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Alaska Drug Addiction
people using drug rehabilitation programs to get clean

Alaska Drug Addiction

Street drug addiction in Alaska is a growing public health concern. Each year the number of people affected by Alaska drug addiction continues to climb, with steep increases in the number of arrests made and in the total of overdose deaths.

What is Street Drug Abuse?

Street drug abuse is the non-medical use of any illicit drug. Using any psychoactive substance for recreational purposes, or to get high or stoned, is considered drug abuse.

Statistics for Alaska Drug Addiction and Abuse

The 2014 annual drug report released by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, cited marijuana, crystal meth, cocaine, and heroin as being the major illicit street drugs abused within the state.

A report released by the Alaska Division of Publish Health, found that the number of heroin-related deaths in the state more than tripled in the years between 2008 and 2013.

The increase in heroin-related arrests and overdose deaths, is attributed to the simultaneous increase in prescription opioid painkiller abuse. Statistics released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, show that people who begin abusing prescription opioid medications are 19 times more likely to use heroin. The addiction forms through abusing prescription opioids, but users switch to illicit heroin because it is more readily available and cheaper to obtain.

Commonly Abused Street Drugs

Marijuana continues to be the single most commonly abused illegal drug in Alaska, followed by heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Heroin: heroin is an opioid drug synthesized from the morphine molecule found in the opium, poppy. Heroin triggers the brain to release a surge of dopamine into the body. The user feels the surge as a ‘rush’ that can be euphoric, which is often accompanied by slowed breathing rate, clouded mental functioning, and a feeling of drowsiness.

The intense rush only lasts a few minutes, which leads many people to use more of the drug in an effort to recapture those artificial feelings. Over time, tolerance to the drug develops, and therefore the user will need to take higher doses in order to achieve similar effects, which increases the risk of accidental overdose.

Eventually, the brain is tricked into believing that it can no longer produce dopamine naturally, unless it has the artificial stimulation of heroin. The lack of dopamine in the body causes the user to feel overwhelming cravings to take more heroin just so that the brain is able to function.

When usage stops suddenly, the user may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, bone and muscle aches, diarrhea, runny nose, heavy sweating, anxiety, and depression.

Cocaine: cocaine is a powerfully-addictive stimulant drug that is perhaps one of the most dangerous drugs known to man. Cocaine is available as a white powder that can be sniffed, injected or inhaled. The crystal form of the drug, known as crack cocaine, and is commonly smoked.

Cocaine causes the brain to release a flood of dopamine and serotonin into the body, causing an intense ‘rush’. At the same time, the drug also blocks the brain’s receptors, which actively stops the body from recycling the surge of hormones normally.

Instead, the body operates in a highly-stimulated mode that can deplete the body’s resources rapidly. When the initial rush wears off, the user experiences the complete opposite effects, including intense depression, agitation, and overwhelming cravings to take more drugs. The depression a cocaine abuser feels when coming down, is so profound that they will do almost anything to get more, which sparks the cycle of addiction very quickly.

Tolerance to cocaine develops quickly, and as a result the user will be required to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. Abusing cocaine can cause respiratory failure, or stopped breathing, stroke, heart attack, seizures, or bleeding in the brain.

Crystal Meth: methamphetamine has devastating effects on the body and the brain. The drug is a powerfully addictive stimulant that acts directly on the central nervous system in a similar way to cocaine.

The effects of crystal meth on the brain are incredibly powerful, and can take more than one year of abstinence before a heavy user regains various functions in the brain again.

When meth use is suddenly discontinued, the user can experience intense psychological withdrawal symptoms, including overwhelming cravings to take more drugs, irritation, aggression, violent behavior, extreme mood swings, psychosis, profound depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

The individual signs and symptoms of street drug abuse will vary depending on the drug being taken. However, there are some common things to look for. These include:

–       Loss of control over drug use

–       Repeated failed attempts to quit

–       Spending more time finding, buying, using, or recovering from drug use

–       Intense cravings

–       Tolerance

–       Withdrawal symptoms

Alaska Drug Addiction Treatment Options

Heroin Treatment: treating heroin addiction can be challenging, as it requires a combination of pharmacological treatments and behavioral therapies to address both the physical and psychological sides of the addiction. Prescription medications, such as methadone or Suboxone, may be administered to help alleviate the worst of any withdrawal symptoms. Behavioral therapy works to address dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors, and modify them with healthy, positive habits for living life without heroin.

Cocaine Treatment: treating cocaine abuse is particularly complex, due to the way the drug changes the brain’s chemistry. At this time, there are no FDA approved medications for treating cocaine addiction, although some prescription medications may be given to treat any withdrawal symptoms that arise. Cognitive behavioral therapy works well with cocaine addicts to modify dysfunctional attitudes and replace them with healthy behaviors and new coping skills for dealing with life’s stresses without the need for drugs.

Crystal Meth Treatment: treating addiction to methamphetamine is difficult. According to statistics released by the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, approximately 93% of people in treatment for crystal meth abuse, end up relapsing back to addictive drug use. A combination of individual counseling and intensive behavioral therapy can provide positive results for recovering from meth addiction. Some prescription medications may be given to treat symptoms of withdrawal, including anti-depressants and anticonvulsants.

It is estimated that without professional treatment, a meth addict can expect to live between five and seven years, sand therefore it is crucial to seek professional treatment.

Why Seek Treatment?

Accessing treatment and care for street drug abuse and addiction, is an issue across some parts of Alaska. However, there are treatment facilities available that can provide medically-supervised detox and rehab therapy treatments.

Seeking professional treatment for street drug abuse is the first step to recovery. With the right combination of treatments, it is possible to regain control and live a healthy, sober life after your time in rehab has come to an end.

If you or your loved one is suffering from a street drug addiction, contact an addiction specialist today for more information about the available treatment options.