Self-Medication: The Improper Use of Drugs (How Certain Drugs Work: Addiction)
By Esther Juárez
“Since the beginning of recorded history, drugs have been used for pleasure, for the treatment of insanity, and for relief from the mundane—they are a unique characteristic of human life and society” (Regan 1). However, the use of certain legal or illegal drugs has not often been carried out accurately and in many cases has been abused. The abuse of certain drugs is determined by personal choice as a result of either psychological or bodily conditions that alter the state of mental stability of individuals. As any other type of abuse, consequences are presented after the misuse of a drug. It is important to know what the primary concept of self-medication is and how it works, what are its principal consequences, and how to prevent self-medication in deter to any type of addiction.
There is a fundamental difference between self-medical prescribing and self-medicating. According to Cynthia Kuhn, Scott Swartzwelder, and Wilkie Wilson: “A drug is any substance that changes mental state or bodily function” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson 264). Different drugs have different effects; they may be used for different reasons as well. Self-medical prescribing refers to the action of taking a medicine without any prescription for it. There are so many medicines that do not necessarily require a prescription. “A non-prescription drug−also called an over-the-counter (OTC) drug−is any drug product available to consumers without a doctor’s prescription. An OTC drug is considered safe for consumers to use if they can easily follow the directions and warnings on the label” (Jasper 3). These types of drugs do not produce big damage if used properly.
On the other hand, the term self-medicating is commonly understood as the process by which some individuals may abuse substances in attempting to use them to relieve other problems such as pain, anxiety, sleeplessness or any other symptoms, even to enhance social life or pleasure. The term self-medicating is also used to describe the abuse of several drugs including: alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, caffeine, inhalants, stimulants, steroids, hallucinogens, and antidepressants, etc. “Drug misuse refers to people who unintentionally use drugs improperly, hoping to get a therapeutic benefit from the drugs” (Colvin 3). In several cases, these drugs are used to treat undiagnosed conditions. Some of the people suffering these conditions attempt to relieve the symptoms by using these drugs, “They use drugs to reduce anxiety or suppress shyness, or they are prescribed drugs to treat serious illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. Some seek the stimulation and power they do not have in their social situations and choose drugs to help them attain this” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). Drug abuse may be used to satisfy different symptoms.
However, what can lead a person to abuse any type of drug? Is it a physical condition? A mental disorder? Most of the time, drug abusers do not know what generates drug abuse or what consequences of misuse are. Recent research has shown that the principal system affected in the body by the use of drugs is the Central Nervous System. “Nothing changes the way we feel or the way we perceive the world unless it interacts with our central nervous system (CNS). Whether we take a sip of wine, snort a line of cocaine, or see an attractive person, our CNS is the place where the action occurs” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). Drugs interact with the CNS; consequently, the CNS is affected when a person misuse a drug.
In many cases, pleasure is the principal factor that leads people to misuse drugs or medications to get that good feeling. For example: “When people drink alcohol, they feel pleasure and relaxation during the first half hour or so, often becoming talkative and socially outgoing” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). People tend to relate alcohol as the principal factor to enhance social life and relationships. As other type of drugs, analgesic drugs like opiates also increase pleasure. Heroin, morphine, and codeine are some examples of opiates. “People who inject opiates experience a rush of pleasure, and then sink into dreamy, pleasant state in which they have a little sensitivity to pain (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). The effects of opiates are strongly addictive and can be devastating when taken just once.
In other cases, anxiety leads people to misuse drugs. For example: “Nicotine is a specific kind of stimulant that increases attention, concentration, and (possibly) memory. Many people also report that nicotine has a calming or anti-anxiety effect as well” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). People who habitually smoke tobacco or any other drug, experience these stimuli. Moreover, not only nicotine can be smoked. There are any other types of drugs that can be smoked as well like marijuana. “In general, smoking marijuana first relaxes a person and elevates his mood. These effects are usually felt within a few minutes followed about a half hour later by drowsiness and sedation. Some people experience this as stimulation followed by a relaxed feeling of tranquility” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). Good sensations motive people to misuse drugs, a second, a third, and more times to experience and increase the very first feeling.
There are other types of drugs that not only deal with fulfilling the pleasure necessities and anxieties, but also improve sensations already present known as “uppers.” A good example of this could be the use of cocaine which is part of many stimulants. “Stimulants are aptly named: these drugs cause sense of energy, alertness, talkativeness, and well-being that users find pleasurable” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson).
In any other type of symptoms like pain, sleeplessness, and mental stability that are part of bodily and psychological reactions are sometimes self-medicated with sedatives (Xanax and Diazepam), inhalants, and stimulants. Those types of drugs are meant to produce a big state of relaxation that is also misunderstood as well-being. “All of the sedatives produce about the same psychological effect. First there is a sense of relaxation and reduction of anxiety−a general ‘mellow’ feeling. (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson).
