Substance Abuse: Effects on humans and the environment

Author: Anya Raghuvanshi

Abstract: Substance abuse is the improper usage or treatment of drugs and alcohol, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit or escape reality. It’s a pattern of harmful use of substances for mood-altering. The blog will be highlighting the adverse effects of substance abuse and will talk about the methods to quit. we will go in detail of the things that come under substance and why teenagers are the ones getting most influenced to do it. In addition, there are numerous success stories of people who have restored family relationships by successful rehabilitation methods which can be taken as a source of inspiration and learning how these drugs ruin relationships and lives. With the injurious effects to our body and mind it also is severely damaging the environment causing water loss and deforestation every single day.

Keywords: Substance, Adolescents, Alcohol, Drugs, Addiction, Environment.

Introduction

None of our parents ever teach us to do drugs or alcohol and drink away our troubles of life, but why are we still vulnerable to it anyway?

We often see our friends and connections walking to the bar after the final exams of college to relieve the stress or just for a party, but we fail to notice that even a “last time” can lead to addiction. It results in void relationships, irresponsible parenting as well as a hollow feeling within our lives because once a substance is done, it will leave you hungry and agitated for more.

Sometimes a person can ever lose control and be a victim of overdose thus ruining the lives of their close ones, especially children. According to WHO reports alcohol kills 2.7L people every year in India by either liver failures, cancers, or road accidents due to driving under influence.

According to the data by the National Crimes Records Bureau, nearly 2,300 people between the age group of 30-45 years died due to drug overdose from 2017-19 [1] Imagine the number of deaths caused by drug abuse that went unreported.

What is Substance?

Substances are defined as any psychoactive compound with the potential to cause health and social problems, including addiction.

These substances may be:

a) legal (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, and nicotine);

b) Illegal (e.g., heroin, LSD, and cocaine);

c)or controlled for use by licensed prescribers for medical purposes such as hydrocodone or oxycodone (e.g., Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Lortab), and as well as substances which are not drugs at all.

To be clear, someone can use substances and not be addicted or even have a substance use disorder, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)[2]

Permanent body effects by substance abuse

If we talk about harsh drugs like cocaine, it causes brain age unnaturally fast. Addicted users lose twice the brain volume each year which manifests the usual signs of old age, and declining cognitive abilities. Cocaine also raises blood pressure levels, since the heart has to work more than normal.

Repeated usage causes bleeding from the lungs, asthma, regular chest pain, persistent cough, and permanent tissue death of nasal linings and sinuses. With increasing time, the walls of blood vessels become weak, and the heart muscle can become damaged from the mania, leading to aneurysms, heart attacks, and death.

Alcohol is, of course, legal for adults over the age of 21 in the United States, and there is nothing “wrong” with having a couple of drinks with friends or unwinding in an occasion. But, it doesn’t take much alcohol to reach a harmful level of drinking, and that is when alcohol use can turn into alcohol abuse. Drinking five or more drinks for men (four for women) in any one sitting is considered binge drinking, which can be harmful to your physical and mental health in many different ways.[3]

Your daily cup of morning coffee is also a drug. Over-Consumption of caffeine can cause severe psychiatric syndromes including sleep and anxiety disorders. It can also cause hallucinations, vomiting, rapid breathing, and shock.

Let’s not even start with Cigarettes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India accounts for 12% of the world’s smokers. More than 10 lakh die each year due to tobacco in India. COVID-19 deaths numbers are still behind.

Substance abuse can be tethered with physical and mental trauma. The use of drugs such as cocaine is declining after staunch security stratagem at ports, airports and highway check posts, thus, reducing its transit across several regions concerning countries and/or states. But the use of drugs such as heroin, crystal methamphetamine, etc. has appreciated at a concerning rate over recent years. This has created an alarming toll on the health system, rehabilitation system and society as well, especially affecting the teenage society.

Children and teens now encounter substance abuse through the consumption of prescription medicine as they are easily and readily available. A survey done by the National Household Survey in 2014, has indicated that more than 16% of the responders of the survey in the United States have been subject to illicit usage of drugs in their early life, around 22% of the responders, above the age group of 18 were subject to alcoholism and over 20% have been subject to smoking, leaving out the addiction caused by passive smoking.

Other substances that are commonly abused also include anabolic steroids which consist of testosterone, which is a natural male hormone. They are a form of steroids that enhances performance usually used by athletes. It is also analogous to other mental illnesses such as loss of confidence and competence, aggression, and increasing dependence. Club drugs such as ecstasy, E pills, Adam are stimulants and hallucinogen that improves mood and maintain energy, generally used for all night long dancing parties. This may lead to seizure epilepsy and long-term use may even cause the brain function to keep track of time, emotional pain and distress, memory loss, and even sleep disturbances.

Substance abuse not only ruins you physically but mentally as well

People aging between 16-40 are the most vulnerable to substance abuse because as we grow up, life appears to get tougher with legal issues, financial issues, toxic relationships with family, negligent parenting, failures in academics, social unacceptance, and many others. And instead of seeking professional help, meditating, working harder, or finding positive ways to tackle a particular situation in life, it is easier to blur them, make your heart beat faster causing irregular blood flow and expose oneself to dangerous situations which cause an adrenaline rush.

Using a drug regularly can lead to tolerance which means your body becomes used to the drug and needs increasingly larger doses to achieve the same effect.

Regular use can also lead to dependence where you desperately need the drug to feel good and function normally. Dependence can be physical, psychological, or both.

