What is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse is “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs,” according to the World Health Organization. A person with substance abuse disorder may develop an addiction, or a physical and mental dependence on the substance.
Drug dependence can lead to:
- Strong desire to take the drug
- Trouble controlling use of drugs or alcohol
- Continued use despite harmful consequences
- Higher tolerance
- Physical withdrawal if they try to quit
- Placing higher importance on drug use than other activities or relationships
According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), there were 12.6 drug-induced deaths per 100,000 population in 2007. Substance abuse can also contribute to problems in communities, including:
- Teenage pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS
- Domestic violence and child abuse
- Motor vehicle crashes
- Physical fights
- Crime, including homicide
ODPHP reports that an estimated 22 million Americans struggled with substance abuse in 2005. Of those 22 million, as many as 95 percent may be unaware of their problem.
What causes substance abuse?
A person may start using drugs as an experiment in social situations, and go on to use drugs more frequently. Others may use drugs to feel better in stressful situations. Some people may start using drugs, particularly opioids, after they have been exposed to prescribed medications.
Some factors may increase a person’s risk of substance abuse and dependency;
- Biological differences, including physical changes in the brain or genetic traits
- Environmental factors, including peer pressure or lack of family engagement
- Experimenting with drugs earlier in life
- Mental health disorder, either making a person more likely to become addicted or creating painful feelings that may prompt drug use to cope with them
What are the signs and symptoms of substance abuse?
Not everyone with substance abuse will show all the same symptoms, but several warning signs may indicate you or your loved one struggle with substance abuse:
- Intense need to use the drug regularly
- Financial difficulties from buying drugs
- Inability to fulfill daily tasks and responsibilities
- Unusual risk-taking or illegal behavior, such as stealing or drunk driving
- Failing to stop using the drug
- Withdrawal symptoms after trying to stop taking the drug
Different types of substances also create different symptoms. For example, cannabis-containing substances, such as marijuana, may cause slowed reaction time, unusual anxiety or paranoid thinking, and strong, unusual food cravings. In contrast, stimulants like meth or cocaine may cause feelings of euphoria and overconfidence, increased energy, or rapid speech.