Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation

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    Drug addiction is defined by the English 2016 Wiktionary as Dependency on drugs, especially which are illegal or improperly procured .When we hear about drug abuse and/or rehabilitation, what comes to mind?

    Do we get this stigmatized view that drug abusers are immoral, the bane of the society, and people without proper parental guidance? Do we think of them as what they are- people who have veered off the right path and need help, or do we look down our noses at them and scoff in disgust? These and many more questions are begging to be treated with utmost priority.
    Rehabilitation, also called rehab, is defined by Wikipedia as something that describes specialized healthcare that is dedicated to improving, restoring, or maintaining physical strength, cognition and mobility with maximum results. The medical or psychotherapeutic treatment on dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs and street drugs is known as drug rehabilitation.


    Image credit: Google Images
    In mid-2015, the news came of the death of the veteran singer Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown. Being an ardent fan of the late mother, to say that I was stunned would be putting it mildly. It later turned out that she died in a similar circumstance as her mother.

    Her cause of death was ruled as ‘cardiac arrest induced by immersion and undetermined intoxication, with cannabis and alcohol found in the body, along with a prescription medication used for anxiety and/ or sedation’.

    She was just twenty two.

    What makes a person to get ‘hooked’ on drugs?
    In what ways can loved ones help such person to break free?
    Why is there so much stigma and this hush-hush attitude towards it?
    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.

    It is considered a brain disease, since drugs influence the workings of the brain. Therefore, the harmful behaviour exhibited by people who abuse drugs is an indication of long-lasting brain changes.
    People take drugs for a variety of reasons. It could be as a way of coping with stress, or to chemically enhance performance (a friend of mine once told me that marijuana helps him study better), or even out of sheer curiosity (the bandwagon theory).

    However, no single factor independently determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs or not. Other factors include physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs and parental guidance- or the lack thereof.
    Some commonly abused drugs are listed below.

    Alcohol: yes, most people do not think of alcohol in terms of drug abuse but its misuse is prevalent in our society today. Its effects vary among individuals. While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem, drinking too much of it has a myriad of consequences, and increases the body’s chances of being prone to a variety of illnesses.
    Cocaine: this goes by street names such as Blow, Coke, Candy, Snow and Toot. Some of its effects include psychosis, paranoia, stroke, seizure, heart attack, insomnia, and increased blood pressure and anxiety.
    Hallucinogens: as the name implies, these drugs cause profound distortions in a person’s conception of reality. They include PCP, Ketamine and Salvia.
    Heroin: it is opium made from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Possible effects of this drug include restlessness, diarrhoea, coma and death.
    Marijuana: also known as Cannabis, this drug is made from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. Its street names include Dope, Grass, Herb, Joint, Hash, Weed and Pot. Some of its long term effects are mental health problems, frequent respiratory infections, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
    Methamphetamine: this is an extremely addictive stimulant. Its street names include Crank, Meth, Ice, Fire Crystal and Glass. Hallucinations, Violent Behaviour and Severe Dental Problems are some of its long term effects.
    However, some drugs have a higher risk and cause dependency more quickly than others.
    So, how do we identify drug abuse?
    One sign is a failure to stop using the drug, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not readily available. Also, when a person is addicted to drugs, they exhibit poor judgement, and are thus prone to risky behaviours such as stealing, lying, engaging in unsafe sexual activity, selling drugs, or crimes that could lead to incarceration.

    Financial trouble is another thing to watch out for, negligence of responsibilities is another. Cultivating unhealthy friendships and isolation are other behavioural changes to watch for.


    Image credit: Marvin and company

    How does rehabilitation work?
    When some people struggle with an addiction, they usually are in a constant state of denial. Others may be reluctant to enter treatment due to lack of support, cost, or fear of stigmatization.

    There are a few rehabilitation methods, and the one to go for depends on the individual and how advanced the drug addiction is. The levels of intensity of the various programs vary; however, most include therapeutic sessions not different from inpatient or residential programs. Rehab methods include detoxification, medical management (if appropriate), group therapy, individual therapy, relapse prevention education and on-going support after treatment.

    What we can do
    Here in Sub-Saharan Africa, this issue of rehabilitation is not taken with the seriousness it deserves, and this is quite unfortunate. Some of us treat it with levity and write off those who fall prey to this drug addiction. We can and should do better- better awareness, better sensitization, and much better choices. All hands should be on deck to fight this menace and ultimately make our universe a more habitable entity.

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