What are Drugs and What You Need to Know about Drugs!
Drugs are either legal or illegal substances that can cause a physiological and psychological change in the body. They can be consumed, inhaled, smoked, injected, absorbed through the skin, or dissolved under the tongue. Pharmaceutical drugs are typically legal medications intended to treat a disease or manage symptoms. These may be available over the counter (such as ibuprofen or cold medicine) or they may only be available via prescription from a licensed medical provider. These types of drugs may be required long-term for the treatment of chronic conditions or may be necessary only for a short period of time. Different governmental agencies determine the availability of pharmaceuticals in most countries. In the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates prescription and over-the-counter medications in order to protect public health.
Recreational drugs are usually illegal, although this is not always the case. In the United States, while marijuana continues to be illegal in most states, there are some states where it has been legalized and is now regulated. The use of recreational drugs is primarily for the purpose of altering one’s state of mind. Cannabis is the most commonly used recreational drug in the world. Other recreational drugs include LSD, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and crystal meth, among others. Some people misuse prescription drugs for recreational purposes, such as Adderall and opiates. There are also people who misuse legal products such as glue and paint thinner for getting high by inhaling them. Finally, there are some common legal recreational drugs that most people wouldn’t normally consider to be drugs. These include caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
Recreational drugs usually fall into one of three categories: depressants, stimulants, or hallucinogens. Depressants make the user feel calm and relaxed. They are also known as “downers,” and include such drugs as barbiturates, opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines. Stimulants, which are also known as “uppers,” usually result in feelings of euphoria and increased energy and alertness. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy. When the drug wears off, people experience a “crash” that results in depression. Hallucinogens cause changes in thought, consciousness, perception, and emotion. This class of drugs can be divided into psychedelics, deliriants, and dissociatives. These drugs have been used throughout the ages in traditional medicine and religious ceremonies. Common hallucinogens include PCP, ketamine, nitrous oxide, and magic mushrooms.
Drug Addiction and Dependence
Some people use drug addiction and dependence interchangeably, but they are not actually the same. Dependence generally refers to the physical dependence on the substance. The body of someone who uses drugs regularly will adapt and change as a result of the drug use. Stopping the drugs will result in withdrawal. Drug addiction, on the other hand, is when drug use becomes the primary consuming thought for the addict. The addicted person may engage in risky behaviors and act irrationally in order to obtain the drug.
Drug Laws and the War on Drugs
Some of the earliest drug laws date back to the 7th century. These laws were found in Islamic countries under the influence of Sharia law. The Qur’an prohibits the use of intoxicants, though hashish has generally been accepted. To this day, many Arab states prohibit alcohol. These include Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Yemen, Brunei, and Pakistan, among others.
The first drug law to be passed in the United States occurred in San Francisco in 1875. This law banned the smoking of opium in opium dens. The law was passed in order to prevent people from being tempted into the opium dens where they were “ruined morally and otherwise.” Laws spread throughout the country, however, like drug laws that exist today, there was a racial component. Opium tended to be smoked by Chinese immigrants, and this form of opium was banned, but white Americans usually ingested it in other ways, which remained legal.
In 1914, the United States passed the Harrison Act, which required that sellers of opium and cocaine obtain a license. Eventually, licensing bodies stopped providing licenses. The result was that opium and cocaine were effectively banned.
In 1920, the United States instituted a constitutional ban on alcohol. This included production, transportation, importation, and sale of alcohol. The purpose of this ban was to cure the ills of society, such as alcoholism and family violence while promoting morals and health. The prohibition was coordinated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, and it became the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1920.
During Prohibition, alcohol was allowed only for religious rituals, such as during Communion. Alcohol intake in the country fell by 50% in the 13 years that it was illegal. Liver cirrhosis, which in large part is caused by alcoholism, likewise fell by 50% during this time. It is said that Prohibition resulted in the proliferation of organized crime in the United States since criminal gangs took it upon themselves to produce illegal liquor for buyers. There were between 30,000 and 100,000 illegal speakeasy clubs in New York City alone. Rather than reducing criminal activity, Prohibition seemed to encourage it. Prohibition was officially repealed in 1933.
In the 1960s, the number of Americans who had tried cannabis increased twenty-fold. In response to the rise in drug-use, President Nixon introduced the War on Drugs in 1972. He declared drugs to be “public enemy number one.” The next year, New York implemented mandatory sentencing for drug possession: 15 years to life. California introduced a “three strikes and you’re out” policy in 1994, which required lifetime imprisonment for a third offense.
Various factors led to African-Americans being most targeted and affected by these laws and their enforcement. For example, crack cocaine had a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity compared to powder cocaine. Crack cocaine is primarily used by poor minorities whereas better-off white people used powdered cocaine. The 1960s had been an important period for the Civil Rights Movements, Black organizing, and the abolition of Jim Crow laws. Some believe that Nixon intentionally sought to disrupt the Black community with his War on Drugs. The vast number of arrests resulted in the demand for a privatized prison industry to hold everyone arrested. While African Americans made up 35% of drug arrests, they made up 74% of those sentenced to prison for drug offenses.
Drug Prevention and Education
Drug prevention efforts largely focus on laws to reduce the availability of drugs and educational campaigns to make people aware of the negative effects of drugs and teach them how to say no to them. The United States utilizes a media campaign that is conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It partners with various NGOs, including Partnership for a Drug-Free America, to produce and promote anti-drug advertisements in print and television commercials. Unfortunately, a research company hired to investigate the efficacy of the campaign found that it did not work to prevent teen drug use. Nevertheless, the government continued to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the campaign.
An educational program called Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) teaches kids to avoid drug abuse and membership in gangs. Local police officers undergo 80 hours of training to provide education in schools. An estimated 75% of American school district utilize this educational program.
There are numerous drug treatment options available for those who abuse drugs. Overcoming addiction and dependence on drugs is not easy, and the drug users should not attempt it alone. One of the first steps in drug treatment is going through withdrawal. This is often not an easy time for the addict. In some case, drug withdrawal symptoms can result in death, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. Symptoms of drug withdrawal may include fever, headache, hallucinations, tremors, anxiety, irritation, nausea, vomiting, heart attack, sweating, diarrhea, and more. Your healthcare provider may be able to provide medication that can help ease these withdrawal symptoms. It is important not to have any access to drugs when withdrawal is taking place, and to be in a safe space wherein your desperation and pain, you won’t try to obtain more drugs.
Many people benefit from going to a substance abuse treatment center to detox and overcome drug addiction. These centers employ doctors and therapists who help the addict learn about what led them to drugs in the first place and healthy ways to cope. They may also learn life skills that will help them transition to independent living after treatment is complete. Group homes can act as a step-down between a residential treatment facility and life on one’s own. It’s important to remember that withdrawal alone does not result in a cure. Ongoing treatment is important for maintaining the recovered drug user’s sobriety. Drug users may find that attending support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) useful to their recovery. Private therapists can also provide long-term support. If you are worried about your own drug use or that of a loved one, reach out and call the National Drug Hotline at 1-888-633-3239 to get help.
Find out if someone you know has any drug-related offenses with a federal criminal offense search.