Serenity Lane
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Scope of the problem
What are club drugs?
What are the medical hazards?
What is the risk for HIV/AIDS?
What are the effects on the brain?
What is the extent of use?
Are club drugs addictive?
The path to healing

Scope of the problem

A number of our nation's best monitoring mechanisms are detecting alarming increases in the popularity of some very dangerous substances known collectively as "club drugs". This term refers to drugs used by young adults at all-night dance parties such as "raves" or "trances" which are often held in warehouses and bars. MDMA (Ecstasy), GHB, rohypnol, ketamine, methamphetamine, and LSD are some of the club or party drugs gaining popularity.

Although users may think these substances are harmless, research has shown that club drugs can produce a range of unwanted dangerous effects, including hallucinations, paranoia, amnesia, and, in some cases, death. When used with alcohol, these drugs can be even more harmful. Some club drugs work on the same brain mechanisms as alcohol and, therefore, can dangerously boost the effects of both substances. While kids who attend raves and trances may not use drugs, many are attracted to use because of the low cost, seeming stamina and intoxicating highs that are said to deepen the experience.

Also, there are great differences among individuals in how they react to these substances – no one can predict how he or she will react. Some people have been known to have extreme, even fatal, reactions the first time they use club drugs. And studies suggest club drugs found in party settings are often adulterated or impure, thus making them even more dangerous.

What are club drugs?

Many problems club drug users encounter are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine. Recent research also links Ecstasy use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought, memory, and pleasure.

MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), called "Adam", "Ecstasy", or "XTC" on the street, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties.

"Liquid Ecstasy", or Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) may be made in homes by using recipes with common ingredients. At lower doses, GHB can relax the user, but, as the dose increases, the sedative effects may result in sleep, eventual coma or death.

"Roche" (Rohypnol) is tasteless and odorless. It mixes easily in carbonated beverages. Rohypnol may cause individuals under the influence of the drug to forget what happened. Other effects include low blood pressure, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, and stomach upset.

"Special K" (Ketamine) is an anesthetic. Use of a small amount of ketamine results in loss of attention span, learning ability, and memory. At higher doses, ketamine can cause delirium, amnesia, high blood pressure, depression, and severe breathing problems.

"Speed", "Ice", "Meth" (Methamphetamine) is often made in home laboratories. Methamphetamine use can cause serious health concerns, including memory loss, aggression, violence, psychotic behavior, and heart problems.

"Acid" or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) may cause unpredictable behavior depending on the amount taken, where the drug is used, and the user's personality. A user might feel the following effects: numbness, weakness, nausea, increased heart rate, sweating, lack of appetite, flashbacks and sleeplessness.

What are the medical hazards?

No club drug is benign. Chronic abuse appears to produce long-term damage to the brain. It is likely that club drug use can cause a variety of behavioral and cognitive consequences as well as impairing memory. Uncertainties about the drug sources, pharmacological agents, chemicals used to manufacture them, and possible contaminants make it difficult to determine toxicity, consequences, and symptoms that might be expected in a particular community.

Physical effects can include muscle tension, involuntary teeth-clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Increases in heart rate and blood pressure are a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.

Club drug-related fatalities at raves have been reported. The stimulant effects of the drug, which enable the user to dance for extended periods, combined with the hot, crowded conditions usually found at raves can lead to dehydration, hyperthermia, and heart or kidney failure.

Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia - during and sometimes weeks after taking a club drug (even psychotic episodes) have been reported.

At present, research indicates that abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. Ecstasy abuse during pregnancy may be linked to congenital deformities. There is also evidence that people who develop a rash that looks like acne after using MDMA are risking severe side effects, including liver damage, if they continue to use the drug.

What is the risk for contracting HIV/AIDS?

Increased HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission are likely consequences of increased abuse of club drugs. The combination of drugs and sexual risks results in HIV becoming a greater problem among club drug abusers and other drug abusers, particularly on the east and west coasts of this country.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) research has found that, through drug abuse treatment, prevention and community-based outreach programs, drug abusers can change their risk behaviors. Drug use can be eliminated and drug-related risk behaviors can be reduced significantly thus decreasing the risk of exposure.

