How Substance Abuse Causes Risky Behavior

What are some of the risk behaviors caused by substance abuse, and why are they so dangerous?

One of the few good things about the opioid crisis is that it has shed much-needed light about substance abuse issues, and has triggered public debate about developing new ways of handling this challenge.

Lawmakers and healthcare officials throughout the U.S. have implemented programs aimed at curbing the number of fatal overdoses among their residents, and in some instances, those programs are radical and controversial in nature.

But the dangers of substance abuse are not just about the potential for fatal overdoses, they are also about what long-term drug use does to a person’s personality and character.

In fact, there is ample evidence that substance abuse can lead to a number of high-risk behaviors, which makes the challenge for lawmakers, healthcare workers and family members of addicts even more difficult.

Let’s take a look at how drug use can trigger risky behavior, beginning first with an understanding of how the brain is impacted by long-term drug abuse.

The Effects of Drug Abuse On the Brain

Many studies have shown that drugs interfere with the way the brain communicates, which means that drugs short-circuit how information is sent, received and processed.

We know that some of the effects of drug abuse on the brain involve the reward system by producing abnormal amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls emotion, motivation, movement and how we experience pleasure.

When dopamine is at normal levels, it controls natural actions that we take on a daily basis. For example, if we eat chocolate, dopamine is released that tells our body that we really enjoyed the taste of chocolate and sugar, and sends signals that we should continue that pleasurable action.

But when you take drugs, the surge of dopamine overwhelms the brain and leads to powerful cravings for more of those drugs.  

The reason is that some drugs can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards such as eating and sex do. In some cases, this occurs almost immediately (as when drugs are smoked or injected), and the effects can last much longer than those produced by natural rewards. The resulting effects on the brain’s pleasure circuit dwarf those produced by naturally rewarding behaviors. (1)

This produces cravings in a drug user that are hard to ignore, and often makes them take more and more drugs to achieve the high that the brain finds so pleasurable.

But what’s just as dangerous is that drugs also have a negative effect on the parts of the brain that control decision-making and impulse control.

As a result, drug and alcohol abuse often lead to impaired judgment, which means that addicts are much more likely to take risky actions that they wouldn’t have if their brains weren’t compromised by drug and alcohol use.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Risky Sexual Behavior

Studies have found that teenagers are the group most vulnerable to problems related to substance abuse and risky sexual behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a strong correlation between drug and high-risk sexual behavior among teens.

This high-risk behavior includes unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, and a higher likelihood of becoming pregnant before the age of 15.

In fact, as teenagers use more drugs, their chances of having multiple sex partners also increase, and teens that abuse cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking. (2)

A recent national youth risk behavior survey found that:

  • 41 percent of high school students admitted to having sex at least once in their life
  • 30 percent of high school students were sexually active
  • 21 percent of high school students who were sexually active also admitted to using alcohol and drugs before they had sex.

But risky behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and some of the risk factors for teenagers include:

  • Lower Economic Status
  • Family History of Violence/Conflict
  • Absentee Parents
  • Prior Rebellious Behavior
  • Associating With Drug Using Peers
  • Lower Academic Performance

The CDC has recommended several prevention programs to help reduce the incidences of risky sexual behavior among teenagers, including:

  • School Programs – School should implement programs that help build up social interactions and emotional support among high-school students
  • Resistance Programs – Peer supervised drug and alcohol prevention programs
  • Parenting Skills Training
  • Increased Parental Involvement
  • Family Support Programs – This can include counseling for families struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and other issues that create conflict

Substance Abuse and Crime

In addition to high-risk sexual behavior among teen drug and alcohol abusers, studies have also found a correlation between substance abuse and crime, including: (3)

  • Prison Population – 80 percent of inmates abuse alcohol or drugs, and half of all inmates are clinically addicted
  • Arrest Figures – 60 percent of people who are arrested for a crime test positive for illegal narcotics, and 37 percent were drinking when they were arrested
  • Violent Crime – 40 percent of all violent crimes involve alcohol

Nearly 20 percent of state and federal inmates said that their high-risk criminal behavior was directly related to their desire to get money to buy drugs. That’s because people who struggle with drug or alcohol dependency are compelled to do whatever it takes to get their hands on these substances, and that may sometimes involve illegal crime.

Help For Substance Abuse

People who seek help for substance abuse often find that detox is the first step toward an effective plan of recovery. Detox helps to control cravings, and also gets rid of the alcohol and drugs that are poisoning an addict’s body.

