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Drug and Alcohol Assistance Guide

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Alcohol and other drugs are a major and costly problem in the United States. They affect both children and adults, whether it is the person taking the substance or the family and friends who are affected by it. When it comes to alcohol, 15 percent of adults in the United States are binge drinkers. This type of drinking involves consuming four or more drinks, depending on one's gender, within approximately two hours. Binge drinking is often associated with alcohol abuse. It is more common in Caucasians, people who earn $75,000 or more annually, and people who are between the ages of 18 and 34. It costs the United States $223.5 billion a year in workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, criminal justice, and alcohol-related car accidents. It also has a large effect on youth as well. In a 2009 study, it was shown that 42 percent of teens drank alcohol, with 24 percent engaging in binge drinking, and 10 percent driving after consuming alcohol. Other studies showed that as high as 72 percent of high school seniors had at some point tried alcohol.

Despite these numbers, recent studies have shown that alcohol use has been on the decline, while drug usage is on the rise, particularly marijuana. In 2011, 50 percent of the 12 graders in the United States had tried some form of illegal drug. A 2010 study found that in general, 22.6 million people used illegal drugs. The age group with the highest level of drug usage was people who were 18 to 25 years old.

Alcohol Use

In today's society, alcohol is an acceptable drug that is a common part of socializing and relaxing. Despite its legal status however, there are certain restrictions and laws surrounding its use. For example, a person must be over the age of 21 before he or she can buy or consume an alcoholic beverage. Driving under alcohol's influence, regardless of one's age, is also against the law. When consumed in excessive amounts, alcohol can cause inebriation and result in abuse and eventual addiction. Alcohol abuse and addiction leads to a number of problems that can be lethal to the drinker and those around him or her. It can affect relationships, cause violent reactions, affect one's ability to work, slow down reflexes, reduce inhibitions, and create confusion. In pregnant women, it can cause birth defects and disorders. Other problems that develop as a result of alcohol dependence include liver disease, cancer, and an elevated risk of sexually transmitted disease.

Education is one of the best defenses against alcohol abuse. Adults who are aware of a family history of alcoholism or who have a history of binge drinking may choose to keep alcohol out of the home and speak with their medical care provider about their concerns. They may also avoid interacting with people who drink heavily or stay away from places and situations that encourage drinking. Because roughly 20 percent of teens abuse alcohol and 7 percent are alcoholics, it is equally as important that parents take preventative measures to keep their children from drinking. Parents should have a strong no drinking policy and have regular sit down discussions with their children to explain the dangers of alcohol use. This includes the possible consequences of drinking, such as accidents involving drinking and driving. Even schools have an important role in the prevention of alcohol abuse, and may have educational programs to help teach students the dangers of alcohol.

The treatment of alcoholism and abuse involves intervention and support from family and friends, and in some cases, medical treatment. Rehab may be necessary for people who are alcoholics and need help, particularly through withdrawal. Group, family, and individual therapy are also ways to treat alcohol abuse and addiction. Therapy will help abusers and addicts to stay clear of alcohol, by helping them to handle their stress and problems without the use of alcohol. Self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are also reliable methods of continued treatment. Groups such as Al-Anon are available for family members or loved ones to help them cope with the effects of their loved one's alcoholism.


Drug Use and Addiction

Drug usage can affect people of any age or economic background. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines are common illegal drugs that people use and develop addictions to. As with alcohol, illegal drug use can cause problems in people's daily interactions with others, including work, school, and relationships. It may also cause a number of health and mental disorders and cause people to commit other crimes in addition to taking the drug. Teens often experiment with drugs as a result of peer pressure, anxiety, or a lack of parental involvement.

Preventive measures vary according to age. When it comes to adults, they must make a conscious decision to stay away from drugs. This means socializing with people who do not use them and won't encourage their use. If afraid that they are susceptible to a drug problem, a person may speak with their doctor who can help them seek treatment. When it comes to children and teens, parents and schools play a big part in prevention. Parents should talk with their children about drug use in an open and honest way. They should listen to what their children have to say without anger or judgment. A strong relationship in which children feel they can talk to their parents and that their parents understand and are there for them is one of the best ways to prevent drug use.

