In search of well-being and strong emotions

One of the fears that most assails parents when their children go through adolescence is that they may come into contact with drugs, and with all the devastating consequences that this may have, both for those who use them and for those around them.

A girl looking for joy in life-threatening drugs

For many people, the source of joy is some delicious food or sweets, for some people music or relationships. For people who are addicted to drugs, simple joys seem gray and ordinary. They are looking for something that will give them adrenaline and freedom.

Ministerial data on adolescent alcohol and substance use are alarming: very high percentages of regular alcohol users (60 %); cannabis users (25 %); cocaine users (2,7 %); ecstasy users (2,6 %); and heroin users (1,4 %). Twenty-five percent of them consume binge drinking, i.e. drinking large amounts of alcohol in a very short period of time, with very high risks.

For many young people, substance use is not seen as a health risk, but as ‘normal’. In fact, the processes of normalisation of certain behaviours, including by means of dissemination via the Internet, have contributed to increasing the percentage of those who have high-risk behaviours. The phrase “everybody does it”, frequently used by adolescents with regard to the use of alcohol and cannabis in particular, leads to the justification of certain behaviours as socializing and sharing.
In addition, to contribute to the spread of substances, the fact that drug trafficking follows the strictest marketing policies: in the face of a wider consumption, prices fall; the cheaper a product, the greater its spread.

The vulnerability perceived by young people – and the few expectations for the future, also in relation to the insecurity that permeates the current society – leads to the experimentation of substances, in order to combat negative emotions, feelings of discomfort, loneliness, embarrassment, boredom, dissatisfaction, the sense of emptiness. In addition to the increased use of substances, in recent years there has been an increasingly early onset in the world of drugs (average age 15 years) with its consequences.
The most recent studies on alcohol and cannabis consumption, especially in adolescence, confirm the occurrence of often irreversible brain damage. The new qualities of cannabis “GMO”, i.e. transgenic, and synthetic cannabinoids have a concentration of active ingredient (THC) up to 100 times higher than that contained in the traditional cannabis plant. Already after a few weeks of use, cannabis causes changes in brain biochemistry with the induction of emotional and emotional flattening, loss of interest and therefore the failure of objectives. The association with alcohol aggravates this condition and is associated at an early age with a higher risk of substance abuse, drug abuse and depressive disorders in adult life.

In recent years, cases of psychiatric comorbidity or double diagnosis, i.e. the condition of co-presence in the same subject of the use or dependence on substances and a psychiatric disorder, have grown exponentially.

For this reason it is of fundamental importance that the adults of reference – parents, teachers, doctors, psychologists, etc. – are able to make a diagnosis of the condition of co-presence in the same subject. – have a clear understanding that there are no safe drugs, do not underestimate the phenomenon, but rather know the devious and deceptive mechanism by which substances enter the lives of young people, with serious repercussions on physical health, psychic and relational life.

Drugs and addiction

According to Antonio Crema, director of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Pavia, a drug can be defined as any substance that, when introduced into the body, causes a pleasant effect. The famous psychopharmacologist Delay also defines the drug as a natural or synthetic substance capable of modifying psychic activity. It is clear from this definition that coffee, nicotine and alcohol should also be considered drugs. But then, what is the difference between these, hascisc and heroin? First of all, all these substances are toxicomaniac, that is, according to the definition of the World Health Organization, a state of periodic or chronic poisoning produced by the repeated use of a medicine. This state of intoxication has the following characteristics:

  • incredible desire to continue to take a certain substance and to obtain it by any means;
  • tendency to increase the dose to have the same “tolerance” effect;
  • physical or mental dependence.

Let us now briefly clarify the characteristics of drug addiction.

First: the desire to obtain the drug depends on positive reinforcement (the drug provides well-being) and negative reinforcement (the lack of drugs from more or less serious disorders, as we will see later). It is clear that the desire to obtain drugs leads to foreseeable social consequences: theft, robbery, prostitution, etc.: these are always property crimes; in fact, drug addicts rarely commit physical or sexual crimes.

Secondly, thanks to the phenomenon of “tolerance”, drug addicts reach dosages that are shaky and that would instantly kill an individual not addicted to that drug: we all know individuals who take 10-12 up to 20 coffees a day. Balzac also drank two litres of strong coffee to stay awake one night Many people smoke 70-80 cigarettes a day; if we switch to real drugs, we see that normal people with 100-200 mg of barbiturate sleep all night long: drug addicts tolerate 2,000-2,500 mg, a fatal dose for normal people. As for morphine, a 10 mg vial is a normal dose for an adult and can be repeated 3 or 4 times a day: drug users tolerate 30-40 vials in 24 hours without any serious problems.

Thirdly, addiction can be physical or psychic. Some drugs are physically addictive, others are psychically addictive. When the addict stops taking or greatly reduces the doses of a physically addictive drug, he falls prey to a very unpleasant clinical symptom, called “withdrawal syndrome”. This manifests itself with a feeling of imminent death, severe agitation, increased blood pressure, increased white blood cells, redness of the face, cramps, convulsions and sometimes coma. When the addict is in this state, if he is not rescued, he may even die. Just give him the dose of drug he is used to taking and everything passes. This withdrawal syndrome is a biological phenomenon and also exists in animals. If, for example, we put a needle-cannula in the monkey’s vein and leave the animal in a position to inject morphine by pressing a lever, we see that it injects the drug more and more frequently. If we replace the drug with physiological solution, the monkey goes crazy and continues to desperately crush the lever to get the morphine and get rid of the withdrawal syndrome. This physical dependence and the related withdrawal syndrome is given by the so-called hard drugs: morphine, heroin and other opium derivatives, methadone, meperidine and barbiturates. The syndrome occurs whenever the addict suspends or greatly decreases the intake of one of these drugs. It is also unleashed in the newborn of a drugged mother.

Other drugs give instead a psychic addiction: in this case, when the individual stops taking one of these substances, the abstinence syndrome we have seen before is not triggered, but only an unpleasant subjective symptomatology that prevents the subject from being well in company, from working efficiently, from fitting normally into the family and makes him feel incapable, excluded, disturbed, perpetually agitated. The drugs that give psychic addiction are called soft drugs and among these the most common are marijuana or hascisc or Indian hemp, amphetamines, LSD, nicotine, caffeine and mescaline. As for cocaine, there is some divergence of opinion, but most consider it a mild drug. Alcohol, which should certainly be considered a drug, should be included, according to most, among hard drugs; according to others it should be included among soft drugs.