If you live in New Jersey, Serenity at Summit New Jersey Addiction Centers in Union provides addiction treatment services for New Jersey residents, and we are only 40 minutes from New York City. Please call us today at 844-432-0416 for more information about how we can help you.



The Abuse of Prescription Drugs and the Role of Drug Makers

The abuse of prescription drugs has become a major public health problem as people addicted to prescription painkillers and to illegal opiates like heroin continue to die of overdoses.

The federal government has reacted to the opioid crisis by declaring it a public health emergency, which sounds good, but in reality, hasn’t done much to move the needle when it comes to lowering overdose rates.

One of the biggest challenges of this crisis is that big drug makers have been reluctant to take responsibility for manufacturing prescription painkillers that they knew were potentially addictive if patients took them beyond the recommended limit of seven days.

In fact, the opioid epidemic hasn’t done much to convince major drug makers to participate in the fight to get addicts into treatment, because the truth is, there is far too much money to be made distributing these medications to local pharmacies throughout the U.S.

However, that hasn’t stopped some cities and counties from trying to force drug makers to do their part, even it means taking legal action.

The most recent example is Camden County, New Jersey, which is suing manufacturers for distributing addictive painkillers that directly led to addiction and to fatal overdoses.

What’s interesting is that Camden County isn’t just taking legal action because drug makers flooded the streets with addictive painkillers, it is also suing to compel these companies to pay the county back for the costs of dealing with the addiction problem. 

Drug Companies and the Opioid Crisis

Even the most tangential evidence shows that there is some correlation between drug companies and the opioid crisis. The question is whether there is actually some liability on the part of companies because liability opens up the opportunities for legal action.

Several years ago, claimants who were addicted to prescription painkillers sued Purdue Pharma, claiming that their addiction was a direct result of the company’s negligent practices.

The claimants said that Purdue Pharma failed to adequately warn about addiction risks on drug packaging and in promotional activities. (1)

Other similar lawsuits claimed that opioid drug makers intentionally misrepresented their products as being non-addictive, when in fact, the drug makers knew that taking these medications longer than a specific period of time could lead to addiction.

One of the weapons that claimants are using against opioid drug makers is a law that makes it illegal for companies to distribute products that are misbranded. The federal government is also suing opioid drug makers alleging that their products are negatively impacting public health due to widespread misuse.(2)

The government is also using the concept of deceptive business practices based on the idea that opioid drug makers are falsely representing their medications as being safe when they know they can lead to addiction.

The Camden County Opioid Lawsuit

The details of the Camden County opioid lawsuit are illuminating because the county is the first in the U.S. to file a racketeering lawsuit against a drug company as it relates to the distribution of opioids.

Camden County is suing Purdue Pharma under federal racketeering laws that are usually reserved for organized crime.

The suit alleges that Purdue Pharma participated in an epic scheme to deceive doctors and the public at large into believing that opioids can be prescribed for long periods of time, with little to no risk of addiction.(3)

The suit also alleges that Purdue Pharma’s fraudulent scheme resulted in billions in profits. As we covered earlier, the drug maker isn’t a stranger to lawsuits related to opioid manufacturing, but this is the first time it is being sued for racketeering practices.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma was ordered to pay a $600 million fine for intentionally misleading the public about the addictive qualities of one of its drugs.

Camden County would like a similar payout for its suit and listed the services it had to use to fight opioid overdoses from 2016 to 2017, which included:

  • 1,740 man hours responding to 941 opioid overdoses
  • 131 opioid fatalities (90 alone in 2017)
  • 312 lives saved using Naloxone (an opioid overdose antidote)

The suit also alleges that Purdue Pharma has been hiding its practice under the cloak of pain management while pushing opioid painkillers it knew were highly addictive to the point that they could cause fatal overdoses.

Camden County did not release the amount of money it has spent fighting the abuse of prescription drugs, but it is likely seeking compensation in the millions.

A successful claim could pave the way for many more counties suffering from the effects of the opioid crisis to file similar lawsuits against other drug makers.

Addiction Treatment For Abuse of Prescription Drugs

Anything that can help curb the distribution of opioids is a good thing, but the truth is that despite all their best efforts, lawmakers may find that the most effective solution is to increase access to addiction treatment for abuse of prescription drugs.

