Individuals often think that their drug abuse, whether they use illicit or prescription drugs, only impacts them. Unfortunately, drug abuse impacts the people we love, as well as the schools, workplaces, and communities in which we are included, whether by geography, culture, or another characteristic. Drug abuse social issues extend from unsafe workplaces to the spread of disease to crime.
To stop drug abuse in a community, members must work together to educate the community, especially those who are at a greater risk of drug abuse. The best way to avoid the social effects of drug abuse on the community is to prevent it altogether.
What Is Drug Abuse?
Drug abuse is when an individual uses drugs in unhealthy ways, such as using more than their prescription, using someone else’s prescription, or using prescription or illicit drugs to self-medicate against stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
Drug abuse often coincides with a mental health condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Substance abuse knows no economic, social, or gender limitations. In short, anyone can abuse drugs. However, some groups are more at risk, including:
- The LGBTQ community
- Seniors (aged 65+)
- Medical professionals
- Pregnant women
The Effects of Drug Abuse on an Individual
There are numerous health problems associated with drug abuse. These problems affect nearly every organ in the body and can include but are not limited to a weakened immune system, heart attacks, abdominal pain, strain on the liver, lung disease, mental conditions, and impaired memory, attention, and decision making.
Drug abuse also results in behavioral changes. A drug user may experience paranoia, aggressiveness, hallucinations, impaired judgment, impulsiveness, loss of self-control, self-imposed isolation, or emotional withdrawal. Heavy drug abuse can ultimately lead to addiction (i.e., needing the drug to function normally).
The physical and cognitive effects of drug abuse can cause the individual to struggle in their environment. Drug abuse can lead to decreased performance or increased absence at school and work, changes in friends and social circles, and troubles at home, all of which will be explored further as the social effects of drug abuse in a community.
What Are the Social Effects of Drug Abuse on the Community?
The definition of “community” is broad. It can mean a group of people living in the same place, such as a home, neighborhood, or city. It can also mean a group that has a particular characteristic in common. This definition could extend to schools and workplaces.
Drug Abuse and the Home
Drug abuse by a parent or spouse can lead to financial hardships (due to job loss or money being diverted to fuel the habit), reckless behavior that puts the family at risk, and further exposure to other types of substances.
Almost 80% of domestic violence is related to substance abuse. Drug abuse can happen on both sides of the conflict, not only by the abuser but also by the victim who uses drugs to cope.
Drug abuse in the family is not limited to spouses or parents. Adolescents, especially during times of transition, are also at risk of abusing drugs. In the U.S.,1 in 8 children under the age of 17 lives with at least one parent who abuses drugs. Those children are at an increased risk of maltreatment (including physical and sexual abuse and neglect), which may require the involvement of child welfare.
Watching their parents go through drug abuse and its effects may lead to long-term mental and emotional disorders and delayed development. Children whose parents abuse drugs are more likely to end up using, as well.
Drug Abuse and the Workplace
Drug abuse social issues occur in the workplace, too. An individual’s drug abuse will likely impact their performance at work or even stop them from going to work entirely. Drug abuse can lead to:
- Decreased productivity
- Increased lateness and absences
- Risky and inappropriate behaviors at work, such as taking drugs or selling to co-workers
All three of these could lead to disciplinary actions and dismissal. Further, drug abuse can lead to impaired judgment, alertness, and motor coordination, creating unsafe workplace conditions — especially in an environment with heavy machinery.
The Economic Impact
The economic impact of drug abuse in a workplace is hard to calculate, as some of the costs are indirect. However, some of the areas in which a business is impacted include:
- Turnover rates and the cost of training new employees
- Workplace violence and harassment
- Low morale
- Increased likelihood of conflict between co-workers
- Required disciplinary procedures and/or drug testing programs
Drug Abuse and School
Since teenagers’ brains are still developing, drug abuse can have a greater impact on their development than on adults. It’s been found that drug abuse can lead to difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and an inability to process information.
Students who use substances are at a greater risk than their peers of academic failure and expulsion. Researchers have found that students who don’t graduate high school cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Not only do they represent lost productivity and tax revenues but they are also a burden on public assistance, health care, and criminal justice systems.
