Our community accepts, and in some cases values, drug use. Alcohol is a central part of many people’s lives. Medicinal drugs are widely used and vital to the health of our community. They are sometimes misused. Illicit drugs are currently used for their psychoactive properties, but potentially some could be used for medicinal purposes (for example, cannabis and heroin).
Defining some drugs as ‘illegal’ and ‘demonising’ the users has not eliminated their use. Some users suffer serious health or other problems as a result of their drug use.
Psychoactive drugs will cause changes to consciousness by changing the biochemistry of the body. Though psychoactive drugs are considered a problem in many societies, they are used in almost every society, though not necessarily in a way that causes harm or distress. Many societies intentionally use drugs in rituals or for recreation, yes, such drugs are so much a part of our lives that many of us use them without realising that we are altering our biochemistry and affecting our consciousness.
Tobacco and caffeine are stimulants that heighten out alertness, energy and mood. Tobacco is also a major cause of death, and caffeine increases can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and high blood pressure. Alcohol and many widely prescribed tranquillisers are depressants, reducing our anxiety but also slowing our reactions and leading to possible psychological problems, as well as some potentially fatal physical reactions.
There is some evidence that problematic and harmful drug use most often occurs where people are vulnerable or lack self-esteem, such as at times when they are experiencing a crisis or traumatic event. The illegal status of the drugs and the stigma attached to users further entrenches their marginalisation. Provision of information, support and treatment is made more difficult in these circumstances.
There are potentially serious health consequences that arise from misuse of illicit drugs. The level and nature of the consequences varies between drugs and is, to some degree, dependent upon the circumstances of their use. Many people who use illicit drugs will be polydrug users/abusers – that is, using more than one drug at any given time. Polydrug abuse poses serious health problems as the effects of drugs are sometimes synergistic, that is, the effects of each interact to produce an especially strong reaction.
People who go through traumatic experiences often have symptoms and problems afterwards. How serious the symptoms and problems depend on many things, including a person’s life experiences before the trauma, a person’s own natural ability to cope with stress, how serious the trauma was, and what kinds of help and support a person gets from family, friends, and professionals immediately following the trauma.
Because most trauma survivors don’t know how trauma usually affects people, they often have trouble understanding what is happening to them. They may think it is their fault that the trauma happened, that they are going crazy, or that there is something wrong with them because other people who were there don’t seem to have the same problems. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to make them feel better. They may turn away from friends and family who don’t seem to understand. They may not know what they can do to get better.