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Psychoactive Substance Abuse

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What to Know About Psychoactive Substance Abuse?

Many psychoactive drugs are controlled or prohibited by law because of their potential for misuse as well as the adverse consequences associated with them.

Navigation: What Are Examples of Psychoactive Substances?, What is Psychoactive Substance Abuse?, Health Risks of Psychoactive Drugs, Signs of Psychoactive Drug Abuse and Addiction, Treatment for Psychoactive Drug Addiction, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


When we say that a drug is “psychoactive” it means that it can affect various mental processes when administered. Psychoactive drugs can affect a person’s perception, cognition, mood, emotions, and even their consciousness. Alcohol and nicotine are also considered psychoactive substances.

Most of the time, the ‘psychoactive part’ is actually dropped, especially when talking about substance abuse, drug abuse, and addiction because it is already implied.

Many psychoactive drugs are controlled or prohibited by law because of their potential for misuse as well as the adverse consequences associated with them. When it comes to production, distribution, sale, and non-medical use, both legal and illegal drugs have varying degrees of restriction and availability. This largely depends on their health risks and therapeutic purposes.

It is important to be aware about the potential dangers of taking various psychoactive drugs because of their association with drug dependence, addiction, and different mental disorders.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines drug addiction as “substance use disorder.” The DSM-5 is a widely used classification system for mental health disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Substance use disorder encompasses a range of behaviors and symptoms related to the misuse of drugs or alcohol. It can refer to addiction to various substances, including alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal drugs.

To receive a diagnosis of substance use disorder according to the DSM-5, an individual must meet specific criteria such as having intense cravings for an illicit drug, continued substance abuse despite struggling with its consequences, recurrent substance abuse in situations where it is hazardous, developing drug tolerance, and experiencing drug withdrawal. These are only some of the criteria used to determine drug use disorders in the DSM-5.

Here we will discuss psychoactive drug abuse, its effects, and how it can be treated.


What Are Examples of Psychoactive Substances?

Psychoactive substances, also known as psychoactive drugs or psychotropic substances, are chemicals that affect the central nervous system and alter brain function, leading to changes in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior. These substances can be either legal or illegal, and they are often classified into several categories based on their effects.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), psychoactive drugs include depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, opioids, and cannabis.

Depressants are substances that slow down the central nervous system, resulting in relaxation, sedation, and reduced anxiety. This means alcohol, benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Xanax), and barbiturates are all considered psychoactive substances because they are depressants.

On the flip side, stimulants are drugs that increase alertness, energy, and focus by enhancing the activity of the central nervous system. Common stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines (e.g., Adderall), and cocaine.

Hallucinogens are substances that alter perception and cognition, often creating sensory experiences and vivid hallucinations. People who are under the effects of hallucinogenic substances often experience an altered state of consciousness. Examples include LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), and mescaline (found in peyote cactus).

Similarly, dissociative drugs are also psychoactive substances. These substances can cause detachment from reality, producing feelings of depersonalization and derealization. Examples include ketamine, PCP (phencyclidine), and dextromethorphan (found in cough medicines).

Some medications prescribed by healthcare professionals can have psychoactive properties, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. Opioid drugs are also psychoactive. Opioids are primarily used for pain relief and can also induce feelings of euphoria and sedation. They include prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illicit drugs like heroin.

Cannabinoids, inhalants, and designer drugs also fall under the same category of psychoactive drugs.

The use of psychoactive substances can have various effects on individuals and may lead to both short-term and long-term physical, psychological, and social consequences. Responsible and informed use, as well as seeking professional guidance when necessary, is crucial when dealing with psychoactive substances.


What is Psychoactive Substance Abuse?

Psychoactive substance abuse is just another term for substance abuse or substance use disorder. It refers to the harmful or hazardous use of any of the substances listed above. That includes illegal drugs, prescription opioids, alcohol, and medications given by your doctor.

Substance abuse is often characterized by intense cravings and loss of control over your intake. The person finds it difficult to control their substance use, often consuming more or for a longer period than intended. If they begin to take drugs compulsively despite the consequences, then their substance abuse has developed into a full-blown addiction.

