Psychoactive Drugs

Subject: Mental Health
Type: Evaluation Essay
Pages: 12
Word count: 3101
Topics: Addiction


There are various reasons as to why individuals use psychoactive drugs, and the effects that these drugs produce make the persons using them become dependent on them. When a chemical substance alters the brain function in an individual to the extent that it creates temporary changes to a person’s perception or behaviour, it could have an addictive effect. The majority of people that are dependent on psychoactive drugs become addicted to them mainly because of the symptoms that they experience when using or withdrawing from the use of the drug. Even though some individuals only use the psychotropic drugs recreationally, others utilise them for medication such as the control of pain, but when chemical dependence results, they are addictive. This paper will compare and contrast the effects of tobacco and heroin as some of the recreational psychoactive drugs while focusing on physical and psychological addiction. 

Path to Dependence on the Psychoactive Drugs

Before a person is dependent on psychoactive drugs, one has to use them over an extended period. The body makes physiologic adjustments when an individual is chronically exposed to psychoactive drugs, and with time, there is the development of tolerance (Alters and Schiff 2012, p. 204). Under this state, a person that has developed tolerance to the use of a particular drug can abuse significant amounts of the substance without feeling its effects. Essentially, an individual has to take large quantities of the same drug so as to achieve the desired state, and consequently, this increases tolerance (Alters and Schiff 2012, p. 204). Any of the psychoactive drugs that increase a person’s tolerance makes them addicted to the chemical substance, and this varies depending on the level of physical or psychological dependence that it creates. 

The Development of Physical Addiction to Tobacco

When an individual starts using tobacco, there is the risk that they will become physically dependent on it. The use of tobacco is widespread, and people often administer it through various ways including pipes, cigars, cigarettes, as well as through the nasal and oral cavities (Koob et al. 2014, p. 221). The administration of chemical stimulants primarily occurs when a person smokes the tobacco and the chemicals that cigarette smoke contains contribute to its addictive properties. Although there are different constituents of tobacco, the chemical often associated with its physical addictive property is nicotine (Koob et al. 2014, p. 221). However, various other chemicals contained in tobacco have addictive properties that are almost similar to the one produced by nicotine. 

The assessment of the prevalence of tobacco use among a group of people in a population can reveal the nature of the physical addiction of this psychoactive drug. However, the prevalence of cigarette smoking among people varies from one region to another, and various studies reveal how this changes depending on the ages of the users. For instance, studies indicate that among older teenagers, their physical dependence on tobacco varies between 6% and 8%, while among college students, its prevalence is 9.6% (Sussman 2017, p. 107). These statistics indicate that the dependence on tobacco among the youth increases with age, and this is the reason that many college students have a physical dependence on it compared to adolescents. 

Before a person becomes physically addicted to nicotine and some of the other chemicals found in a cigarette, one has to undergo an experimental phase with this psychoactive drug. The use of tobacco through experimentation usually begins during adolescence, and persons that start using tobacco at this stage have a high likelihood of being physically addicted during adulthood (Koob et al. 2014, p. 232). Since the prevalence of tobacco smoking increases with age, teenagers are likely to smoke as they become old. Other aspects such as the parenting style and peer smoking, which are all psychosocial factors affect and contribute to the smoking behaviour that teenagers develop (Koob et al. 2014, p. 234). When a teenager sees that the people around him or her such as the parents or friends smoke, there is a high probability that they would start smoking. 

The dosage of the chemicals found in a psychoactive drug such as tobacco is so high that it makes the addicted person physically dependent on it. The potency of nicotine, accompanied by its psychoactive rewarding effects is highly addictive even for the dose that is acutely administered at <1mg (WHO 2015, p. 176). As a consequence, when a person becomes dependent on a cigarette, it is often because of the need to experience the psychoactive effects brought about by the nicotine dose found in the drug. On the other hand, heroin has a similar effect to the person that starts using it, and the next section will evaluate how this drug affects a user’s reward system and causes physical addiction. 

The Development of Physical Addiction to Heroin

Before a person becomes physically addicted to heroin, one has to experiment with the drug and the effect of the initial experience with the use of the drug might make a person want to try it again. Heroin’s effects are directly exerted on the brain’s reward system, and after the first experience with the drug, it binds to the opiate receptors, making the user to seek more heroin (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 25). When the heroin user is at this point, he or she is on the verge of being dependent on the drug, and it is apparent that its dependence is higher compared to the one from tobacco. A person’s development of physical symptoms when using heroin or withdrawing from its use is the point where an individual becomes physically addicted to the drug. 

When a person becomes physically addicted to heroin, one develops psychiatric mental symptoms, and this makes the user have a different mental state when using it or when withdrawing from its use. A study conducted on 1090 individuals addicted to heroin, 376 of them (34.5%) were the only people aware of their illness (Maremmani et al. 2007, p. 33). Most of the people that become dependent on heroin, therefore, feel that they do not have an addiction to the drug, and this makes them continue using it despite its adverse consequences. The development of the physical symptoms of heroin use is a form of reinforcement, and the behaviour that results from this is an example of psychological conditioning (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 26). However, the physical effects that heroin presents to the users make them have the craving for the drug so that the person can sustain their habit.

