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Self-Medicating Anxiety 101: Illicit Drugs

Reilly shut his eyes and desperately tried to tune out his mother’s rants. Why couldn’t she just shut up and leave him alone? He had enough to deal with without all her complaining. It seems complaining was all she did anymore – complain and nag – all in a strident, high-pitched voice that reverberated in the hallway outside his locked door. She wanted to know when he was coming out, when he was going to get serious about going back to school, when he was going to get a job and start contributing to the family. He had no answers to any of those questions. That was the problem; that was the reason he stayed locked in his room as much as he could, smoking pot and trying to forget his lack of answers.

It seemed like the weight of the world was unceremoniously dropped on his shoulders as soon as the high school graduation ceremony ended. He was required to live up to everyone’s expectations of what he should do and who he should be. But Reilly had no answers. He didn’t really know what he wanted to do – let alone what he should do – or even who he was. High school had given him the identity of student. That identity was no longer attractive. He had put up with twelve years of school, and thinking about going to a college environment gave him the sweats.

High school was free; college cost money. His parents would expect a return on that investment. His parents would expect him to help pay. That meant a job. That meant working for other people. That meant doing what other people told him to do. That meant other people telling his he wasn’t good enough. The thought of it sent his stomach into a tailspin. Wiping the sweat off his face, he took in a deep drag, willing the weed to block out this latest round of maternal venting, which appeared to be winding down. Reilly recognized the tone of futility replacing rage in his mother’s voice.

Go away, he said to himself. Why can’t you just leave me alone? With a sense of despair, he realized he wasn’t saying that only to his mother; he was saying it to himself. He was just so tired of living like this, afraid to move in any direction for fear it would turn out badly. Pot was the only thing that kept the shakes at bay. He couldn’t come up with any other way. Reilly’s locked door was turning into less an act of defiance and more a signal of surrender.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. It’s relatively easy to obtain, relatively cheap to purchase, and has a certain social cachet. Its reputation as harmful is hotly debated, usually by those who use it consistently.

The active chemical in marijuana is abbreviated THC. When smoked, THC travels from the lungs into the bloodstream and from there to all the body’s major organs. When THC hits the brain, it produces a high, affecting the pleasure centers. The other brain functions influenced by the THC are memory, thought processes, concentration, sensory perceptions, time sense, and bodily coordination. For something called relatively harmless, it has an extremely powerful effect.

It is possible to become physically dependent on THC just like alcohol. And just like alcohol, when you begin to wean yourself off pot, the withdrawal symptoms can include heightened anxiety, along with irritability, decreased appetite, sleep pattern disturbances, and depression. A little pot has a way of metastasizing into more, sometimes much  more.

Marijuana, of course, isn’t the only illicit drug available; new varieties find their way to market on a regular basis. There is, however, a common thread throughout the currently available crop of illicit drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, heroin, ecstasy, crack, and crank. The common thread is increased anxiety associated with using the drug.

These drugs do not decrease activity; they increase it. Using drugs can produce physical symptoms that mimic a panic attack, such as rapid heart rate, insomnia, increased blood pressure, and feelings of paranoia. This is a drug-induced panic attack that sends your body into overdrive. A body in drug-induced overdrive does not have the ability to slow down on its own.

If you use illicit drugs to self-medicate your anxiety, explore your options for getting help today.

SOURCE: Chapter 4 in Overcoming Anxiety, Worry and Fear: Practical Ways to Find Peace

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