A person who is engaging in drug or alcohol abuse will often prioritize it over other things. They may lose interest in things and activities that they used to enjoy. They may even begin to neglect important responsibilities at work, school, or home.

Substance abuse can strain relationships with friends and family, leading to conflicts and isolation. Oftentimes, the person will change their social circles in favor of new friends who tolerate their substance abuse.

Over time, the person may develop tolerance, meaning they need increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect. Meanwhile, if they stop using the substance or reduce their intake, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be physically and emotionally distressing. These withdrawal symptoms indicate drug dependence and may range in severity from mild to life-threatening, depending on the substance.

Substance abuse can have severe consequences for a person’s physical and mental health. Now we’re going to talk about all of these different adverse consequences that a person may experience from abusing psychoactive drugs.

Health Risks of Psychoactive Drugs

Different psychoactive drugs can cause different effects on a person’s mind, body, and behavior. The severity and duration of these effects will also vary from one person to another depending on the type of substance they took and for how long. There are also various genetic and environmental factors that play a role in the development of certain adverse effects. This is why we can say that addiction affects everyone differently.

That said, there are common risks and dangers that are worth discussing. Let’s start with the health risks. Many psychoactive substances can have detrimental effects on physical health, including organ damage, cardiovascular problems, and respiratory issues.

Stimulant drugs can cause increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and arrhythmias. This can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems. Meanwhile inhalation of certain drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can lead to respiratory issues like lung damage, chronic cough, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

The consumption of alcohol and some other drugs, like certain prescription medications and opioids, can cause liver damage, including cirrhosis, while some drugs, including synthetic cannabinoids can lead to kidney damage or kidney failure.

Substance abuse can also contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychosis, paranoia, personality changes, and suicidal ideation. In fact, substance use disorders are also considered mental health problems.

Not only that, but psychoactive drug abuse can also lead to various cognitive problems. It can impair decision-making and increase the likelihood of risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence. Many psychoactive substances can also impair coordination and motor skills, leading to accidents and injuries.

With substance abuse comes the risk of developing addiction and dependence. Excessive use of these drugs also puts a person at risk of an overdose, which can be fatal in some cases. Some substances, especially opioids, can cause fatal overdoses, either due to impurities in the drug or the individual misjudging the dosage. Also keep in mind that combining multiple substances, including alcohol, can increase the risk of overdose and adverse reactions.

These are some of the ways drug abuse affects someone on an individual level. Unfortunately, substance abuse also affects the people around you. And so this often leads to relationship problems, legal troubles, financial problems, child custody issues, employment issues, and other social problems.

Substance abuse can strain relationships, leading to family breakdowns and emotional distress for loved ones. It even has an impact on the overall economy due to significant health costs, criminal justice expenses, and lost productivity.

Remember that not all psychoactive substances are equally dangerous. In fact, some may have legitimate medical uses when used under the supervision of healthcare professionals.

Additionally, harm reduction strategies, education, and access to treatment can help mitigate some of the risks associated with psychoactive substance use.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, seeking help from healthcare professionals or addiction treatment services is crucial.

Signs of Psychoactive Drug Abuse and Addiction

It’s better to recognize the warning signs of substance abuse before it becomes a full-blown addiction. If it’s too late for that, you can still find value in knowing the signs and symptoms of addiction because your loved one may not recognize that they have a problem. It is common for people with addiction to be in denial about their condition, so it is up to you to help them see the problem.

The signs of psychoactive drug abuse can manifest in various ways. They may also vary depending on the specific drug involved and other individual factors. That said, there are some common signs to watch out for.

For example, increased tolerance is a sign of substance abuse. Over time, individuals may need to use larger amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effect or to avoid withdrawal symptoms. When the drug’s effects wear off, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, nausea, sweating, and cravings. These symptoms can be a powerful motivator for continued drug use.

People with addiction often find it difficult to control or limit their drug use. They may make unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down. As we mentioned earlier, addiction can lead to a neglect of work, school, family, and social obligations. They may prioritize drug use over their responsibilities. Hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed may no longer hold interest for someone with addiction.

Instead, obtaining, using, and recovering from the drug can consume a significant amount of time and effort. People with addiction may withdraw from friends and family or change their social circle to be around others who use drugs. They may go to great lengths to hide their drug use or lie about it.

