Drug Abuse Essay

4031 words - 16 pages

Drug Abuse

The term drug abuse most often refers to the use of a drug with such
frequency that it causes physical or mental harm to the user or
impairs social functioning. Although the term seems to imply that
users abuse the drugs they take, in fact, it is themselves or others
they abuse by using drugs.

Traditionally, the term drug abuse referred to the use of any drug
prohibited by law, regardless of whether it was actually harmful or
not. This meant that any use of marijuana, for example, even if it
occurred only once in a while, would constitute abuse, while the same
level of alcohol consumption would not. In 1973 the National
Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse declared that this definition
was illogical. The term abuse, the commission stated, "has no
functional utility and has become no more than an arbitrary code word
for that drug presently considered wrong." As a result, this
definition fell into disuse.

The term drug is commonly associated with substances that may be
purchased legally by prescription for medical use, such as penicillin,
which is almost never abused, and Valium, which is frequently abused,
or illegal substances, such as angel dust, which are taken for the
purpose of getting high, or intoxicated, but actually have no medical
use. Other substances that may be purchased legally and are commonly
abused include alcohol (see alcoholism) and nicotine, contained in
tobacco cigarettes. In addition, in recent years, chemists working in
illegal, clandestine laboratories have developed new chemicals that
have been used for the purpose of getting high. (These are called
"designer drugs".) All of these substances are psychoactive. Such
substancesÑlegal and illegalÑinfluence or alter the workings of the
mind; they affect moods, emotions, feelings, and thinking processes.

Drug Dependence

Drug abuse must be distinguished from drug dependence. Drug
dependence, formerly called drug addiction, is defined by three basic
characteristics. First, users continue to take a drug over an extended
period of time. Just how long this period is depends on the drug and
the user. Second, users find it difficult to stop using the drug. They
seem powerless to quit. Users take extraordinary and often harmful
measures to continue using the drug. How dependency-producing a drug
is can be measured by how much users go through to continue taking it.
Third, if users stop taking their drugÑif their supply of the drug is
cut off, or if they are forced to quit for any reasonÑthey will
undergo painful physical or mental distress. The experience of
withdrawal symptoms distress, called the withdrawal syndrome, is a
sure sign that a drug is dependency-producing and that a given user is

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