as upper and middle-class families struggling with alcoholism, across all ages.

Drugs affect the human brain in the same way every time, but what that effect has on individual people is an entirely different matter. Understanding how addiction works, how individuals deal with it, and how drugs affect the human body can go a long way towards learning the how’s and why’s of addicted behavior, and making progress in your own recovery.


Drugs And The Human Body

Have you ever had a craving for a certain food? A certain activity? Or even a certain person? A lot of our needs and wants are driven by a predisposed code most humans have – we’re pleasure seekers in one form or another, and the things that give us pleasure (sex, chocolate, fatty food) have become human favorites due to thousands of years spent selectively surviving the Earth’s harsh environments.

We’re more complex than just our base instincts – but they’re there nonetheless, and to satisfy them can feel really good. This is all due to a part of the brain known as the pleasure center. When we do certain things or ingest certain substances, our pleasure center releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Drugs overstimulate the pleasure center by manipulating our neurons and changing the way dopamine is released, either by releasing more of it than usual or by preventing our cells from properly disposing of it, thus keeping it in our synapses for longer.

As this happens, our body and brain begin to form an addiction to whatever is releasing this unnatural amount of euphoria. Too much of a good thing is no good –and in the case of substance abuse, addictive substances cause a physical reaction as a result of consistent and continuous usage.

Once addiction kicks in and the cravings start, your mind begins to interpret them as needs, more than just wants. Addictive behavior – even the destructive and risky kind – stems from a combination of a corrupted pleasure center, and a decline in cognition and reasoning. Essentially, it becomes harder to keep a cool head and be reasonable about your behavior, and continuous use often leads to impulsive behavior, and worsening decision making as you become addicted.

Tolerance is another aspect of addiction that makes quitting all the more difficult. As addiction continues, the body begins to form a resistance to the effectiveness of a drug, reducing its effects. For example, it may take more alcohol to get drunk, or it may take more cocaine to achieve the same high. This is the body’s cells defending itself from a barrage of unnatural brain functions – but the result simply spurs an addict on to use more drugs in order to achieve the same effect. While the body can protect itself against a high, it cannot protect itself against the lethal side effects of an overdose.

When trying to quit after tolerance kicks in, it is not unusual for a person to go into withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can range from discomfort and irritability to violent sickness, and even death if approached too drastically, depending on the drug. These occur because the body has gotten used to the drug intake, and depends on it for certain brain functions. Cutting off your own supply requires readjustment, the kind that is best done under medical supervision.


When Does Someone Become Addicted?

Addiction begins in the brain, but it is difficult to feasibly track someone’s addiction through constant brain scans – so the most reliable source for when someone can become addicted is the person themselves. For someone to be an addict, they have to admit to themselves that they are one, or exhibit enough symptoms so that denying it would be completely illogical.

A total inability to stop oneself from using – that is what makes someone become addicted. If a person can’t stop themselves despite promises or plans to do so, and despite negative consequences that would typically discourage behavior, then they’re addicted. If a person loses their job, destroys a relationship, or even commits a crime to satisfy their addiction, then it is clear that they have a serious problem.


Addiction And Mental Health

Addiction and mental health are intertwined for several reasons, the most glaring one being the fact that addiction is a disease of the brain above all else. While different kinds of addiction can lead to organ failure and cancer, the brain is what is first affected and causes the addiction to begin with. The combination of addiction and the destructive behavior it can help cause often triggers mental health issues that may have been under control in the past, or were lingering underneath a stable surface.

On the other hand, existing mental health conditions can be made worse when you become addicted, while often playing a part in causing addiction (trauma, anxiety and depression are all wrought with stigma, and are conditions that are prone to self-medication gone awry).

The link between addiction and mental health issues must never be forgotten, especially because both are affected by a public perception of healthy vs. unhealthy.

Addiction, just like other conditions, does not reduce a person to the stereotype of their affliction, and it is important to treat every individual as an individual, and not “another junkie” or “another kook”. These generalizations often drive people to hide their problems, deny dangerous symptoms or lie in order to avoid unjust criticism and emotional harm.


Putting Addiction Behind You

It happens over time, and it takes time to heal and recover from. When you become addicted it can cause serious damage over the course of just a few months, but regardless of how long the disease has been ongoing, it can be put behind you with the right treatment and support.

Drug addiction treatment has gotten better than ever, with programs designed to accommodate any individual’s unique therapeutic needs and considerations. Treatment facilities have long recognized that there is no proper one-size-fits-all solution for addiction, and the result is a comprehensive, custom process.

As such, there’s also no telling how long it’ll take you to get over this period in your life – but as long as you think you can, you will.