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Ritman University Serves Caveat on Drug Abuse

Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene is stepping up campaigns against drug and substance abuse to dissuade would-be addicts. An information session, facilitated by Transformations, a drug & alcohol abuse advocacy group, warned undergraduates to shun substance abuse because negative effects always outweigh perceived benefits of illicit drug-taking.

Wilfred Obaalologhi, a member of the National Youth Service Corps who serves at Ritman University, while speaking on “Understanding Drug & Substance Abuse: The Virus Within”, defined drug/substance abuse as “the deliberate use of medically useful drugs which have the capacity to alter mood and behaviour without the benefit of a prescription”. Cocaine, tramadol, Indian hemp and alcohol were cited as some of the commonly abused drugs which have profound impact on neurochemical balance in the brain and directly affect how one feels and acts.

The pharmacologist stated that substance abuse is characterized by Withdrawal Syndrome, which entails behavioural, physiological and cognitive symptoms occurring when blood or tissue concentration of substance abruptly decline. He stressed that frequent use of a dangerous drug results in Drug Dependency – a state of psychological or physical reliance or dependence on that drug – the consequence being an altered state of the brain, mental illness and possible death. He explained that dependence is characterized by an overpowering desire or compulsion to continue taking the drug, desperation to obtain it by any means, and physical disturbance when drug intake is stopped.

Elucidating on commonly abused drugs, Wilfred spoke of Depressants, which suppress vital body functions – especially those of the brain or central nervous system – resulting in impairment of judgment, hearing, speech and muscular coordination. They also dull the mind, slow down body reactions and could cause accidental deaths or suicides. Examples include Opiates (morphine, tramadol); Sedative-Hypnotics – Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines (Valium), Tranquilizer; Inhalants; and Alcohol. Also, there are the Stimulants which produce increased mental alertness, wakefulness, reduced hunger, and provide a feeling of well-being. They include: cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine. Hallucinogens make the user to experience delusions and hallucinations. They consist of drugs which affect sensation, thinking, self-awareness and emotion. An example is Marijuana.

Addiction was defined as a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. Drug addiction, he said, is a chronic disease causing compulsive or uncontrollable drug use despite harmful consequences. It is occasioned by changes in the brain which could kindle harmful behaviour. Brain areas affected by drug abuse include the Brain Stem which controls basic functions critical to life such as heart rate, breathing, and sleeping; the Limbic System containing the brain’s reward circuit, which links together a number of brain structures that control and regulate our ability to feel pleasure; and the Cerebral Cortex divided into areas that control specific functions. Different areas process information from our senses, enabling us to see, feel, hear, and taste. The front part of the cortex, the frontal cortex or forebrain, is the thinking centre of the brain. All drugs of abuse directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine.

Wilfred explained that our brains are wired to ensure that we repeat life-sustaining activities by associating those activities with pleasure or reward. Whenever this reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without thinking about it. Because drugs of abuse stimulate the same circuit, people learn to abuse drugs in the same way. When some drugs of abuse are taken, they can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards 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.

Signs and symptoms of use and dependence on drugs include: drowsiness, slurred speech, Lack of coordination, clumsiness, dizziness, memory impairment, confusion, depression, contracted pupils, slowed breathing and decreased blood pressure as well as seeming drunkenness. Others include euphoria, decreased appetite, sleeplessness, rapid speech, paranoia, insomnia, weight loss, increased heart rate/blood pressure, dilated pupils, irritability, restlessness, nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose in users who snort drugs.

To identify a Marijuana abuser, participants were told to look out for serious mental changes (psychoses) like insanity, suicidal, and or homicidal tendencies, bloodshot eyes, altered sense of time/disorientation, forgetfulness or inability to think, and impaired concentration. The long term effect of Marijuana abuse would be “Marijuana Burn out” – dullness, slow movement, inattentiveness, as well as unawareness of surroundings.

Depressants – such as tramadol, opiates, Benzodiazepines – when used as prescribed by a doctor can help people feel calm, reduce pain and angry feelings. Larger doses cause confusion, slurred speech, lack of coordination, and tremors. Very large doses could make a person to stop breathing or die. The presenter warned that depressants and alcohol should never be mixed because such combination greatly increases the risk of overdose and death.

