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Many people see the problems that drug abusers have as strictly a social problem.
They tend to characterize people who take drugs as morally weak or as having
criminal tendencies. They believe that drug abusers and addicts should be able
to stop taking drugs if only they were willing to change their behavior.
These common myths have stereotyped and stigmatized not only those with drug
problems but also their families, their communities, and the professionals
who work with them. Drug abusers represent a major public health problem. Drug
abuse affects many people from all walks of life. It is a problem that has
a wide-range of social consequences.
Addiction begins with drug abuse. Drug abuse occurs when an individual makes
a conscious choice to use drugs. However, "excess drug use" is not
the same as an addiction. Recent scientific research provides overwhelming
evidence that drugs interfere with normal brain function, creating powerful
feelings of pleasure. They also show that drugs have long-term effects on brain
metabolism and activity.
At some point during drug use, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug
abuse into addiction. People who are addicted to drugs suffer from a compulsive
drug craving and cannot quit by themselves. Treatment is necessary to end this
A number of approaches are used in contemporary treatment programs to help
drug abusers deal with these cravings and help avoid drug relapse. Addiction
is clearly treatable. Through treatment that is tailored to individual needs,
drug abusers can learn to control their condition and live relatively normal
Treatment can have a profound effect not only on drug abusers but on their
families, friends, and society as a whole. Treatment significantly improves
social and psychological functioning of drug abusers. This change in lifestyle
for drug abusers decreases drug-related crime /violence and reduces the spread
of some important diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Effective treatment can also dramatically
reduce the costs to society that drug abuse creates.
Understanding drug abuse also helps in understanding how to prevent drug use
in the first place. Research has shown that comprehensive prevention programs
involving the family, schools, communities, and the media are effective in
reducing drug abuse. It is necessary to keep sending the message that it is
better to not start at all than to enter rehabilitation if addiction occurs.
A tremendous opportunity exists to effectively change the ways in which the
public understands drug abuse and addiction. Overcoming misconceptions and
replacing ideology with scientific knowledge is the best hope for bridging
the "great disconnect" between the public perception and the scientific
facts about drug abuse and addiction.
The survey also found that 19.5 million people, or about 8 percent of the
population over age 12, reported current use of illicit drugs. Marijuana (including
hashish) was the most commonly used drug of abuse in 2002. 14.6 million Americans
used marijuana during the previous year. The next most popular form of drug
abuse was the non-medical use of prescription drugs (6.2 million people). Of
these, an estimated 4.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers, 1.8 used
anti-anxiety medications, 1.2 million used stimulants, and 250,000 used sedatives.
Most Fail to Get Treatment
SAMHSA officials estimated that 7.7 million people needed treatment for a
drug problem last year. Yet they found that only 1.4 million received treatment
for drug abuse or dependence at a treatment facility during the year prior
to the survey.
Of the 6.3 million people who needed treatment for drug-related problems but
did not receive it, only about 362,000 reportedly felt they even needed such
treatment the survey showed. This number included 88,000 people who said they
tried but were unable to get treatment.
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