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Use and Abuse of Drugs

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How to Treat Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a medical condition that affects a person’s brain chemical systems as well as their behavior.

Navigation: Use and Abuse of Drugs, Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse, Why Do People Abuse Drugs?, Risk Factors for Substance Abuse, Most Commonly Abused Drugs, What Are the Effects of Substance Abuse?, Common Drug Abuse Withdrawal Symptoms, Treatment for Drug Abuse, Addiction, Withdrawal Symptoms, and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Addiction is a medical condition that affects a person’s brain chemical systems as well as their behavior. When someone is addicted to drugs, they are unable to resist their urge to use them. This condition is characterized by the inability to control your intake even when you are already experiencing its adverse health consequences.

But before it develops into a full-blown addiction, it begins with drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug abuse as “the intentional, non-therapeutic use of a drug product or substance, even once, for its rewarding psychological or physiological effects.”

This definition encompasses the misuse of both legal and illegal substances, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and illicit drugs. This means drug misuse isn’t just about heroin, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. It also applies to prescription drugs and other legal substances.

The fact is that you can get addicted if you misuse drugs whether you are taking a prescription medication or an illicit drug. Opioids, for example, are highly addictive despite being used for pain relief.

While you may choose to take drugs because you enjoy the way it makes you feel, substance abuse actually changes the way your brain works. Eventually, you lose control over your ability to control your intake.

Here we will discuss the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, its effects, risk factors, and how treatment works. Let’s take a closer look.


Use and Abuse of Drugs

Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.

It is characterized by a pattern of behaviors in which a person consumes substances in amounts or in ways that are harmful to themselves or others. Not only can substance abuse lead to physical health problems, it can also lead to mental health conditions, and social problems.

When substance use develops into a more serious condition, it is referred to as a substance use disorder (SUD) or drug addiction. Addiction affects every aspect of a person’s life as they lose control over their intake.

When a person is addicted, they may consume larger amounts or use the substance for longer periods than intended. When they don’t take the substance, they feel a strong desire or craving to use it. Over time, they may develop a tolerance to their drug of choice, requiring more of it to achieve the desired effects. This also exposes them to an increased risk of overdose.

In addition to cravings, people with substance abuse problems may experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not taking the drug. This can manifest in the form of physical or psychological discomfort. Many people simply choose to stay addicted in order to avoid these symptoms.

Substance use disorder tends to co-occur with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental disorders. This is because some people who have these mental illnesses self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to numb themselves or deal with their symptoms.

It is important that you seek proper drug addiction treatment and the assistance of a mental health professional if you are dealing with these conditions.

Remember that substance abuse is a complex issue with biological, psychological, and social factors contributing to its development. Left untreated, it can have serious health consequences.


Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Because of its potential dangers, it is very important to recognize the signs and symptoms of substance abuse or substance use disorder. According to NIDA, drug abuse involves behaviors like taking more of a drug than prescribed; using it in ways other than as directed by a healthcare professional; using a drug for the purpose of getting high or altering one’s mood or consciousness; or using a drug despite knowing its harmful effects on health, relationships, or daily functioning.

But drug abuse can manifest in different ways for different people, so it’s good to know all about its various signs and symptoms.

First you may want to pay attention to the physical signs of drug abuse like bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, significant weight loss or gain, and frequent nosebleeds. Seeing these in your loved one may be concerning as they can indicate substance abuse. They may even begin to neglect their hygiene and grooming because all their energy will go towards obtaining and abusing the drug.

The person may get sick more often due to having a weakened immune system. You may also find needle marks or track marks in their skin.

But you should also watch out for some noticeable behavioral changes. They may exhibit dramatic changes in their behavior like mood swings, aggression, or irritability. They may lose interest in hobbies and activities they used to enjoy. They may also start neglecting their responsibilities at work, school, or home. You may catch them engaging in risky or illegal activities to obtain drugs or while under the influence.

Drug abuse causes psychological symptoms like confusion, impaired thinking, paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, panic attacks, and memory problems.

Seeing drug paraphernalia at home, especially in their room, may indicate a serious substance use problem.

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse can vary widely among individuals and may sometimes overlap with symptoms of other medical or mental health conditions.

If you or someone you know is displaying these signs, it’s essential to seek help from a healthcare professional or a substance abuse treatment center. Early intervention and support can be crucial in addressing drug abuse and its potential long-term consequences.

Why Do People Abuse Drugs?

People abuse drugs for a variety of reasons, but the main one is because many of these substances can induce feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation. People may use drugs to escape from stress, anxiety, or emotional pain and to experience these pleasurable sensations.

Self-medication is even more common among those with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. They may use drugs to alleviate their symptoms temporarily. However, this is just a short-term solution and may evolve into a harmful pattern of drug abuse, which only causes even bigger problems down the line.

Mental health disorders are not the only things that may cause you to self-medicate. Life’s challenges, such as work pressure, family issues, or financial problems, can lead some individuals to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with these stressors.