Drug Abuse and the Larger Community
Drug abuse creates social issues and public health concerns that extend beyond the home, school, and workplace to negatively impact the larger community.
Community Health and Health Care
The estimated direct health care cost of drug abuse in the U.S. (illicit and prescription) is $37 billion. Drug abuse takes a toll on the health care system through:
- Increased risk and rate of heart attacks
- Demand on mental health resources. Dual diagnosis is when a person is diagnosed with drug abuse in addition to their mental health diagnosis.
- Spread of sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases. The behavioral changes caused by drug abuse can lead people to partake in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex and needle sharing.
- The need for emergency services and other medical services like medical intervention, inpatient treatment, and even prevention and treatment research
One of the social effects of drug abuse on the community is its direct link to crime. Unfortunately, most arrestees are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their arrest. Drug-related crimes are also common, such as:
- Driving under the influence
- Violent crimes committed while under the influence of drugs
- Violence between clashing drug gangs or violence between a dealer and user
- Stealing to afford drugs (including fraud)
All of the social effects of drug abuse on the community compound to have a massive effect on the economy. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that the cost to the U.S. for illicit and prescription drugs is $271.5 billion overall.
How to Stop Drug Abuse in the Community
The impact of drug abuse is never limited to just the individual. Fortunately, some of the social effects of drug abuse on the community can also be remedied and prevented by the community.
So, how can a community help stop drug abuse?
Awareness and Education
It may seem obvious, but the starting point of preventing drug abuse in the community is educating people on the dangers of drug abuse and the impact it has on the user and the community.
Within the Family
Parents should teach their children about the dangers of drug abuse from an early age. To start, they should talk to them about the reasons people shouldn’t take drugs. They should also cover the depictions and glamourization of drugs in the media and how to avoid peer pressure.
Education is key, but there are other steps parents should take to help prevent adolescent drug abuse, including:
- Set rules and establish consequences
- Be aware of the child’s activities
- Know their child’s friends
- Take inventory of all prescription drugs brought into the house
One of the best things a parent can do is set a good example for their children. If they are a previous drug abuser, keeping an open dialogue with their child about the experience and what they learned is important.
Within the School
Education in the school should happen early and be repeated often. From a young age, students should be taught skills like communication, assertiveness, and problem-solving that will help them avoid drug abuse.
Within the Community
Communities can create awareness and educate their members on drug abuse social issues through events like town hall meetings, forums, lectures, dramas, and dedicated education and awareness days.
A well-conceived awareness program will:
- Motivate the community to come together
- Target specific audiences instead of trying to reach everyone at once
- Reach groups at risk of drug abuse
- Promote alternatives to drug abuse
- Share the benefits of not using drugs
- Opt for factual information instead of scare tactics
- Identify community problems and intervene early
- Advocate for prevention as a first step
- Educate on treatment and rehabilitation options
- Collect resources from agencies that can assist financially
When building an effective drug prevention program, a community should consider the following:
- The demographic characteristics of the community, such as age, socioeconomic status, and culture(s)
- The groups within the community that are most vulnerable and at a greater risk of drug abuse
- The community’s social patterns, strengths, resources, and vulnerabilities
Community members may not think that drug abuse in their community is significant enough to warrant attention. This denial must be dealt with before effective drug prevention programs can occur. To overcome denial:
- Educate the community about the social issues of drug abuse and the effects on the community
- Encourage community members to participate
- Involve community members and encourage them to take ownership of the program
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all prevention program. Going to the gatekeepers — the people who know what the community needs because of their position or role, or because they are in need themselves — will help determine who is in need of prevention services and what can be done to provide that service.
Involve members of the community that are well-suited to reaching particular audiences. These community members should be empathetic, well-respected, and socially, politically, or financially able to aid with drug prevention programs. This could be church groups, women’s groups, health professionals, police departments, government officials, social clubs, counselors, and therapists.
Learning More About Treatment and Rehabilitation
Prevention is preferable, but drug abuse happens. Education related to treatment is one of the first steps in stopping drug abuse in a community. You can learn more about some of these options by contacting us or visiting the North Jersey Recovery Center blog.