Drug Addiction: Altered Brain, Altered Body

Drug AddictionAn old TV commercial from the late ‘80s compared the brain of a drug user to a fried egg. It is widely considered one of the most effective public service announcements of all time. Fried. That is the term we were to remember.

It is a good metaphor. Decades of research have shown that drug abuse fundamentally alters how the brain works, its structure and the genetic material that makes up the brain. Brains that have been fried stay that way for a very long time. Maybe forever.

Not just brains are changed. Bodies are changed. Today, drugs are responsible for more deaths, illness and disability than any other preventable health condition. Drugs are responsible for one in every four deaths. The carnage is massive and widespread.

Heart/Circulatory System
Drugs affecting the heart include cocaine, heroin, inhalants, meth, steroids and prescription stimulants. Short-term effects include rapid heart rate, slowed heart rate, fatal and non-fatal cardiac arrhythmia, chest pain, heart attack, aortic dissection, stroke and sudden death. Longer-term effects include high blood pressure, myocarditis, endocarditis, pulmonary edema, blood clots, enlarged heart, heart failure, infection of the heart valves, permanent arrhythmia, vein collapse and blockages in the veins and arteries.

Respiratory System
Because it slows down lung function, heroin, in particular can have a profound effect on the lungs. During an overdose, the lungs often stop working … even before the heart stops beating. Even if the overdose is reversed, death may still occur because of fluid buildup caused by slow lung function. Edema of the lungs kills about 15 percent of those admitted to the hospital for heroin overdose.

Longer-term, lung diseases such as abscesses, pneumonia, tuberculosis and scarred air passages are common in drug users. Chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis are also common. Contaminants from inhaled substances can clog the tiny blood vessels that exchange oxygen from lungs to blood, dramatically reducing the amount of oxygen available to the body.

Neurological System
The brain sits at the top of the nervous system, processing sensory input, managing voluntary and involuntary body functions, regulating temperature and hormonal levels. It should be no surprise, then, that neurological problems associated with drug abuse are common and include frightening and serious health issues such as stroke, seizures, brain damage, and problems with memory, concentration and decision-making.

Immune System
Because addiction drives abusers to a single-minded pursuit of their drug, they frequently ignore basic needs: nutritious food, rest, hygiene. Their immune systems weaken, increasing susceptibility to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, pneumonia, HIV and sexually transmitted disease.

Contaminants found in illegal drugs, or introduced to the drugs during preparation for use, can trigger an immune response, resulting in arthritis and other immune response disorders.

Digestive System
Opioid drugs, including heroin, can cause the digestive system to slow down, leading to chronic constipation, stool impaction, and narcotic bowel disease. The liver and kidneys, which are responsible for removing toxins from the body, are especially burdened by drug abuse. The impact includes hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and jaundice. In addition to bathing in toxic chemicals, the kidneys also suffer from the effects of high blood pressure. Untreated hypertension (such as one would see in an addict), can lead to kidney failure and death.

Accidental Death and Injury
Drug users are at increased risk of dying from accidental causes, including automobile accidents, pedestrian mishaps, exposure, drowning and violence. Among those tested, more than 1 in three drivers in fatal car crashes in 2009 were positive for drugs. Further, the National Institute on Drug Addiction estimates 100 Americans die of accidental overdose every day.

The statistics are frightening, especially if you, or someone you care about, is experimenting with, or using drugs. It is hard to understand how addiction could happen. Addicts are not immoral, lazy or lacking in willpower. Addiction cannot be cured by thinking differently. They need a structured, supportive proven program to help.

The Family Guidance Center
For those struggling with the bonds of alcohol or substance addiction, the Family Guidance Center, Ironton, Ohio is here to help.

The Guidance Center offers outpatient treatment, medically assisted treatment and counseling for drug addiction, including special groups and programs for adolescents, persons with co-occurring mental and substance abuse disorders, and a Women’s Empowerment group, which is open to women with addictions.

The Family Guidance Center treats all kinds of substance addictions including alcohol, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), prescription drugs (such as Xanax, Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, Oxymorphone, and RoxyCodone), huffing (gas, butane, solvents, and nitrous), and opiate addiction. Groups meet at 9:30 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3 p.m. Fridays.

Are you ready? The Family Guidance Center is ready to help you. Call (740) 414-2245 for more information and to start living drug free.

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