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Drug Addiction

Date: 6 July 2006

What is Drug Addiction?

According to the latest evidence from human and animal studies (yes, even animals can become
addicted to drugs), addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or hypertension.

As in other chronic diseases, it too occurs in vulnerable individuals who have been exposed to
risks of getting the disease. In diabetes, individuals who are overweight, dont exercise and have
family members with diabetes are more likely to contract it. In addiction, those who abuse
addictive substances have a high likelihood of becoming addicted to them.

What surprises laypeople and medical personnel alike is the lack of insight addicts have into
their own behaviour. They are in a constant state of denial of how miserable addiction is making
their life. The addict says, Im only taking this to get through the day. I can stop if I really want
to. But he never does for long.


Addictive substances such as heroin, alcohol, nicotine, metamphetamines (also called ice and
syabu) and ecstasy pills cause drastic changes in people.

The most recent research indicates these drugs act on the part of the brain called the reward
pathway. Humans, as well as other organisms, engage in behaviours that are rewarding; the
pleasurable feelings one has cause the behaviour to be repeated. There are natural rewards as
well as artificial rewards, such as drugs.

Natural rewards such as food, water, sex and nurturing allow the person to feel pleasure when
eating, drinking, having sex and being nurtured or loved. Such pleasurable feelings reinforce the
behaviour so that it will be repeated, thus ensuring the survival of the species.

The collection of nerve cells that is located towards the centre of the brain called the reward
pathway is the part of us that controls these behaviours.

When a person becomes addicted, his reward pathway is short-circuited. The feelings of pleasure
that he gets from eating a durian or being praised is no match for the feelings of pleasure from
taking heroin.

This can be crudely illustrated by comparing the amount of endorphins (the natural opiates
produced by the brain to give pleasure and to reduce pain) which act on the reward pathway to
the torrent of opiates received, when he takes heroin. Addicts have difficulty describing the high
they feel to non-addicts because it is beyond what normal people experience.

What this causes is a permanent change to the brain chemistry, resulting in addiction.

Addiction is a state in which a person engages in a compulsive behaviour, even when faced with
negative consequences (such as being caught by police, or losing the love of ones family, or
worsening health).

A major feature of addiction is the loss of control in limiting intake of the addictive substance, as
was seen in Jamals spiralling use of heroin. The most recent research indicates that the reward
pathway may be even more important in the craving for the substance, compared to the reward


The abuse of illicit drugs remains a serious problem in Malaysia. Over the decade there has been
a drastic increase in illegal drugs used.

The National Drug Agency (ADK) has, through its efforts, registered more than 300,000 addicts
in its drug fight. However, just like the iceberg, the numbers are only what is seen above the
surface. Some local studies have suggested there are an estimated three to four addicts who are
not registered with the ADK for every one that is.

Hence the potential numbers of addicts in Malaysia is quite staggering, a possible one million
addicts in our country of 25 million, or 4% of the populace!

In comparison, some statistics from the United States estimate that the number of addicts there is
one in 3,000, or only 0.03% of their population.

Substances abuse

The major substance of abuse here are:
Marijuana (ganja)
Opiates (heroin, morphine, candu)
Hallucinogens (LSD, cocaine)
Amphetamine (pep pills, ecstacy)
Inhalants (glue and gum sniffing)


The opiods include both natural opiates that is drugs the opium poppy (morphine, heroin) and
opiate-related synthetic drugs, such as meperidine and methadone. The medical use of these
drugs is mainly for their powerful analgesic actions (pain killer). They are abused for their
euphoric effects.

Heroin can be injected, smoked or inhaled. It has the ability to alter modd and reduce anxiety.
Young people who sniff heroin report that they forget everything that troubles them.

These drugs also produce respiratory depression, constipation, reduced appetite and low libido.
The effects of a usual dose of morphine lasts three to four hours.

Psychological dependence exist when a drug is so central to a persons thoughts, emotions, and
activities that he needs to continue its use because he has a craving or compulsion.

Physical dependence, also called addition, is characterised by tolerance, that is with continued
use, the individual must take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. Tolerance
develops rapidly leading to increasing dosage. Withdrawal symptoms will occur if use of the
drug is reduced or stopped abruptly. Withdrawal from opiates, may occur as early as a few hours
after the last dose. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 to 72 hours after the last dose
and usually subside within a week.

The withdrawal symptoms include:
Intense craving for the drug
Restlessness and insomnia
Pain in the muscles and joints
Running nose and eyes
Abdominal cramps
Vomiting and diarrhea
Dilated pupils
Raised pulse rate and
Goose pimples feeling cold

Thus, the motivation to continue using the drug stems from the need to avoid pain and
discomfort which drives addicts to seek further supply to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
Overdose od opiates drugs would lead to respiratory depression and uegent medical treatment is

Other hazards of opiates addiction are related to intravenous usage if the drug which are:
Infection at the injection site,
Infection of distant organs e.g. heart (SBE)

Drug users who share needles are also at a high risk of acquiring:
Hepatitis B
AIDS and HIV infection

When a pregnant woman abuses drugs, the fetus is affected. There is an increased rate of fetal
abnormality especially when drugs are abused in early pregnancy. In late pregnancy, the fetus
may become dependent on opiates. After delivery the baby would develop serious withdrawal

As the drug comes to play an increasing salient part in the persons life, he/she often experiences
a number of distressing social consequences. The first impact is on his family. It would disrupt
relationships as families would go through anguish and frustration with the struggle to stop the
abuser from the habit. The abuser would break promises leading to disappointments which could
lead to rejection by parents, spouse or children.

As the abuser becomes more tolerant to the drug he is taking, he would need to take more and
more to get the same effect, which would lead to an even greater financial burden on the family.
Abusers usually have poor work records and frequent absentism from work as well as low
productivity. All the above results in a decreased earning power and debts would accumulate.
The abuser would then turn to crime like stealing to sustain his habits.

Substance abuse and the law

In Malaysia any person confirmed as a substance abuser including those who volunteer will be
send for treatment and rehabilitation under the law for two (2) years to a drug rehabilitation
center (Pusat Serenti).
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