There are some people who make the mistake of abusing their prescription drugs simply because they think these medications are safe. This is a misconception as even prescription medicines can be addictive if misused.

Some people hear all about the pleasurable effects of drugs and get curious. They hear drug use can provide a temporary escape from reality or personal problems. Because of this, they develop a desire to experiment and try it out for themselves. They may want to see what the effects are like and whether they enjoy being in that altered state of consciousness.

Others are simply pressured by their friends or colleagues. Social factors play a significant role in drug abuse. People may start using drugs because of peer pressure or a desire to fit in with a particular group or social circle. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to peer pressure.

However, in some social or cultural contexts, drug use may be normalized or even encouraged, making it more likely for people to engage in such behavior.

A lack of education about the risks and consequences of drug abuse can contribute to experimentation and subsequent addiction. Regardless of the reason, it is important for people to receive proper addiction treatment if they develop a substance use disorder.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse


Although the choice to use drugs in the first place is up to the person, there are certain risk factors that influence the likelihood of engaging in substance abuse and developing an addiction.

Understanding these risk factors can help identify people who may be at higher risk of addiction. This may even help with prevention efforts. Here are some common risk factors for substance abuse:

Genetic Factors: Genetics plays a significant role in a person’s susceptibility to substance abuse. If you have close relatives, such as parents or siblings, with a history of substance abuse, you may be at a higher risk.

Family History: Growing up in a family environment where substance abuse is prevalent can increase your risk. Family dynamics, parenting style, and family support systems can all contribute to a person’s vulnerability.

Early Exposure: Exposure to drugs or alcohol at a young age can increase the likelihood of substance abuse later in life. This exposure can occur within the family, among peers, or through broader social influences.

Environmental Factors: Living in an area with a high prevalence of substance abuse and limited access to treatment and prevention resources can increase the risk.

Peer Pressure: As we mentioned earlier, friends and peer groups can have a powerful influence on substance use. Since adolescents and young adults are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, it is crucial to surround yourself with positive influences.

Mental Health Disorders: People with mental health issues are at a higher risk of substance abuse as they may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Trauma and Stress: Experiencing trauma or high levels of chronic stress can increase the risk of turning to substances as a coping mechanism. This includes physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and exposure to violence.

Lack of Coping Skills: Some individuals may lack effective coping skills to deal with life’s challenges, making them more likely to turn to substances for relief.

Socioeconomic Factors: Poverty, lack of access to education, and limited economic opportunities can contribute to substance abuse, as individuals may use substances to escape from their circumstances or to cope with the stress of financial instability.

Accessibility: Easy access to drugs and alcohol can increase the likelihood of use and abuse. Availability and affordability play a role in the prevalence of substance abuse.

Media and Cultural Influences: Media portrayal and cultural norms surrounding substance use can influence attitudes and behaviors. Glamorizing substance use in media can make it seem more acceptable.

Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and risk-taking, are associated with a higher risk of substance abuse.

Just remember that these risk factors do not predict whether or not a person will develop addiction later in life. Generally speaking, the more risk factors you have, the higher the chances of becoming addicted. But not everyone who has risk factors will be addicted, and having limited risk factors does not make you immune to addiction.

Most Commonly Abused Drugs

People may have different drugs of choice, but there are some that are very commonly abused regardless of where you are.

Alcohol is the biggest example. Alcohol abuse is widespread and can lead to various health issues, including addiction, liver disease, and social problems. But because alcohol is celebrated in many cultures around the world, it can be difficult to distinguish between someone who is just having a good time and someone who has a drinking problem.

Marijuana or cannabis is another commonly abused substance. Cannabis is abused for its psychoactive effects. It is legal for recreational or medicinal use in some places but illegal in others.

But recently, prescription medications have become a serious concern because of their potential dangers and how common it is to misuse them. The misuse of prescription drugs, especially opioids (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone), benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium), and stimulants (e.g., Adderall, Ritalin), is a significant problem that causes overdose deaths all over the US. Whether you abuse them on purpose or misuse your prescription drug accidentally, the effects and dangers are the same.

Other commonly abused drugs include cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, inhalants, and hallucinogens.

Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant drug that is derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It is one of the oldest known psychoactive substances and has a long history of use in various cultures for its stimulant and euphoric effects.

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine. It is highly addictive and can have devastating consequences for a person’s health and wellbeing.

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a potent stimulant that can lead to severe addiction and health problems, such as dental issues and cognitive impairments.

Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive, intoxicating effect. Common inhalants include solvents, aerosol sprays, and nitrous oxide.

Finally, hallucinogens are drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms (psilocybin), and DMT that can cause profound alterations in perception and consciousness. This is why they are so commonly abused recreationally.

Different drugs can cause different effects. It is important to seek treatment if you develop an addiction regardless of what substance it is.

What Are the Effects of Substance Abuse?

We know that substance abuse can turn into a full-blown addiction, which has several physical and mental health effects.

The physical effects of substance abuse can vary widely based on the specific substance but may include issues like liver damage (in the case of alcohol or certain drugs), respiratory problems (with smoking or inhaling substances), and infectious diseases (such as HIV/AIDS from needle sharing).

