Alcohol and drugs are often discussed separately. However, both are mind and body altering substances. The main distinguishing feature of alcohol is that, in contrast to illegal drugs, it is socially acceptable and legal in most countries.
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However, legal alcohol retail sites are subject to controlled trading hours and addicts often buy alcohol from illegal sources when the authorised outlets are closed, exposing themselves to considerable risk. Alcohol is known as the primary “gateway” to illegal drugs. Due to it being so easily and legally available, it is usually the starting point for people who eventually become addicted to drugs.
Alcohol and drug addiction is a behaviour-related disorder caused by the persistent abuse of psychoactive drugs. Psychoactive chemicals affect mental processes like mood, perception, memory and inhibition. They are habit forming substances that promote and cause addiction.
They are sought after for the false sense of temporary wellbeing they create, yet the body and mind become heavily dependent on the external supply of the drug, which leads to long term enslavement and destruction of all facets of an addict’s life.
Psychoactive substances (narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens) cause drug induced mental and behaviour changes while a person is under the influence of such a drug. Immediately after taking it, the person experiences pleasant feelings, although the drug is already harming the body while the user is enjoying this euphoria.
When the intoxicative effect wears off, it is followed by a backlash of unpleasant feelings. These negatives are brought on by the chemically induced “poisoning” that took place. The convenient way to overcome the withdrawal trauma, is to immediately take more of the drug. The discomfort can be severe enough to compel the abuser to obtain it as soon as possible, by any means possible.
Long term abuse leads to permanent damage. Abusers develop a tolerance for the drug, which means they have to use bigger doses (or more frequent ones) during subsequent sessions to attain the desired effect. This “snowballing” effect progressively accelerates the demise of the addict.
Overdosing causes severe mental and physical traumas and death. Because the user may take more of the drug while still under the influence (not in a competent state), overdosing is a constant risk.
Illegal drugs, bought from clandestine dealers, are mixed with bulking materials (or “fillers”) to increase the volume (and the seller’s profits). The “fillers” often consist of cheap toxins like rat poison or cleaning materials. Lastely, some illegal drugs are mixed with other types of illegal drugs and medicines.
The clandestine production process is seldom hygienic. The impure and toxic bulking agents further enhance the risk of poisoning. The other types of drugs which are sometimes mixed in cause new addictions to additional types of drugs. Conflicting chemical ingredients also lead to deadly results. The strength of a particular purchase is never known, and a user can end up overdosing.
In healthcare terms “hazardous use” refers to a practice that is potentially harmful, but exists on a level that does not qualify it as highly dangerous.
Certain mind altering substances are legally and socially accepted as “lifestyle drugs”. Amongst these are; alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, over-the-counter drugs (pain killers, sleeping potions) and even plants used for traditional purposes.
Such lifestyle drugs can cause medical problems, but the negative effects of most of these drugs (with the exception of a few, such as alcohol) are minor compared to the more serious illegal drugs. Prescriptive medications bought on the black market, are also dangerous when abused.
The road to addiction
Nobody becomes an addict by choice. They get there, because:
- They are ignorant of the real dangers.
- They are dissatisfied/unhappy with their environment.
- They are influenced by their peers.
- They approach drugs/alcohol as an experiment.
- They believe they will be able to stop if it becomes a problem.
- They read internet pages that foster misguided perceptions.
- They are misled by vain, reckless people who arrogantly dismiss their fears.
- They have emotional disorders – drugs help them feel better, albeit temporarily.
- They start with alcohol – easily obtainable, but a known gateway to illegal drugs.
- The first encounter is pleasant, so they continue.
- It becomes more than just a “social thing” – they start using it when alone.
- Tolerance develops – they have to take more to get the same effect.
- The withdrawal effects increase in severity and so does their intake.
- They progress through dependency to addiction.
- They lose control of the situation and run into serious problems in most areas of their lives.
- They resist all efforts to help themselves, fearing the withdrawals and the underlying emotions that drove them to abusing the substance in the first place.
- Some people have a generic (inherited) tendency to develop addiction more easily than other people. They do not know this until they are trapped in the cycle of addiction.
It is never too late. Anyone can start a process of recovery through psychological and medical intervention. This journey begins with understanding the core problems which drove them to seek relief through drugs in the first place. Addicts can become addicts in recovery if they are bold enough to reach out for help.