There are several consecutive health consequences from drug misuse and self-medication. The brain suffers damage when it has been exposed to a long-term use of an inappropriate medication. “The brain is not only the organ that tell us who we are, what we are doing, and what we have done, but it also controls some basic and critical body functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Drugs can strongly affect these functions” (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, and Wilson). Not only brain damage is necessarily the principal consequence of the misuse of self-medication, but also bodily reactions may occur. “Addiction provides a clear example of how drugs can alter the basic functioning of the brain” (Regan 77). The inappropriate use of drugs may lead to death. Sometimes, drugs can become deadly when some of them are taken together. For example, a person suffering the toxic effects of alcohol will not benefit from mixing other types of medications. However a person using drugs to enhance social life may get in trouble more than once; moreover, relationships may be affected.
All organisms have different bodily reactions to certain drugs. These differences can determine the susceptibility to drugs from person to person. Different experiences among the side effects in short and long-term use of a drug; influence a person over its use. While this misuse may provide immediate relief for some of the symptoms such as anxiety or pain; it may alter some symptoms of several kinds of mental illnesses that are already present. The truth is that the symptoms will be still there; decreasing momentarily or increasing in a long-term way, but what really takes place is a new effect of the drug in the body known as dependency or addiction. According to the International Classification of Diseases (IDC), addiction is a “‘dependence syndrome’ that consists of a number of mental and physical symptoms of drug use, notably ‘a strong desire to take a drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities an obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state” (Karr 11).
There are ways on how prevent self-medication. “Addiction is the biggest single public and mental health problem in modern society” (Khantzian and Albanese). Lastly, publicity has had a big impact on how a person sees the act of self-medication; the truth is the use of many drugs is affecting the health of human beings. Most of the time, people is poorly informed about the consequences illegal drugs may cause. Before taking a drug, it is important to know the possible side effects and bodily reactions. Nevertheless, “[t]ry to make significant lifestyle changes that may allow you to avoid taking the medication in the first place” (Strand 208). In the process of preventing is also important to identify what is important in life, goals and expectations. “In this process you learn to take responsibility not only for yourself and your own behavior but for other people in your life” (Peele 163).
It is very important for humans to have emotional and physical maturity as they are growing. Mature perspective will lead people to identify necessities and desires. “Addiction is nearly always tied to relationships problems, to the absence of or search for intimacy and companionship. On one hand, you are most likely to turn to addictions when you are lonely and bored. On the other hand, loneliness may drive you to seek out the company of others, even if they have a negative impact on your life” (Peele 114). In case of many people, is good to select the company very carefully, avoiding any type of bad influence. It is relevant to difference between a mental necessity and a physical necessity. “Addiction is a behavior and thus clearly intended by individual person” (Schaler 65) If a person experiences anxiety, severe depression, or any other type of psychological disorders is time to get professional help. According to Deanette Devearux from the Nursing Program at Glendale Community College in the state of Arizona, “Try to find as much information as you can before you take a medicine. Exercise, have a good diet, reduce stress, meditate, use more natural substances, have sense of humor, and laugh.”
It is important that people know the consequences of self-medication before taking a drug without any prescription or medical advice for it. Self-medication may treat some symptoms momentarily, but is not able to stop the causes. It may cause complexities if any internal disease is growing inside. There is much of important information people really need to know before the use or abuse of a drug. Good drug education requires effort, understanding abilities, and responsibilities. Self-esteem and self-acceptance can deter addiction. Life is always being affected in some way because of the drug misuse that has the potential to alter self-esteem, relationships, and family reunion. It may be concluded after all; that self-medication can induce severe effects on human body. The improper use of certain drugs or self-medication can affect daily life, induce to addiction; consequently, lead to death.
Colvin, Rod. Prescription Drug Addiction: The hidden Epidemic. Omaha: Addicus Books. Nov 8, 2010. Print.
Devearux, Deanette. Personal Interview. Glendale Community College. 17 Nov. 2010.
Jasper, Margaret C. Prescription Drugs. Dobbs Ferry: Oceanas’s Legal Almanac Series. Nov 8, 2010.Print.
Karr, Justin, ed. Drug Abuse (Social Issues Firsthand) Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Dec 01, 2010. Print.
Khantzian, Edward J., and Mark J. Albanese. Understanding Addiction as Self Medication: Finding Hope Behind the Pain. Lanham: Rowwan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008. Dec 01, 2010. Print.
Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder, Wilkie Wilson; with Leigh Heather Wilson and Jeremy Foster. Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008 Dec 01, 2010. Print.
Peele, Stanton. “Resources: Identifying Strengths and weaknesses, Developing Skills to Fill the Gaps.” 7 Tools to Beat Addiction 1st ed. New York: Three Rivers Press. Dec 01, 2010. Print.
Regan, Ciaran. Intoxicating Minds: How Drugs Work. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Dec 01, 2010. Print.
Schaler, Jeffrey A. Addiction: Opposing Viewpoints. Gerdes, Louise I., ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Dec 01, 2010. Print.
Strand, Ray D., with Donna K. Wallace. “Protecting Yourself.” Death by Prescription.
Shocking Truth Behind an Overmedicated Nation. Nashville: Thomas NelsonPublishers, 2003. Nov 08, 2010. Print.