Physical addiction to heroin results from the feeling that a person experiences through the use of the drug. The motivation for the repeated use of heroin comes as a consequence of the desire to re-experience the pleasurable feeling that is associated with the use of this psychoactive drug (Maisto et al. 2010, p. 250). The chemical that causes physical addiction in heroin, therefore, has the same effect as nicotine in tobacco since the craving for the drug is the reason that a person becomes physically dependent on it. However, the intensity of the physical addiction is one of the differences between these two psychoactive drugs. Even though one cannot quantify the craving that a person develops for heroin, it is possible to evaluate the withdrawal symptoms, and this is an indicator of physical addiction. 

Difference between the Physical Dependence on Tobacco and Heroin

Before a user becomes dependent on a particular psychoactive drug, one has to use it on several occasions. When a person that uses heroin does not display the common withdrawal symptoms associated with it, and yet the same person has cravings, then that would be a sign of physical dependence on the drug (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 30). The urge that a person develops while craving for a psychoactive drug, however, varies depending on the effectiveness of that drug in altering the user’s physical state. A person might develop a physical dependence on heroin because of its ineffectiveness of changing a person’s mood or perception with the same dosage as a previous one. For instance, many heroin addicts indicate that they cannot attain the altered mental state that they desire through continued use (Maisto et al. 2010, p. 250). The primary reason that explains the sustained use of a psychoactive drug is the need to avoid the withdrawal symptoms.

Although tobacco and heroin might both have withdrawal symptoms that make the user physically addicted to the drugs, the changes that they present to the body are different. Differentiating between the diagnostic features of the physical dependence on both tobacco and heroin can reveal some of the distinctive features of these psychoactive drugs. Some of the diagnostic features for tobacco include tolerance, craving, risky use, and social impairment (Saunders 2016, p. 132). While the nicotine contained in the tobacco could be one of the major components that cause physical addiction, the other non-pharmacological factors of smoking might contribute to reinforcing the behaviour. Some of the non-pharmacological aspects that act as reinforcers for the physical dependence on tobacco include the smoke and its taste, the manipulation of tobacco, and the social factors of the behaviour (Saunders 2016, p. 132). 

On the other hand, the physical addiction that a person develops towards heroin is distinctive from tobacco dependence. Heroin is expensive to acquire and illegal, hence its users expose themselves to the adverse effects of its physical addiction since they have to snort, inject, or smoke it during administration (Kleiman & Hawdon 2011, p. 359). As a person strives to get the desired mental state associated with the use of a drug, there is a high probability that the individual would use a higher dosage on every occasion. Heroin use is not the same as tobacco use because the symptoms that the two drugs have for craving and withdrawal are different. 

The urge that a user has for heroin is different from the one that results from tobacco use because of the difference in the components that constitute each of the drugs. Most of the heroin that people obtain illegally from the streets is often adulterated with substances that make it difficult for the user to attain the desired state. A heroin user becomes physically conditioned to keep on using the drug despite its adverse effects, and this is because the reinforcement is not assured when the drug is adulterated (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 26). When heroin is adulterated and the user fails to achieve the expected reinforcement, the person would likely increase the dosage, and this behaviour might persist. However, the dependence that a person develops from tobacco use might not result from the continuous seeking of the chemical reward due to the failure to attain it.  

When a tobacco user develops a physical dependence on the drug, the first cigarette that they smoke gives them the urge to continue smoking other cigarettes throughout the day. Repeated behaviour is necessary for the maintenance of the physical addiction to tobacco, and this results from the enhanced mood and pharmacological effect that cigarette smoking causes (WHO 2015, p. 176). It is apparent that the nicotine contained in tobacco is the component that causes addiction to the drug, and its delivery to the system determines the addictive potential of the user. However, the rate at which nicotine metabolises in the user’s body vary from one individual to another, and since this is the main aspect that causes physical addiction, the level of dependence varies. Women have a higher metabolism for nicotine compared to men, and since this leads to greater addiction, it becomes difficult for them to quit smoking (WHO 2015, p. 177). 

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The Development of the Psychological Addiction to Heroin

When a person is physically addicted to heroin, their actions make them dependent on the drug, and this results in psychological addiction. The development of tolerance in the user’s body makes them desire to continue using the drug or even increasing its doses so as to sustain the psychological effect that one gets (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 27). When a user develops tolerance to any drug, it becomes apparent that they require a particular dosage so that they can attain the desired psychological effect. Since the pathway to the physical addiction of heroin is different from the one associated with nicotine addiction, this shows that the psychological addiction of the two drugs has several differences. 

