What is Substance Abuse : Commonly Used Drugs, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, Prognosis

Substance Abuse : An Introduction

Substance abuse refers to the hazardous or harmful use of psychoactive substances, including illicit drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse is when one is taking drugs that are not legal and also using alcohol, prescription medicines and other legal substances in excess or in a wrong way. It refers to the dangerous use of psychoactive substances, which can result in dependence syndrome, a cluster of behavioral, cognitive and physiological phenomena, that generally develops after repeated use of substances and that include typically a hard desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, giving higher priority to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased intolerance and sometimes, a physical withdrawal state.

It must be mentioned that substance abuse is different from addiction, in respect to the fact that individuals with substance abuse issues can quit or can change their unhealthy behavior; however, on the other hand, persons who are into addiction cannot stop using the drugs or substances even when they cause the harm. Addiction, is in fact a disease.

What is Substance Abuse

Commonly Used Substance Abuse Drugs:

Both, legal as well as illegal drugs contain chemicals that can change how our body and mind work. They can give you a pleasurable” high”, ease your stress and also help you avoid certain problems in your life.


Alcohol abuse is harmful. It is related to not only addiction, but also to traffic fatalities, cirrhosis, violence, liver failure, permanent brain damage and many deaths throughout the world, every year.

Research now shows that women are affected worse by alcohol abuse than men. Alcohol abuse and addiction is serious, however, as it is legal, oftentimes in many countries, it is not taken as being harmful and substance abuse in common.


There are several types of inhalants found throughout most households. Products such as cleaning solutions, gasoline and air cans for computers are all abused heavily. Users inhale these products to get high, without being known to their harmful and deadly effects.


Steroids are sometimes referred to as human growth hormones and are most often used and abused by individuals who are hoping to improve or increase their performance and/or their muscle mass. Heavy steroid abuse can result in depression and violent behavior.


Heroin is an illegal and is incredibly potential drug that is found in nearly every part of the world. Withdrawal from heroin is known to be excruciating, which is why breaking the addiction is very much difficult.


Cocaine is another substance that is highly addictive. It is made in South American countries. Crack is prepared from Cocaine, the effects are similar, however, crack is cheaper and is known to be more addicting, Crack is heavily abused in the United States. It has even become a problem in the United Kingdom.


Methamphetamine is a highly potential and very illegal drug that can be considered as epidemic in parts of the US, and is an increasing concern in several other countries across the world. It is most likely the most abused stimulants and is often used for suppressing appetite increase alertness and energy, and for the Euphoric effects. There are many addicts who claim that they became addicted to the drug after only 1 to 2 times of its use.


There is a drug that is made from MDMA, and mostly a candy colored pill that is found commonly in clubs, parties, and raves. Users take this to feel the euphoric like effects. This drug is abused throughout the world. The effects of heavy MDMA abuse are detrimental to the user. One can feel permanently depressed even with short term abuse of this drug. This is because of a lack of serotonin, or a chemical found in the brain.

Tobacco Or Nicotine:

Tobacco or Nicotine is the most abused drugs in the World. As per the recent statistics carried out by the WHO, about 15 billion cigarettes are sold on a daily basis. If this trend continues, then by 2030, globally, one in six people will be killed by smoking. It is not only the smokers who are affected by this abuse; but research also suggests that individuals who breathe in the smoke are also affected. Smoking is known to cause several cancers and diseases.

OTC And Prescription Medicines:

Even OTC and prescription medicines when taken in excess can cause substance abuse. This can be dangerous and addictive and you can abuse medicines if you take the medicines that are prescribed for someone else, if you take extra doses of the medicine, or if you that the drug for a non-medical reason.

Opioid pain relievers, medicines that are used for treating ADHD, and medicines taken for anxiety, are some of the types of prescription drugs that are most often abused. The most commonly abused OTC drugs are cough and cold medications that contains dextromethorphan, which in high doses, can make you feel drunk or intoxicated.

Causes Of Substance Abuse:

Substance abuse can begin in some people during their childhood or teen ages; while some others may develop the use and abuse of substances during their adulthood. There are some risk factors that may increase someone’s likelihood of abusing substances. Below are some of the causes that may result in substance abuse.

  • Ineffective parenting.
  • Lack of parental attachment.
  • Parental drug use or substance abuse or addiction.
  • Problematic environment at home.
  • Some others may develop substance abuse because of ADHD, or history of anxiety or other mood disorders.
  • Poor social coping skills, poor performance at school or office may also lead to substance abuse in children and persons respectively.
  • Children who have shy or inappropriately aggressive behavior in the classroom are at a more risk of developing substance abuse.
  • Sometimes an individual may use or abuse substances when they have friends in their group with substance abuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse:

Following are some of the signs and symptoms of Substance abuse.

General Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse:

Changes in sleeping patterns, changes in dress, changes in appetite or weight loss, loss of interest and motivation, hoarseness or persistent cough, are some of the general signs and symptoms of substance abuse.

Signs and Symptoms in People Abusing Cigarettes:

Some persons who abuse cigarettes, have symptoms like a distinctive smell on the breath and clothing, cigarette butts outside a bedroom window, or in other odd places around the home or stay area.