Alcohol first acts as a stimulant, and then it makes people feel relaxed and a bit sleepy. High doses of alcohol seriously affect judgment and coordination. Drinkers may have slurred speech, confusion, depression, short-term memory loss, and slow reaction times. Large volumes of alcohol drunk in a short period of time may cause alcohol poisoning. Teens who use alcohol can become psychologically dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress. Their bodies may demand more and more to achieve the same kind of high experienced in the beginning. Withdrawal from alcohol can be painful and even life-threatening. Symptoms range from shaking, sweating, nausea, anxiety, and depression to hallucinations, fever, and convulsions.

Heroin is injected, smoked, or inhaled. It gives a burst of euphoric (high) feelings, especially if injected. This high is often followed by drowsiness, nausea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. Users feel the need to take more heroin as soon as possible just to feel good again. With long-term use, heroin ravages the body. It is associated with chronic constipation, dry skin, scarred veins, and breathing problems. Users who inject heroin often have collapsed veins and put themselves at risk of getting deadly infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B or C, and bacterial endocarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart) if they share needles with other users. Heroin is extremely addictive and easy to overdose on (which can cause death). Withdrawal is intense and symptoms include insomnia, vomiting, and muscle pain.

Cocaine is inhaled through the nose or injected. Cocaine works as a stimulant that rocks the central nervous system, giving users a quick, intense feeling of power and energy. Snorting highs last between 15 and 30 minutes; smoking highs last between 5 and 10 minutes. Injecting cocaine can give Hepatitis or AIDS if needles are shared with other users. Snorting can also make a hole inside the lining of one’s nose. First-time users could stop breathing or have fatal heart attacks. Using either of these drugs even once can kill. Cocaine is highly addictive: one use alone can create both physical and psychological cravings that make it very difficult for users to stop.

Nicotine is typically smoked in cigarettes or cigars. Some people put a pinch of tobacco (called chewing or smokeless tobacco) into their mouths and absorb nicotine through the lining of their mouths. Physical effects include rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, and a greater likelihood of colds and flu. Nicotine users have an increased risk of lung and heart disease as well as stroke. Smokers also have bad breath and yellowed teeth. Chewers of tobacco may suffer from cancers of the mouth and neck. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, anger, restlessness, and insomnia. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine, which makes it extremely difficult to quit. Those who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time breaking the habit.

Methamphetamine and Amphetamine can be swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked. Users feel a euphoric rush from these drugs, particularly if it is smoked or shot up. But they can develop tolerance quickly — and will use more methamphetamine for longer periods of time, resulting in sleeplessness, paranoia, and hallucinations. Users sometimes have intense delusions such as believing that there are insects crawling under their skin. Prolonged use may result in violent, aggressive behaviour, psychosis, and brain damage.

Marijuana is often called a gateway drug because frequent use can lead to the use of stronger drugs. Marijuana is usually smoked. Some people mix it into foods or brew it as a tea. Marijuana can affect mood and coordination. Users may experience mood swings that range from stimulated or happy to drowsy or depressed. Its use also elevates heart rate and blood pressure. Some people get red eyes and feel very sleepy or hungry. The drug can make some people paranoid or cause them to hallucinate. Marijuana is as tough on the lungs as cigarettes — steady smokers suffer coughs, wheezing, and frequent colds. Youths who use marijuana can become psychologically dependent on it. In addition, their bodies may demand more and more marijuana to achieve the same kind of high experienced in the beginning.

Apart from these physical effects, psychological effects of drug addiction were discussed. They included: deterioration of personality with impaired emotional maturation; impairment of adequate mental function, Loss of drive and ambition development of psychosis and depression; loss of interest to study; laziness and lethargy; boredom and restlessness; irritability, rebellious attitude; withdrawal and forgetfulness.

Mentally, drug addiction adversely affects the Central Nervous System (CNS): regular use or injection of large doses reduces activity of the brain and depresses the CNS. The drug dependant then manifests changes in his mind and behaviour that are undesirable. Also, Deterioration of the mind happens. The drug dependant abruptly loses interest and motivation in the pursuit of achievement and constructive goals.

The corps member offered ways to be free from drug addiction such as: Detoxification, followed by residual or outpatient program; psychotherapy on reality orientation focusing on coping without use of the drug; behavioral counseling; plus evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. He said a few days of drug-taking would not do, rather, most patients need long-term or repeated care to stop substance usage completely and recover their lives.

Edidiong Esara 18/07/18

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