Substance abuse is also commonly linked to the development or exacerbation of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Chronic substance abuse can even impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making.

But aside from these health effects, it has other noteworthy effects that people should know about.

Tolerance and drug dependence are often associated with addiction. Tolerance is when a person begins to require more and more of the drug just to experience the same effects. This can lead to a higher risk of drug overdose.

On the other hand, drug dependence is when a person’s body has adjusted to the drug’s presence to the point where it can no longer function properly without it. Whenever they attempt to reduce their intake or quit the drug, they go through an uncomfortable withdrawal process. Dangerous withdrawal symptoms and cravings may ultimately keep them from maintaining their sobriety.

Overdose in itself can be fatal. Taking a large or concentrated dose of a substance can lead to overdose. Opioids are especially known for causing overdose-related deaths across the country. This is called the opioid epidemic or opioid crisis.

But addiction not only affects the individual but also the people around them. Substance abuse can strain relationships with family, friends, and partners due to erratic behavior, deceit, and neglect. It can have a profound impact on these relationships as the person prioritizes the drug over everything else. They may begin to withdraw from friends and family in favor of the drug.

Because many substances are illegal to possess or use, people who misuse drugs may also face legal consequences like arrests and incarceration. In some cases, substance abuse can lead to criminal behavior, including theft, violence, and domestic abuse.

The cost of maintaining a substance abuse habit can lead to financial instability, job loss, and poverty. They may even lose their job in the process, causing an even greater financial strain.

Addiction affects everyone differently. These are just some examples of how substance use disorder can affect different aspects of a person’s life. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, seeking help from medical professionals or addiction specialists is strongly recommended.

The thing about addiction is that the person will keep using the drug even when they are already suffering from these adverse effects and consequences. Proper addiction treatment is necessary to help them get sober again and learn how to maintain their sobriety for the long term.

Common Drug Abuse Withdrawal Symptoms

Drug withdrawal symptoms can vary widely depending on the specific drug, the duration and severity of use, and the person’s unique physiology.

That said, there are some common withdrawal symptoms that many people experience when they stop using certain types of drugs.

Opioids like heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and other prescription painkillers may cause withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, restlessness, agitation, diarrhea, insomnia, dilated pupils, and flu-like symptoms.

Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan may cause anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, tremors, sweating, nausea, vomiting, irritability, restlessness, muscle pain, and in severe cases, seizures.

Stimulants like cocaine and meth may cause withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, irritability, mood swings, paranoia, and anxiety.

Even alcohol can cause withdrawal symptoms if you have been drinking for a long time. Alcohol withdrawal may cause tremors, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, depression, and in severe cases, hallucinations, seizures, or delirium tremens (DTs)

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the substance and the individual’s dependence. For some drugs, like benzodiazepines and alcohol, withdrawal can be life-threatening. Seeking medical supervision and support during withdrawal is often advisable.

In order to keep patients safe, drug rehab centers use medical detox. This is a process in which the patient’s symptoms are managed by healthcare professionals while their intake is gradually lowered. Medications may be used to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms under control. This keeps them safe while they undergo the withdrawal process.

Treatment for Drug Abuse, Addiction, Withdrawal Symptoms, and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders


The treatment for drug abuse and addiction varies depending on the specific substance involved, the individual’s needs, and the severity of the addiction. But while rehab facilities may differ in terms of specific approach, addiction treatment will generally involve a combination of behavioral therapy, medication, and detox.

Social support from loved ones and support groups are also necessary for a holistic treatment. The best treatment programs create a personalized plan based on the patient’s specific needs and condition.

Here are some common components of treatment for drug abuse and addiction:

Assessment and Evaluation: The first step is to assess the patient’s drug use history, mental and physical health, and social circumstances. This helps determine the best treatment plan for them.

Detoxification: In cases of physical dependence, detoxification may be necessary. This process helps the body rid itself of the drug while managing withdrawal symptoms. It is done under medical supervision in a detox center or hospital.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Some people benefit from medications that can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Common medications include methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone (for opioid addiction), and disulfiram or Acamprosate (for those with alcohol addiction).

Behavioral Therapy: Various forms of therapy can be effective in treating addiction, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET), and Contingency Management. These therapies help patients identify and change patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to their drug abuse. Group therapy, family therapy, and individual counseling may also be implemented.

Relapse Prevention: Learning to recognize triggers and developing strategies to prevent relapse is a crucial aspect of addiction treatment.

Aftercare and Support: Ongoing support is essential for maintaining recovery. Addiction is often considered a chronic condition, and individuals may require ongoing monitoring and support to prevent relapse. This may include regular counseling, participation in support groups, and access to community resources.

Lifestyle Changes: Encouraging a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management can aid in recovery.

Remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Treatment plans should be flexible and adapted as needed.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse or addiction, look for a rehab center near you today. Addiction is a treatable condition, and with the right support and treatment, recovery is possible. The journey to long-lasting sobriety begins today.

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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