Illegal or illicit drug use is an all-too-common problem that affects not only teens but people of all ages. Despite the fact that it is against the law to use marijuana, cocaine, and other similar drugs, people start using drugs as a way to have fun, escape problems, or fit in. In most cases, they do not intend to become addicted to the substances that they are using. In fact, in some cases, they may feel that there is little risk when using certain types of substances, such as prescription drugs. Yet even prescription drugs can be abused and become a source of addiction. Unfortunately, for some people, the illegal use of drugs can become a problem that is not only difficult to break but also carries long-term negative consequences.

The Dangers of Drug Addiction

Parents, educators, and doctors often talk about the dangers that are associated with drugs and drug addiction. Detailed specifics of these dangers depend on the type of drug, what additional substances may have been added to it, and how the drug is taken into the body. The general dangers that are associated with drug addiction, however, are easy to outline, as many of them represent the same basic threats. Drug addiction is dangerous to one’s health because it can make the addict more susceptible to illness and disease. A person suffering from an addiction may be more prone to accidents that may result in injury and even death. Addiction can lead to interactions with people who are dangerous and situations that can lead to violence or homicide. Pregnant teens, or anyone who is pregnant and addicted to drugs, put their babies in danger and may have a miscarriage or deliver prematurely. It even puts one’s freedom in danger due to violating the law; addicts may even turn to selling the drugs, or they may become violent themselves and harm others.

The Phases of Addiction

The stages of addiction are often broken into three or four phases depending on the source. Often, teenagers and younger kids will move through these stages at a pace that is faster than for people who are older. When broken into four stages, the first phase that leads to addiction is experimentation. This phase is exactly what it sounds like. A person may be encouraged to experiment and try drugs given to them by their peers or to rebel against the rules set by parents. The second phase is regular use. The person who has entered this phase begins to use the drug more frequently, and it begins to affect relationships with friends and family. During this time, the teen may begin to associate with people who also use drugs or who may be a source of them. Problem use is the third phase, and it involves more noticeable changes in mood, personality, and behavior. The user may start to miss school and even begin to steal for money. The final phase is the addiction stage. When a person becomes addicted, they cannot function without using and will do anything for the drug. They often deny that there is a problem, and any legal problems and illegal behaviors worsen. Suicidal thoughts may also accompany addiction.

When the stages are broken into three stages, it condenses the four stages down to acute drug effect, transition to addiction, and end-stage addiction. The acute drug effect stage is the earliest phase, when the effect of the drug is new and rewarding. A person in the transition phase is starting to use the drug more often than a recreational user. This is the phase where one begins to depend on it more. End-stage addiction is addiction. The user must have it despite the fact that the pleasure from taking it is less acute.

The Health Risks of Drug Addiction

The exact health risks caused by drug addiction are determined by the specific substance that is the source of the problem. There are certain health-related risks, however, that are commonly associated with addiction. These health problems include heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and stroke. Because drugs can hinder one’s inhibitions and suspend the ability to make good judgment calls, addicts are more likely to do things that they would not under normal circumstances. Engaging in unprotected sex is a behavior caused by poor judgment, for example, and it can result in HIV or AIDS. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are also associated risks and are often caused by sharing needles.

Long-Term Effects on the Brain

Over time, drugs change the way that the brain works by altering its neurons and circuits. These changes are particularly damaging to the teenage brain, which is still developing. Long-term effects include an impairment in learning, memory, and, as previously noted, the ability to make good decisions. Impulse control is another area that is impacted by drugs and involves changes that can last for the rest of a teen’s life. In addition, drugs may condition the brain so that it associates certain things with drug use. When this happens, intense cravings are triggered.

Losing Yourself and Relationships

Socializing and building relationships are an important part of being a teenager. An addiction to drugs typically hinders this from happening in several ways. Addiction may cause a person to withdraw from social and other activities with friends who do not take or approve of drugs. Some drugs may cause people to say and do things that longtime friends, girlfriends, or boyfriends may find disagreeable or offensive, causing the potential loss of important relationships. They may become argumentative, rebellious, and disrespectful toward parents and other relatives, which can cause a strain within families.

Teens on drugs may also lose out on the things that would normally define who they are. This includes losing interest in hobbies that they once enjoyed and looked forward to. The addiction may cause them to be dropped from group activities that were important to them, such as sports, for example. People who are working may lose their jobs because they miss work or due to their behavior when they are there. One may even begin to act in a way that is in conflict with their normal values and beliefs.