What are the effects on the brain?

Ecstasy was initially perceived as a drug with few adverse effects, as amphetamine had been until the mid-1960's. As with amphetamine, however, widespread use is now resulting in reports of confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, sleeping difficulties, depersonalisation, derealisation, hallucinations, flashbacks, paranoia, psychosis, tolerance and dependency syndromes, and subsequent addiction to sedatives. In terms of explaining adverse reactions to club drugs, the focus has been to a very large extent upon possible brain chemical changes as described above. There has been a tendency to ignore the fact that they release emotions and can have marked effects upon the psychodynamic balance of the mind.

Research shows that MDMA destroys serotonin-producing neurons in the brain, which play a direct role in regulating aggression, mood, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. It is probably this action on the serotonin system that gives MDMA its purported properties of heightened sexual experience, tranquility, and conviviality. Club drugs are related in their structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors and can eventually result in a form of paralysis.

What is the extent of use?

Each year, NIDA reports on the nature and extent of drug use among the American household population aged 12 and older. The 1998 survey found that an estimated 1.5 percent (3.4 million) of Americans at least 12 years old had used ecstasy at least once during their lifetime. By age group, the heaviest use (5 percent or 1.4 million people) was reported for those between 18 and 25 years old.

In 1996, NIDA began to collect data on ecstasy use among students. Rates of use remained relatively stable from 1996 to 1999 for students in the 8th grade, while usage among 10th and 12th-graders showed an increase. The number of 12th-graders that had used ecstasy in their lifetime increased from 5.8 percent in 1998 to 8.0 percent in 1999. On the other hand, the largest change for 10th-graders occurred in past year use, which increased from 3.3 percent in 1998 to 4.4 percent in 1999.

Because club drugs are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be added unobtrusively to beverages by individuals who want to intoxicate or sedate others. In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of club drugs used to commit sexual assaults and appears to be an escalating trend. Due to concern about these abused sedative-hypnotics, Congress passed the "Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996". This legislation increased Federal penalties for use of any controlled substance to aid in sexual assault.

Are club drugs addictive?

An undetermined percentage of club drug abusers become addicted to these drugs, as evidenced by their continuing to take them in spite of physical problems, negative effects on social relations, or nervousness and irritability. Also, they spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs and experience withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and the desire to take more drugs. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts. Untreated, some depressive symptoms associated with club drug withdrawal have been known to persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs.

The path to healing

Club drugs are clearly dangerous drugs, which pose a particular threat to the health and well-being of children and adolescents at a critical point in their lives - when they are growing, learning, maturing, and laying the foundation for their adult years. Children look to parents for help and guidance in working out problems and in making decisions, including the decision not to use drugs. Parents' role modeling by not using club drugs and other illegal drugs reinforces this message.

There is no magic bullet for preventing teenage drug use. But parents can be influential by talking to their children about the dangers of using club drugs and other drugs and by remaining actively engaged in their children's lives.

Even after teenage children enter high school, parents should stay involved in the schoolwork, recreation, and social activities of their children. Studies shows that appropriate parental monitoring can reduce future drug use, even among those adolescents who may be prone to drug use, such as those who are rebellious, cannot control their emotions, and experience internal distress.

While not everyone who uses club drugs becomes addicted, when a user begins to seek out and take the drug compulsively, that person is said to be dependent on the drug or addicted to it.

Serenity Lane has pioneered the Advanced Integrated Model of Addiction Treatment (AIMAT). This model focuses education and therapy on the always-present psychological core of the addiction experience: psychological dependency, mental obsession, emotional compulsion, and the complex pattern of safeguarding behaviors that hide the reality of the illness from both patient and family.

We directly address the physical and psychological elements of dependency disorders, as well as the defeating beliefs that accompany addiction. We give our patients and family members an unparalleled understanding about themselves, their disease, their thinking patterns, and alternative behaviors necessary for abstinence from mood-altering chemicals or experiences.

For further information on Serenity Lane's treatment programs, Call (541) 687-1110 orToll-free 1-800-543-9905.


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