Signs and Symptoms in People Abusing Alcohol:

Hangover symptoms like nausea, headache and vomiting is commonly seen in people who use alcohol. Most of them use mouthwash to cover up alcohol breath.

Signs and Symptoms in People Taking Steroids:

In case of people taking steroids, there is an unpleasant breath odor, there are also mood changes, including increased aggression. Apart from this, there are also changes in physical appearance that cannot be attributed to expected patterns of growth and development. Moreover, in such individuals, there is a possession of medicine and syringes.

Signs and Symptoms in People Abusing Marijuana:

There is a sweet smell on clothing or bloodshot eyes, if a person used marijuana recently, and the individual also use eye-drops frequently to reduce the redness. There is also a carelessness in grooming, there is increased fatigue, and changes in sleeping as well as eating pattern, if marijuana is used regularly.

Signs and Symptoms in People Using Stimulants:

In people using stimulants, there are persistent runny nose and nosebleeds, injection marks on their arms and other body parts or long periods of time without sleep.

Signs and Symptoms in People Using Inhalants:

In case of people using inhalants, there is a chemical breath, red eyes or stains on clothing or face, when recently used.

Signs and Symptoms in People Taking Heroin:

If heroin is used, the person has very small pupils and a drowsy or relaxed look. Apart from this, there is also a possession of injecting supplies, called an an outfit or rig, that may consist of a spoon or bottle cap, syringe, cotton and matches.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Substance Abuse?

You need to seek medical attention in case you show or experience symptoms of substance abuse; such as, Jaundice or yellow skin and yellow eyes, mild tremors or an alcohol withdrawal seizure, increasing abdominal girth, cough, congestion, leg swelling, continuing feelings of sadness or depression, fever and pain at an injection site.

It is to be noted that in case you suffer chest pain, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, confusion, severe tremors, difficulty speaking, weakness, severe headaches, visual disturbances, and thoughts of harming yourself or harming others, you need to call 911 or reach hospital immediately. Apart from all these, if you suspect of being sexually assaulted while under the influence, do reach the hospital on an immediate basis.

Diagnosis of Substance Abuse:

There is no particular test that establishes the diagnosis of a substance use or abuse disorder with certainty. However, there are screening tools, including the online tests, that may help in identifying individuals who are at risk for having a substance abuse problem. Thus, doctors assess this group of illness by gathering thorough mental health, medical history and family information of the sufferer. The practitioners will likely ask the individual’s primary-care doctor to perform a physical examination, which may also include laboratory tests for assessing the medical health of the person and to explore whether or not the person has a medical condition that can produce the same symptoms, as a mental health issue. Practitioners may use a self-test as a screening tool for substance-use or abuse disorder.

Treating Substance Abuse:

Treating the Underlying Cause and Seeking Treatment for Substance Abuse:

It is very much essential for a person to get treated under an expert medical professional, if the person has any underlying condition, such as any behavioral disorder or mental illness that may be resulting in substance abuse. However, the first step in the treatment for substance abuse is that you might begin with your family doctor who may recommend a treatment for you. You may have a treatment team to help you, which include a psychologist or psychiatrist, doctors, counselors, social workers, nurses and a case manager who would help plan and manage your treatment.

You may be asked questions about your substance abuse, health issues, work and your living situations. Your treatment team may prepare a plan, which includes your treatment goals and also ways to reach those goals; and this helps you remain on track.

Detoxification as a Treatment Method:

When you first quit using drugs, your doctor may decide if you need medical attention to manage withdrawal symptoms. This is sometimes referred to as Detoxification or Detox.

Individuals who are dependent on drugs, often require going to a hospital. Detox usually is done under the care and supervision of a doctor, as withdrawal can be dangerous without medical care. Your doctor may prescribe medicines so as to help with the withdrawal symptoms.

Different Types of Therapy

Treatment for any drug or substance abuse usually involve one or more types of therapy. Let us take a look on some of the therapies.

Group Therapy:

In case of group therapy, you talk about your recover with other individuals who are also trying to quit drugs or other substance abuse.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Or CBT:

In Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, you learn to change your thoughts and actions that make you more likely to use drugs.

Motivational Intervening Or MI:

With Motivational Intervening or MI, you resolve mixed feelings you have about quitting and getting the effective treatment.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy or MET:

This is one more type of therapy used for treating substance abuse. MET or Motivational enhancement therapy uses motivational interviewing to help an individual find motivation to quit and get started towards recovery.

Apart from all these therapies, there are also couples or family counseling that can help one to stop using drugs and improve better relationships with family and partner.

Prognosis of Substance Abuse:

Recovery of individuals with substance abuse is more successful, when they are highly motivated to remain in the treatment and are actively engaged in their own recovery. Prognosis for the recovery of substance abuse is further improved by being able to easily access community-based social supports or supports from school and parents.


We now know the various causes, signs and symptoms and treatments for substance abuse. Substance abuse, especially in children can be prevented by programs that seek to increase communication between parent and their children, to teach moral and life skills, resistance skills and also to provide information so as to correct children’s misperceptions about alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and the consequences of these substance abuse.

It is essential for you to consult your therapist in case you or your children are into substance abuse.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 29, 2023

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