Drug addiction may be treated in several ways. Often the path to treatment will begin with intervention from family and loved ones as the addict may not feel that he or she has a problem. Treatment programs are available on an inpatient or an outpatient basis. These programs help addicts to get on the path of recovery and involve individual or group therapy. Some people may need to go through detoxification at a medical treatment center to help them through withdrawal. In some cases, medications are used as a part of the treatment. Counseling and self-help groups are also methods of treating and staying off of drugs.


Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs can legally be found in nearly every home. These are drugs that are given to a specific individual by his or her doctor expressly for the treatment of a medical condition. Many of these drugs are narcotics, but when the person they are prescribed to uses them under the parameters given by the prescribing doctor they are safe to take. Because they are given by a physician, there are many people who do not consider them to be as harmful as drugs that are sold and purchased illegally. As a result the abuse of prescription medications is on the rise, overtaking other forms of abuse in some cases. The number of people using prescription drugs in an illegal manner in the United States is greater than 15 million. This number is higher than the number of people who are addicted to other, illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

Depressants, stimulants and opioids are the most common types of prescribed medications that are abused. Depressants, such as sleep medications, often give the user a feeling of well-being; they have less anxiety and will feel drowsy or sedated. Low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and even death are potential consequences to one's health when these drugs are abused. Opioids are pain killers such as Codeine and Vicodin. People illegally use these types of drugs for the sense of euphoria, or extreme joy and lightheartedness that it gives them. Stimulants, such as Ritalin, are also commonly abused for the energy rush, excitement or exhilaration that they provide. Depending on the medication, abusers may chew, snort or melt and inject them in order to get their high.

The abuse of prescription drugs is illegal. This means whenever a person shares medication, uses it for recreational or other purposes than what it was prescribed for, or steals prescription medication from another person's medicine cabinet, they are committing a crime that is no different from using regular street drugs. Parents, spouses and other loved ones can help prevent or stop this type of abuse in several ways. Most importantly, they should be aware of what is in their medicine cabinets and how much. This should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that no drugs are missing. Placing a lock on cabinets that store medications is also an option, particularly in households with known abusers. Parents should discuss the dangers of using both prescription and over-the-counter medications with their children. Treatment for prescription drug abuse may involve individual or family therapy. Therapy will help address the motivation behind the prescription drug use and help the user to find alternative methods of coping with these struggles as opposed to turning to drugs. In some cases, medication, or pharmacological treatment is necessary, particularly when a person is undergoing severe withdrawal. This type of therapy helps to balance out the chemical reaction to the prescription drug.


Just Say No

When it comes to children, alcohol and drugs, most people think of teenagers. Unfortunately, waiting until a child turns 13 can be a case of too little too late. Kids as young as 9 years old may experiment with alcohol and by the time some children reach the age of 12, they are already abusing drugs. For example, in 2009, studies showed that 4.8 million people in the United States, starting from the age of 12 and older, had used cocaine. While parents may feel uncomfortable approaching the subject of alcohol and drugs, children are constantly exposed to peers in school and other outside influences that will introduce them to these dangerous substances.

The question of how old a child should be is one that many parents may ask themselves. The answer, according to experts, is that alcohol and drug education at home should begin as early as preschool. At this age, many children have been exposed to or seen images on television of someone drinking alcohol. While this is too young to have an in-depth conversation about the perils of drugs, parents can bring to their child's attention that this is “bad” behavior. As the child grows older, the parent can expand on this according to his or her age, explaining to them that it is okay to say no to people who try to get them to use either. With older children, parents will want to talk with their children about their experiences with people who use intoxicants, how they feel about them, and explain the health and personal risks.

Children often look towards their parents to be their role models, so when it comes to drugs and alcohol their parents' personal actions will greatly influence them. When teaching a child about the perils of drugs and alcohol and teaching them to say no, parents must let their actions match their words. They can do this by examining their lifestyle to see if it is counterproductive to what they are trying to teach their children. If a parent uses drugs or routinely drinks alcohol to the point of becoming intoxicated, they will have difficulty explaining to their child why he or she should not.

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