On Drugs

June 30, 2024

Tomas McGrath, Low Entropy Volunteer Writer

Drugs. One of humanity’s greatest double-edged swords. Drugs have helped and harmed so many, from those found in nature to those produced by human industry, to those produced even within the human body. Drugs in medical use are some of the most versatile tools we as a species have, from simple painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin, to antipathogenic medications such as penicillin or clarithromycin. But then again, humanity has found and produced drugs that can destroy the brain, body, families and possibly even society as a whole if left unchecked.

Take, for example, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. In Vancouver, stimulant and narcotic drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin are not only present and rampant, but legal. While it has led to better medical help for those who use them as opposed to the hand of the judicial system taking its toll, the streets of Vancouver are riddled with those affected by today’s menace: substance abuse and addiction.

Some of the worst things can be caused by drug addiction. Bankruptcy, permanent alteration and/or damage to the brain and other organs, destruction of relationships, and among the most terrible things, a national economic dependency on commonly abused substances. Some may deny it, some may agree and some might not even realize it, but the most silent killers in substance abuse are the foundations of our nation’s gross domestic product. Alcohol, nicotine and cannabis. Some of these aren’t fully destructive on their own, but rather delivery methods for some of them may be. Namely, nicotine. On its own, it is just another part of the tobacco plant. But in pre-made cigarettes, there are a massive amount of harmful chemicals and carcinogens that make smoking them lethal. Among these is tar, a chemical used as a water-repellent for ships throughout history (600 years at least) and also used for flavouring not just cigarettes, but alcoholic beverages and candy. Tar contains most of the carcinogenic chemicals inside of cigarettes, and apart from being able to increase the chance of malignant tumors, it can also cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which are lung diseases such as bronchitis or emphysema.

Another terrible drug, and not overlooked like alcohol and nicotine, is opium. Opium is a comprehensive term for many drugs. Opium is the basis for a wide range of addictive and destructive drugs called “opioids” or “opiates” like morphine, oxycodone, heroin and fentanyl, among others. These are the worst of the worst, the most addictive and easiest to overdose on.

Enough about the direct medical details, however, as it’s time to talk about mental health effects. Substance abuse is harmful to the mind as well as the body. Unlike most motivation-draining conditions like being sick with the cold or flu, or perhaps exhaustion, substance abuse may reduce your motivation to work or socialize for longer than its direct effects, though for different reasons. This will lead to a downward spiral in which you slowly lose the ability to afford the drug as you spend more on it and use more, driving the user to more and more drastic acts to acquire money. Not working or socializing can lead to a sense of hopelessness or weakness and growing distance from family and friends, and could drive a wedge between the user and loved ones, thus making personally influential support much more difficult.

Apart from that, the physical changes in the brain’s structure caused by substance abuse may cause a variety of other mental health issues. This includes depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety, OCD and PTSD among others. So not only is drug abuse a mental health issue itself, but it can also cause other mental health issues, scars on the mind that can bring down one’s life that won’t leave without time, treatment and trial.

However, there is hope for those affected by drug abuse, be it the user or someone affected by the user’s condition. The menace of drug abuse has multiple ways to be broken as if it were just another habit. Among these are stays at rehabilitation centers, slowly bringing down the usage until it is outright halted or halting usage in one steep drop (though these may cause the terrible symptoms of withdrawal), or hypnosis, which has lost credibility over time due to its use in entertainment, but is regaining ground among treatments to combat substance abuse.

To call substance abuse “just another habit,” though, is wrong of me. It’s not any habit, it’s one of the worst bad habits humanity has ever encountered. I think it’s well established that it can be destructive, and can be halted (though perhaps with some difficulty), but it’s about time to talk about how it can be caused. Substance abuse can spring up in a matter of days or slowly creep up on its victims over months or years. One of the massive causes of substance abuse is peer pressure at a social event like a party, where someone might feel obligated to drink alcohol or use drugs. Another cause could be other mental health disorders, which may result in a vicious cycle. Forbye, another cause could be a family history of drug abuse, as some genes may cause increased risks of addiction. Other causes might be things that require an escape from reality, like stress, past traumas in the form of abuse, or traumatic military experiences. Of course, to become addicted to a substance, you need to initially use it. Thus, the simple act of not trying a substance can reduce the likelihood of any addiction to absolute zero.

To conclude, substance abuse is among the worst mental health problems we face today. Not because of its effects on the body, no matter how terrible they are, but because they can cause an array of other problems to not just the user of the drug, but those around them. If there is one thing you take home with you from this article, I hope it is that the problem must be stopped before it starts. Avoid drugs like the plague, because they may just be the next one.

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