Not sure where to start? Get an overview of some of the most important topic areas in these brief lessons.
Substance misuse is the use of illegal drugs and/or the inappropriate use of legal substances such as alcohol or prescription drugs.
Prescription drug misuse includes taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed, using someone else’s prescription, or taking a medication just for the feeling it causes.
Substance use disorder, or addiction, is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [Go To Resource] as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” Substance use disorder is a brain disease because the drugs can cause long-lasting changes to the way the brain functions.
Opioids attach to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other organs. This allows them to block pain messages from other parts of the body. They increase dopamine, a chemical that produces euphoria and relaxation. Opioids include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription [Go To Resource].
Prescription Pain Relievers
These medications decrease how much pain you feel, but do not treat the cause of the pain.
Heroin [Go To Resource] is a powerful illegal drug that can quickly lead to tolerance and physical dependence. Chronic heroin use may cause psychological and physical health problems. People who inject heroin are at increased risk of contracting viral hepatitis and HIV.
Fentanyl [Go To Resource] is a prescription drug for severe pain, but it is also produced and distributed illegally. Fentanyl’s high potency makes it extremely dangerous because a very small amount can lead to an overdose.
Marijuana [Go To Resource] is the dried cannabis plant, which contains the mind-altering chemical THC and hundreds of other compounds. Marijuana’s effects on the brain include altered senses, mood changes, impaired body movement, and difficulty with thinking. There is ongoing research exploring potential medical uses for cannabis compounds. CBD is a compound in cannabis that is not intoxicating, but may have medical uses, including reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly treating mental illness. The Federal Drug Administration recently approved a CBD-based medication to treat childhood epilepsy [Go to Resource].
The potency of cannabis has increased over the past few decades and is not well regulated or accurately labeled for consumers. Cannabis, and its extracts, can be smoked or mixed into food (called “edibles”). The method of consumption affects how quickly and how long a user experiences the effects of the drug. For example, it takes longer to feel the effect of an edible cannabis product than it takes to feel the effects of smoking cannabis.
Developing a workplace policy to cover cannabis use can be challenging for several reasons:
Heavy cannabis use can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. It may also cause problems with learning, memory, and concentration.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines “risky use” as consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 drinks per week for men, or more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 drinks per week for women. “Binge drinking” is considered 5 or more drinks on one occasion for men and 4 or more drinks on one occasion for women.