Psychological addiction to heroin starts when the user cannot conduct other normal activities without using the drug. When people that are dependent on heroin suddenly stop using it, they would develop the withdrawal symptoms associated with the use of the drug. However, the continued use of heroin does not give the user the same pleasurable feeling as they had at first, and this makes the reinforcement change from a positive to a negative one (Maisto et al. 2010, p. 250). As a result, whenever a person abstains from using heroin, their dependence on the drug makes them develop withdrawal symptoms, and this occurs when the user does not get the desired dosage. However, since tolerance to heroin is the primary reason for psychological dependence, a heroin user that is tolerant to the drug might require up to 100 times of the initial dosage (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 27). 

The assessment of the manner in which regular heroin and nicotine users develop the withdrawal symptoms after stopping their use can illustrate the difference between the psychological dependence on the two drugs. For the regular heroin users, their withdrawal symptoms can last for 72 to 96 hours, and they often appear 12 hours after the first administered dose (Ferreiro & Triggle 2009, p. 28). When a person feels the urge to use heroin, it implies that their nervous system has been affected by the overstimulation of the reward system. If the brains of the persons using heroin undergo physiologic changes, they become motivated to develop drug-seeking behaviour that brings about psychological addiction (Kleiman & Hawdon 2011, p. 358). 

The Development of Psychological Addiction to Tobacco

When a tobacco user becomes physically dependent on nicotine, the cravings that such a person develops could still be similar to those observed in a heroin user.  Psychological addiction to nicotine occurs when the user compulsively seeks it due to the urges that develop, and this is what makes it difficult for a person to quit smoking (Baum et al. 2012, p. 316). Even though the withdrawal symptoms from tobacco use could be the result of physical dependence, they eventually lead to psychological addiction. An individual becomes psychologically dependent on nicotine or any other psychoactive drug because of their need to relieve stress, anxiety, or any other withdrawal effect (Alters & Schiff 2012, p. 204). Equally important, when a person fails to control the rate of consumption of a particular drug such as nicotine, one would have acquired psychological dependence. 

When a regular tobacco smoker abstains from nicotine for a period that is longer than what one is often used to, the psychological changes that the body experiences indicate whether a person is addicted or not. For instance, the psychological learning principles associated with the use of tobacco affect the manner and rate at which a user administers nicotine into the system through tobacco smoking (Baum et al. 2012, p. 316). Nicotine has various effects on the body that indicate psychological addiction considering that they influence the user’s reinforcement of drug use. The reinforcing effects associated with the use of nicotine occur following the administration of the substance in the body system, and this includes the modulation of stress and anxiety, and a reduced appetite (Baum et al. 2012, p. 316). While some of these reinforcing effects are positive, others are negative, and the overall psychological effects of the nicotine addiction can be observed in the form of withdrawal symptoms.

The psychological addiction that a person develops for nicotine is not the same as the one that an individual gets from heroin addiction, and this manifests as a result of the effectiveness of each drug’s psychological adjustment. When the consequences of the tobacco smoking behaviour affect other actions such as the administration of the drug such as nicotine, this would be a form of operant conditioning (Saunders 2016, p. 132). The effects brought about by the administration of nicotine into the body system, therefore, make the user seek positive reinforcement through smoking. Some of the positive reinforcing actions that signify the psychological addiction to nicotine include neurochemical changes that create euphoria, psychosocial rewards, and neuroendocrine changes (Baum et al. 2012, p. 317). Nicotine’s stimulation of the reward system makes the user be psychologically dependent on the drug, and this is the reason that a regular user develops cravings. 

The rate at which the body absorbs nicotine is not different from that at which heroin gets to the system, since they both deliver the psychoactive rewarding effects immediately. The psychological addiction to nicotine is, however, different from the one experienced through the use of heroin when considering the aspects that create the cravings. The positive reinforcement that a nicotine user experiences during smoking is the other reason for the development of cravings, which are a form of psychological dependence. The psychostimulant ability of nicotine is, therefore, the major factor that makes a user psychologically addicted to the drug, and people use it because of its anxiolytic and analgesic effects (Koob et al. 2014, p. 223). Consequently, the ability of nicotine to improve cognitive performance and motor reflexes in its users makes them be psychologically addicted to the drug (WHO 2015, p. 176).

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Heroin and tobacco both have psychoactive properties since people use them to alter their mood or consciousness, and once they take these drugs regularly, one of the consequences is physical dependence. The adaptation of a person’s body to the presence of pharmacological components in the drugs makes the user continue using the drugs to provide a positive reinforcement. However, the physical addiction to heroin is not the same as the one for nicotine because people become sickly when they fail to acquire the required dosage of heroin. When a person feels the urge to continue using heroin, the nervous system could have been affected by the overstimulation of the reward system, and this leads to psychological dependence. On the other hand, the reinforcement effects produced by nicotine are the primary reason that a user feels the urge to continue using the drug to get the desired effect.

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