Being addicted/hooked means continuing to use a drug even though you’re aware of the life-threatening consequences. Addiction can be:

  • physical — your body craves the drugs.
  • mental — your mind needs the drug in order to run away from your problems or relax
  • social — you feel you need the drug in order to fit in, enjoy social events, or  be able to talk to people

If you stop taking a drug or try to reduce the amount you’re taking you may experience withdrawal symptoms which may include insomnia, depression, anxiety attacks, paranoia, agitation, and violent behavior. Some people even experience shortness of breath, which is mainly psychological.

Not to mention the after-effects of such actions which can include headaches, severe dehydration, poisoning, irritation and even legal actions if caught thus, completely ruining the academic, professional and, personal life.

How to prevent or quit substance abuse?

Familial relations and history are vital parameters to be studied to elucidate self about the causes of substance abuse, it may include chronic familial bad relations, trauma, lack of parental nurturing and parental drug abuse. ADHD, mood disorders, anti-social personality disorders, inappropriately shy behavior, poor school performance, and even grim confidante group.

The close people to the abuser may first notice the effects of substance abuse. Recognition in the early stages may increase the chances of recovery from the dark days. Symptoms may include:

  1. Giving up sports or extra-curricular activities
  2. Declining performance
  3. Irritable and aggressiveness
  4. Suicidal, forgetfulness, memory loss
  5. Mood swings
  6. Social confinement
  7. Unconcerned about others
  8. Red eyes, slurred speech
  9. Blackouts

Emergency help shall be sought when there are symptoms of mild tremors, jaundice, abdominal swelling and inflammation, cough, fever, depression, and numbness. A doctor may advise certain medications that will gradually reduce the withdrawal effects and manage medical complications that have arisen from continuous and severe substance abuse.

The genesis of substance abuse can be from childhood and teenage years. It can be prevented by suo moto cognizance on behalf of schools or any Institutions they are involved with. They should be made aware of the effects and the symptoms of substance abuse so that they can help themselves and others around them. Most importantly, they can conduct programs that will increase the communication of the children with their guardians and/or parents, to have stronger familial relations. Reducing and strict monitoring of such substances can limit the scope of abuse, thus in turn huge reduction in drug traffickers and dealers. The percentage of medicinal abuse has been substantially reduced by making prescriptions mandatory and by even setting a limit of the age of the consumers, unless an extraordinary situation arises. The demand reduction has been brought under the ambit of several international substance control conventions and pacts signed by the mutual consensus of the countries. Interventions by close friends and family have also been proved to be effective.

Harmful Environmental Effects of Substance manufacturing

So apart from the adverse effects the drugs do physically and mentally on a human being, the environment also suffers catastrophic impacts that range from deforestation to land sinking.

1) Hydrological stress

Cannabis/Marijuana is an extremely thirsty plant that needs twice the amount of water needed for tomatoes. Large cultivation areas require 22litres of water per day per plant which intensifies the water shortage problems in the world.  Disposal of cocaine or the chemical compounds used in the production raises serious concerns for the aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity of species.

2) Carbon Footprint

According to a report by the University of California, Davis, approximately 16.5 Tons of carbon dioxide are emitted in the United States as the result of greenhouse cannabis cultivation within a single year which is equivalent to emissions of 30 lakh cars.

4) Chemical waste from MDMA and ecstasy

From the “happy pill” to power lines, these party drugs have grown popular in these years, but it has its repercussions as well. Producing 1kg of pure MDMA results in 10 kg of toxic waste, or 30kgs in the case of amphetamines. This includes sodium hydroxide, HCl acids, and acetone. The toxic waste is sometimes even dumped in containers that are used to collect cow dung that is spread on crops.

4) Habitat destruction

Unregulated illegal fertilizers and pesticide usage in prohibited crop growth result in direct poisoning of wildlife and indirect toxification of water bodies. Activities like “slash and burn” and “clearcutting” is used why clearing areas for the cultivation of coca plants and marijuana. 70,000 sq.km of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has been a result of coca plantation in the 20th century and from 2001-2013, over 290,000 hectares of forests have been lost due to the manufacturing of cocaine.

The production of these drugs has an effect that goes beyond the ecosystem level, as plantation and cultivation of these further complicate the impact of greenhouse gases and climate change because when the trees are cut down in a forest not only are they unable to continue seizing the carbon but the CO2 that they have accumulated for decades is released into the atmosphere.

Conclusion:

No wonder, the abuse and consumption of drugs and, illegal substances cause permanent effects on the human body but it has catastrophically damaged the ecosystems as well. Just for some hours of relaxing, forgetting out problems and having fun is causing thousands of trees to cut every single day. The count of cancer-related issues is rising with people realizing too late that they could’ve saved themselves let alone the environment and biodiversity. Substance abuse of all kinds, whether illegal or legal wreck the lives of youth as well as adults both psychologically and physiologically. But the prevention of our lives in addition to the environment is still possible if we seek professional help for people needing rehabilitation, and the lesser the users become, the cultivation and manufacturing will also reduce. One should remember to find permanent solutions to their life problems instead of sticking to temporary run-away which not only affects you but the diversity around you.


[1]  https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/drug-overdose-over-2300-people-died-from-2017-19-highest-fatalities-in-30-45-year-age-group/story/431234.html

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5525418/

[3] https://www.verywellmind.com/substance-use-4014640

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