Substance Abuse happens when a substance like drugs, alcohol or tobacco
produces some form of intoxication that alters perception, judgment, attention or physical control. When usage ceases or the amount used is reduced, many substances can bring on withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild anxiety to hallucinations, seizures, and even death in cases of a drug overdose. Over time, many substances such as alcohol, tranquilizers, stimulants and opiates can also produce tolerance – a phenomenon where a larger amount of the drug must be used to produce the same level of intoxication.
Substance abuse has more to do with the consequences of drug or alcohol use. Family members, friends and co-workers are often hurt by the disease. Tragically, there are literally thousands of people who are injured and killed in accidents that are caused by substance abuse. Addiction can occur when continued use becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities such as work, relationships or health. Users may not even recognize that their behavior is out of control and causes problems for themselves and the people around them. Early recognition of substance abuse greatly increases the chance for effective treatment and education can play an important role in prevention. Many substance abusers think that they can stop on their own, but most who try do not succeed.
Substance Abuse Symptoms
Use and abuse of substances may begin as early as childhood or adolescence. Often, friends and family are the first to notice the signs, which may include the following:
- Giving up activities that were once enjoyed (such as sports or hobbies)
- Hanging out with a new group of friends
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Falling grades
- Feelings of depression, hopelessness, tiredness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Using room deodorizers and/or incense
- A craving or compulsion to use the substance
- Attempts to stop using the substance produce withdrawal symptoms
- Avoiding friends and/or family in order to get drunk or high
- Lying (including lying about how much alcohol or other drugs are being used)
- Blackouts – forgetting what he or she did the night before
- Always talking about drinking or using drugs
- Suspension from school or work for an incident that was drug or alcohol-related
Other signs to look for include disappearing money or valuables and finding paraphernalia such as baggies, rolling paper, small pipes and small boxes.
Substance Abuse Causes
There are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood to abuse substances:
- Genetics – Alcohol or drug abuse can sometimes run in families.
- Environmental factors – Factors within a family such as a chaotic home environment or lack of nurturing and parental attachment
- Poor social coping skills
- Poor school performance
- Mental disorders – Sometimes an underlying mental disorder can be at the root of substance abuse.
- Substance Abuse Treatment
The road to recovery begins with recognition of the problem; however, the process is often complicated by a lack of understanding about substance abuse and addiction and/or denial. Treatment is often initiated by intervention of family and friends and can include:
- Education – Programs with the goal of increasing communication between parents and their children and correcting children’s misconceptions about cigarettes alcohol, drugs and the consequences of their use are helpful. Learning how to say, “no” and other resistance skills can also be taught.
- Behavioral therapy – The most important component of treating substance abuse is preventing relapse. Research shows that long-term drug use can actually alter brain function to increase the compulsion to use, with the craving continuing even after drug use stops. Behavioral treatment and counseling can provide strategies to cope with those cravings and help avoid relapse. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to help patients identify, avoid and cope with situations in which they might be likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Family therapy might be provided to help maintain a supportive environment and improve the function of the family, thus reducing environmental risk factors. Finally, using techniques that remind people of their values can also help them avoid substance use.
- Medications – Sometimes, medications may be prescribed to help control withdrawal symptoms and/or drug cravings. Also, if the drug user has an underlying mental disorder that increases their risk for substance abuse, medical treatment (along with counseling) can help.
- Outpatient programs
- Self-help groups – These groups for substance abusers (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) and for their family members (Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family Groups) can provide support and reinforce messages learned in treatment.
The most important thing in dealing with substance abuse is to know it is a treatable condition and the road to recovery begins with recognition. Substance abuse affects many areas of a person’s life, so multiple forms of treatment are often necessary.
National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Hotline
1 (800) 233-HELP (4357)
Information, support, treatment options and referrals to local rehab centers for any drug or alcohol problem. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.