Of course, experiencing physical and mental health problems associated with drug use may also serve as warning signs. Addiction can lead to deteriorating physical health, including weight loss, fatigue, and increased susceptibility to illnesses. It can also contribute to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Repeatedly trying and failing to quit or control drug use is another strong indicator of addiction.

Maintaining a drug addiction can be expensive, leading to financial difficulties or even resorting to illegal activities to fund the habit. Due to their reduced productivity, they may also struggle to perform at work or in school.

Also watch out for some noticeable changes in their physical appearance, behavior, and hygiene. They may have bloodshot eyes or needle marks on their skin. They may also stop taking care of themselves.

It’s important to note that the presence of one or more of these signs does not necessarily indicate addiction, but when several of them are observed together, it may be cause for concern. If you or someone you know is exhibiting these signs, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional or addiction specialist.

It’s essential to approach someone you suspect may have a psychoactive drug addiction with empathy and encourage them to seek professional help. Addiction is a treatable condition, and recovery is possible with the right support and treatment plan.

Treatment for Psychoactive Drug Addiction

The treatment for psychoactive drug addiction can be complex and may vary depending on the person’s specific needs and condition. Here are some common approaches and principles for treating psychoactive drug addiction:

Assessment and Diagnosis: The first step is to assess the extent of the addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. A comprehensive assessment helps tailor the treatment plan to the individual.

Medical Detox: In cases of physical dependence on certain drugs, medical detoxification may be necessary. It involves gradually lowering the patient’s drug or alcohol intake while their withdrawal symptoms are safely managed under medical supervision. This process helps keep the patient safe and comfortable during this difficult step of the recovery process. Detox alone is not a complete treatment for addiction but is often a necessary first step.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help individuals manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse. Medications are often used for opioids (e.g., methadone, buprenorphine) and alcohol (e.g., naltrexone, acamprosate).

Behavioral Therapy: Various forms of behavioral therapy are crucial components of addiction treatment. They can help individuals recognize the root causes of their substance abuse and addiction, and change their patterns of drug use. Some common therapeutic approaches include: cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement, dialectical behavioral therapy, and contingency management.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used and effective approach in the treatment of psychoactive drug addiction. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. When applied to addiction treatment, it helps individuals understand the thoughts and emotions that drive their substance abuse and equips them with coping strategies to overcome cravings and maintain abstinence.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Motivational Enhancement Therapy is an evidence-based approach that is rooted in the principles of motivational psychology and is designed to help patients resolve their ambivalence about changing their drug use behavior and move towards making positive changes.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): This treatment is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that is based on the concept of dialectics, which means finding a balance between opposing forces. In the context of addiction, DBT can help individuals achieve a balance between their desire for immediate gratification through drug use and their long-term goals of recovery and well-being.

Contingency Management (CM): Contingency Management is a behavioral therapy approach that is based on the principles of operant conditioning and involves the use of positive reinforcement to encourage patients to abstain from drug use and engage in prosocial behaviors. CM has been found to be effective in promoting abstinence and improving treatment outcomes for individuals with substance use disorders.

12-Step Facilitation: Incorporates principles from self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Individual and Group Counseling: Both individual and group counseling can be beneficial in addressing the psychological aspects of addiction and providing a support network.

Family Therapy: Involving the family in the treatment process can be important, as addiction often affects not only the individual but also their loved ones. Family therapy can improve communication and help family members understand and support the recovery process.

Relapse Prevention: Learning how to recognize and manage triggers for drug use is a critical part of addiction treatment. Relapse prevention strategies help individuals develop coping skills and a plan to avoid relapse.

Aftercare and Continuing Support: Recovery is an ongoing process, and after completing formal treatment, individuals may benefit from ongoing support through peer support groups, 12-step meetings, or individual counseling.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment. That’s why the most effective treatment plan is tailored to the individual’s unique needs, taking into account factors like the type of substance used, the severity of the addiction, co-occurring mental health disorders, and personal preferences.

Recovery is possible, and many people achieve long-term sobriety with the right support and resources. Look for a rehab center near you today to learn more about your treatment options for psychoactive drug addiction.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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