Drug Dependence


Drug Dependence Essay, Research Paper

Drug Dependence

In order for a chemical to be considered a drug it must have the capacity to

affect how the body works–to be biologically active. No substance that has the

power to do this is completely safe, and drugs are approved only after they

demonstrate that they are relatively safe when used as directed, and when the

benefits outweigh their risks. Thus, some very dangerous drugs are approved

because they are necessary to treat serious illness. Digitalis, which causes the

heart muscle to contract, is a dangerous drug, but doctors are permitted to use

it because it is vital for treating patients whose heart muscle is weak. A drug

as potent as digitalis would not be approved to treat such minor ailments as

temporary fatigue because the risks outweigh the benefits.

Many persons suffer ill effects from drugs even though they take the drug

exactly as directed by the doctor or the label. The human population, unlike a

colony of ants or bees, contains a great variety of genetic variation. Drugs are

tested on at most a few thousand people. When that same drug is taken by

millions, some people may not respond in a predictable way to the drug. A person

who has a so-called idiosyncratic response to a particular sedative, for example,

may become excited rather than relaxed. Others may be hypersensitive, or

extremely sensitive, to certain drugs, suffering reactions that resemble


A patient may also acquire a tolerance for a certain drug. This means that

ever-larger doses are necessary to produce the desired therapeutic effect.

Tolerance may lead to habituation, in which the person becomes so dependent upon

the drug that he or she becomes addicted to it. Addiction causes severe

psychological and physical disturbances when the drug is taken away. Morphine,

cocaine, and Benzedrine are common habit-forming drugs. Finally, drugs often

have unwanted side effects. These usually cause only minor discomfort such as a

skin rash, headache, or drowsiness. Certain drugs, however, can produce serious,

even life-threatening adverse reactions. For example, the drug Thalidomide was

once called one of the safest sedatives ever developed, but thousands of women

in the United Kingdom who took it during pregnancy gave birth to seriously

deformed babies. Other adverse reactions stem from mixing drugs. Thus, taking

aspirin, which has blood-thinning qualities, for a headache can be very harmful

if one is also taking other blood-thinning drugs such as heparin or dicumarol.

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