Drugs threaten to pose long term effects

The immediate effects of drugs may be temporary but their consequences are not.

Drug use can have a wide-range of harmful effects from brain damage to psychosis, some of these drugs such as heroin have seen a recent increase. Heroin had a 0.7 increase of use between 2010 and 2012 in Washington State sophomores, according to the Healthy Youth 2012 analytical report.

Quincy Jefferson, Treatment Director at the Lakeside-Milam Recovery Center, talked about what drugs have seen an increase in use within the last few years.

“There seems to be a significant increase in the use of opiates over the last few years. We initially saw teens using prescription medications such as Oxycontin or Percocet,” Jefferson said. “Most recently it has been the use of heroin, as prescription medications can at times be difficult to get or expensive to buy on the street. Other chemicals that are frequently used are alcohol, marijuana, over-the-counter medications and methamphetamine.”

Washington State legalized Marijuana in 2012. Prevention and Intervention specialist Julianne Buffelen explained how the legalization affects teens.

“Marijuana [has seen increased use] especially with the legalization of it. Our kids are really confused about the laws,” Buffelen said.  “Now that there are more family members and adults using it, it gives the message that it is okay without addressing addiction and what it does to the teenage brain. It does a lot of the same stuff that tobacco does, it puts tar in the lungs, it has more cancer causing chemicals than tobacco.”

The effect of the drug used varies depending on the drug itself and the chemistry of the user.

“For instance, some become very calm when smoking marijuana while others may become anxious and paranoid. With that in mind, there are still some common affects for most individuals. Individuals who use heroin often report experiencing an emotional numbness, or apathy towards things that may typically evoke emotion,” Jefferson said. “If an individual meets the criteria for a substance use disorder (addiction), things that were previously important to them seem to take a back seat. Their focus becomes the drug and feeding the addiction,”

The chemical affect drugs have on the brain can lead to damage to the brain. These effects can often be long term especially when applied to teenagers.

“On any brain, adult or teenage, any chemical is going to change our brain chemistry. That can lead to parts of the brain not working, permanent damage and mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, suicide and mental illnesses. Marijuana has actually been linked to schizophrenia, which is probably one of the most debilitating mental illness,” Buffelen said.

Buffelen went on to describe the effects of schizophrenia, which include hearing voices.

“[Schizophrenia is] when people hear voices in their head. If you and I were talking and there were five people behind me saying different things at the same time and a couple were paranoid. That is what it is like to be schizophrenic and that is going on in their head all the time. The adult brain does not begin to develop until around age 14. When you start putting drugs (including alcohol) into a teenage brain (an adult brain under construction) you are going to do more damage. That brain is not going to be able to fully develop the way it is supposed to. Which can have some long term affects.”

Alcohol will also have an impact on the chemistry of the brain by slowing it down along with other bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate.

“[Teens] do not realize that most of us at two drinks are at the legal limit. Two drinks are two regular beers, two five ounce glasses and a shot of liqueur. A shot of liqueur has the same amount of alcohol as one beer. If you take a 100-pound girl at one drink, she is going to be at the legal limit that is considered intoxicated. What teenagers do not realize is that they think intoxicated is when they are actually hitting alcohol poisoning: When their stumbling, words are slurred, are passing out, blacking out and motor skills are impaired,” Buffelen said.

According to Buffelen, teens do not realize when the alcohol in their system reaches the point of being poisonous.

“Alcohol is really scary because it slows down our brain to the point that we are slurring our words. That is actually a sign that somebody is reaching alcohol poisoning because that is how much it is slowing down [our neurotransmitters responsible for movement]. It is very dangerous and deadly; people die all the time from alcohol poisoning,” Buffelen said. “I hear of kids who will be at a party where someone passes out and they write on them with [a permanent marker]. When the person does not wake up that person needs an ambulance. That person needs to go to the hospital because they are unresponsive…that can be deadly.”

Addiction can have a negative impact on many aspects of life. Jefferson explains to what extent addiction can affect an individual.

“[Addicts] often begin to lie to others, discontinue relationships with those who were important to them previously and, depending on their financial situation, may also begin to steal from others. As the addiction progresses, their ability to maintain their morals becomes increasingly difficult. There can often be a great deal of denial in regards to the severity of their addiction, as there seems to be stigma regarding what an addict or alcoholic truly is,” Jefferson said.

Addicts do not always realize that they have a problem. Denial can cloud the negative consequences of drug use according to Jefferson.

“Those in denial frequently blame others, intellectualize, minimize or glamorize their use of chemicals. They have difficulty seeing the consequences that the drug is causing in their life. Because many believe that alcoholics or addicts are only people who are living on the street, many will justify their continued use by comparing themselves to others who they see as being further down the scale,” Jefferson said. “With the drug being the focal point, family relationships are often strained and individuals may struggle in school.”

Jefferson also explains how addiction will affect the individual differently in school and other portions of their life.

“It is also important to note that not every individual will experience the same losses in their life due to their addiction, for instance, one person may do poorly in school while another may overcompensate in school to avoid being caught or as a way to continue to rationalize or justify their continued use,” Jefferson said.

Drugs can also have an impact on the development of the brain lending to the possibility of addiction.

“People who start using drugs in their teen years are much more likely to get addicted because their brain is still developing. The last part of the brain to develop is [essentially] the on-off switch that says, ‘I have had one or more drinks and I am done.’ It is able to say, ‘that is enough.’ If somebody is using drugs as a teenager, that part of the brain is most likely not going to develop,” Buffelen said.

The environment of drug use can be dangerous as well, according to Jefferson.

“Physically people using chemicals are at risk. Not only is there damage to the brain and the frontal lobe that is still developing, but also being in dangerous situations,” Jefferson said. “Purchasing drugs, driving intoxicated, using needles and impaired judgment can have a profound impact on someone’s life. Use of chemicals can lead to people feeling isolated, and because of the disruption in the central nervous system, neurochemicals can also be out of balance; however, if an addict enters recovery, they give their brain a chance to begin to heal and regain homeostasis.”

Frequent drug use is not the only way to acquire long term affects, according to Buffelen, damage can occur after only one use.

“[Drug use] really is taking a chance with their life because some people can use for a long time and suddenly one day they overdose or try different drugs. It is human nature to think, ‘it is not going to happen to me, it is not a big deal.’ There are people in Western State Hospital, that did drugs once and are in there for life,” Buffelen said.