Serenity at Summit New Jersey Addiction Treatment Center in Union is only 40 minutes from New York City, and have all the services needed for people struggling with substance abuse and looking for a family style addiction treatment center. 

Please call us today at 844-432-0416 to speak to one of our behavioral counselors who can tell you all your treatment options.




What Life Is Like for People Who Abuse Prescription Drugs and Illegal Opioids

The opioid crisis is an important issue, because people who are hooked on prescription drugs, and people who are addicted to illegal opiates like heroin are dying at record rates. In fact, the devastating number of fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2016 is expected to climb when the 2017 numbers come in.

That is sobering news because healthcare experts and law enforcement officials have been willing to try innovative and bold methods to stem the tide of fatal overdoses, including expanding access to naloxone, a life-saving antidote that saved thousands of lives in 2017.

But lost in all the numbers, statistics and talk about overdoses is that there is a real human toll being exacted on people across a wide range of ages, races and economic circumstances.

The truth is that opioids don’t discriminate, and anyone can become addicted to prescription painkillers, and when that path is cut off, illegal opiates are often the next step.

So instead of talking about some of the issues triggered by opioid abuse, let’s take a slight detour and talk about some of the people who are suffering through one of the worst public health emergency crisis in U.S. history.

What It Feels Like To Have An Opioid Addiction

You don’t have to be struggling with an opioid addiction to understand how it feels to be under the compulsion of this drug, because there are plenty of first-hand accounts that can bring those horrors home to you.

One story is told by Sam Snodgrass, who started using heroin years ago but had it under control enough to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in experimental psychology and a doctorate in biopsychology.

In fact, Snodgrass became so knowledgeable about drugs that he was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arkansas.

Then one day, it all came crashing down.

Snodgrass gave in to temptation and used methadone, and for the next 20 years, he became a full-blown opioid addict. In the last 18 months of his addiction, Snodgrass became homeless and slept on the street, at shelters, and at the houses of anyone who gave him their floor for a night.

He describes opioid addiction in this way: (1)

Our craving for opioids is measured in hours. Four to five hours after our last use we begin to starve. And we crave. Everything but our need for these opioids falls away. And we focus solely on what we have to do to survive. We don’t have a choice. We really don’t.

Snodgrass goes on to talk about the overwhelming desire that opioid addicts feel to satisfy their craving:

We become desperate, and in our desperation, we do things that we know are wrong; we do things that we know are not us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t care. If you are starving, you still love. What it does mean is that we are so desperate in our starvation that we will hurt the ones we love to end that hunger.

One of the tragedies about drug addiction, in general, is that abusers rarely understand how profoundly these drugs alter the chemicals in their brain:

No one told us that these opioids cause changes in brain structure such that they become more important for our survival than food. We don’t understand this, and neither do you. And this lack of understanding can rip a family apart. It can replace love with resentments and anger. On both sides. And in this pain, in this lack of understanding, we lose each other.

Another long-term abuse of illegal opiates described addiction in this way: (2)

I just found love and peace. Heroin is a wonder drug. Heroin is better than everything else. Heroin makes me who I wish I was. Heroin makes life worth living. Heroin is better than everything else.

But pretty soon, the ugly side of the drug begins to assert itself:

Heroin builds up a tolerance fast. Heroin starts to cost more money. I need heroin to feel normal. I don’t love anymore. Now I’m sick. I can’t afford the heroin that I need. How did $10 use to get me high? Now I need $100. That guy that let me try a few lines the first time doesn’t actually deal. Oh, I need to find a real dealer? This guy is a felon and carries a gun—he can sell me the drug that lets me find love in the world. No, this isn’t working. I need to quit. To answer your question, heroin feels nice. That’s all, it just feels very nice. You can make the rest up for yourself. Attach your own half-truths to this drug that will show you the world and for a moment you will be as clever as Faust.

The good news is that the addict who shared these feelings eventually entered treatment, got on a maintenance drug, and is in recovery.

Treatment For Abuse of Prescription Drugs and Opiates

In real human terms, opioid addiction can’t be brought under control until patients seek treatment for abuse of prescription drugs and opiates.

If you are struggling with opioid abuse and you live in Massachusetts, Serenity at Summit New England Addiction Treatment Centers in Haverhill is only 45 minutes from Boston and offers a full range of treatment services that can help you get back on your feet.

Please call us today at 844-432-0416 to learn the options you have to get you on the road to recovery.