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Now that drug addiction and abuse has been reviewed, it will be helpful to become familiar with the major types of commonly abused drugs and some common symptoms of using them. Alcohol will not be covered as it is a legal drug and most people are familiar with its effects. It should be noted however that the criteria and definitions of addiction elaborated on in the last section also applies to alcohol.  

Common abused drugs and their effects on the body:

Amphetamines:  Stimulants. Often used for weight loss or staying awake for long periods of time. A sudden loss of energy (crash) generally follows use. Prolonged use damages the heart, liver, and nervous system. Seizures, paranoia, and other mental disorders can become common. Many health problems can also occur because of poor nutrition habits, loss of appetite, and sleep loss. A good analogy would be similar to running your car at high speed with no rest or oil changes until it finally wears out or quits. Heavy users usually have to add sedatives to help control "jitters." Theft of Mom's "diet pills" many times starts the cycle.  

Methamphetamine deserves special mention. Meth is unbelievably addictive and one-time addictions have been reported. Methamphetamine damages major body systems very quickly. Heart attacks and violent outbursts are common. Meth also blocks the production of saliva in the mouth which leads to a disgusting condition called "meth-mouth" - which is a rotting away of the teeth and gums. Meth uses act like they are on "fast-forward" when they are using. They tend to be hyperactive – overly talkative – jumpy – nervous – wide eyed - can't sit still, etc.  

Here is a question that I have asked in many addiction groups: Raise your hand if you know an old meth user. No hands will go up. Why? Because you don't get to be old using meth – you are dead before you get to be old.

Meth is one of the few stimulant drugs that can be manufactured by amateurs. "Meth labs" are common. Because of the highly volatile chemicals that are used – such as ether – these people accidentally blow themselves up on a regular basis. Those that are not killed on the spot usually have to live with massive 3rd degree burns.

In one program where I worked, clients gave the secretary their driver's license and filled out an admission form. The documents were then given to me for review prior to my seeing them. With the license in hand, I would go into the waiting room to get the client. Many times looking at the license which was maybe only 6 months old, I could not recognize the client and had to call their first name. The change in 6 months of use was incredible. These people were almost always meth or opiate users. Readers are invited to go to the internet site "Faces of Meth" to see some "before and after" photos of meth users. Be sure and share them with your older kids. Theses photos are real. They are the sad truth.  

Cannabis (Marijuana): Almost always cut. PCP (sometimes referred to as "Angel Dust") is the most common additive. Unusual and continuous snacking is usually present. Heavy use produces effects similar to LSD. Because it produces a pleasant feeling, and is relatively inexpensive and easily obtained, it is the most common gateway drug to using other and more powerful chemicals. Your teens should also know that unlike most drugs which are out of the system is a relatively short period of time, Marijuana will show up on a drug screen up to two months after the last use.

Cocaine:  A white powder that can be sniffed, smoked, or injected. Highly addictive. The industrial solvents that are used to extract cocaine from the plant are highly toxic. Cocaine can be mixed with sodium bicarbonate to help it vaporize quickly when smoked (Crack Cocaine). Cocaine use generally produces weight loss, cardiac damage, nervousness, and weakness. People who regularly inhale the drug up their nostrils (snorting) usually "sniff" a lot most of the time like someone with a severe allergy. Over time, this form of use also tends to destroy the nasal septum.  

Inhalants:  (gasoline, paint thinner, paint, fingernail polish remover, etc): Nicknamed "huffing", causes rapid degeneration of the central nervous system, kidney failure, cerebral atrophy, and major lung disorders. Brain damage is rapid. Inhalants are popular with younger kids because of the easy availability. Inhalant use does rapid and severe damage to the body. When using hobby paints, gold is the favorite color because it has more solvents present that are necessary to dissolve the gold flakes. Additional signs of use can be unexplained flakes or dots of the paint that almost always gets on the facial hair or clothes – especially of a gold color. Some elementary schools are now reporting that young students are sniffing the hand sanitizer squirted on their hands to get high.

Opioids:  (Morphine, Heroin, Codeine, Oxycodone (OxyContin), Lortab, etc): Most of these drugs are usually prescribed as pain killers. They are all highly addictive. Most competent physicians will prescribe small quantities of these drugs with minimal refills. Doctors who prescribe 90 pills at a time with five refills when it is not necessary are obviously not aware of the addiction potential. I have counseled many patients who accidentally became addicted this way. If you are prescribed Oxycodone for pain, take as little as possible to control your pain and discontinue them as quickly as you can.  

Opioids produce severe physical and psychological withdrawal sysmptoms. They damage most body systems over time and thought processes are slowed down dramatically. People high on Opioids usually have an almost dreamy and slow-motion quality to them. Thinking is fuzzy. High tolerances usually occur in most people leading to them taking increasingly massive doses and eventually needle use. Due to unreliable cutting, accidental overdose deaths are common.

An additional note on OxyContin: OxyContin has become extremely popular with abusers and addicts. It is so popular in the south that it has earned the nickname "Hillbilly Heroin." It was originally developed as a very slow release opioid. People who had to take Opioids every few hours to manage their pain – could now take only one or two which would release slowly and control their pain for many hours. For those individuals, it was almost a wonder drug. Unfortunately, drug addicts soon found out that if they simply crushed the pill – they could get all of the effects at once!

Phencyclidines:  (PCP, Ketamine): These were originally developed as dissociative anesthetics for animals.  They cause severe heart problems, loss of short term memory, paranoid rages and anger outbursts. Users are particularly dangerous because they have no insight or judgment and suffer hallucinations when they are using. These are the users most likely to commit murder and other violent acts when they are intoxicated. Because of their hair-trigger rages which can erupt for no apparent reason, they are often a law-enforcement officer's worst nightmare. Being a dissociative anesthetic, they usually will not remember the violent act that they committed. If a hospital is not readily available, initial treatment is usually placing them in a dark quiet room to reduce stimulation until the drug wears off enough that they can be managed. PCP is the most common additive used to cut other drugs.

Closing Thoughts:  If your family member is still in the experimental or even the abuse stage, you have a good chance at success using the techniques listed in my earlier columns on substance abuse. However, once they reach the stage of actual dependence (addiction), you will need the direct help of a trained professional. Forget the self-help books and other garbage you see advertised at that point. I will not smooth this point over. Even with the help of a trained professional, a good treatment program, and a drug-savvy physician – it will still be a hard and difficult struggle for the entire family.  

Make no mistake about it, addicts will lie to you, they will steal from you, they will beg you to rescue them just one more time, they will try and make you feel guilty, and they will even sell themselves on the street if they need to. Oh yes they will if that's what it takes to get the drugs!  

Getting them to admit to the problem and take the first step toward treatment is often the most difficult task for the family. You may have to quit giving them money, bailing them out of jail, ignoring their stealing, lying for them, making excuses for them at school, forgiving them over and over and over, or letting them lay around the house and not work or go to school. That is called "enabling" and it only makes the bad situation worse and prolongs the agony for everyone.  

That's the "tough love" you often hear about. Sometimes it takes really hitting the bottom for them to recognize that maybe they need to change what they are doing! Sometimes you have to get out of the way (stop enabling) and let them hit that bottom. The other choice of letting them continue on a guaranteed path of destruction is much worse.

Although it may be just your adolescent that falls into the trap of drug use, it takes the efforts and commitment of the entire family to heal them.  

Now you should know why early recognition and intervention are so very important.  

About The Author
James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.


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