Substance Abuse – Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Risks Treatment


Substance abuse is an umbrella term for excessive use of several
drugs that include alcohol, pain medicines, prescription drugs and other
illegal drugs. The excessive use of such drugs may harm your health negatively.
Substance abuse can affect your personal and work life to a great extent.

Substance Abuse

What is Substance Abuse – Meaning and Definition

Substance abuse can be defined as the process of using a substance
(drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other addictive materials) for altering the mood.

On the other hand, World Health Organization (WHO) defines substance
abuse harmful use of alcohol, drugs and other psychoactive substances. Substance
abuse brings negative health results for the users.

Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

Many people consider substance abuse as one and the same. But it
is not so. People suffering from substance abuse may quit their habits. On the
contrary, addiction is a disease. The sufferer can’t quit the habit even after
trying hard to do so.

Causes of Substance Abuse

The definite causes of substance abuse are yet to be found but
there are certain things that can be listed as causes.

Family History

People with a family history of substance abuse are more likely to
get into the habit. Heredity makes a person 40 to 60 percent vulnerable to drug
abuse. To a great extent, your genetic makeup decides whether you will get
inclined to drugs or not. 


Gender plays a significant role in the likelihood of developing a
habit of substance abuse. As per some psychological studies, biological and
psychosocial factors decide how different genders will grab this habit and how
they will respond to treatment. Besides, gender also decides how tolerant a
person could be towards drugs.


Stress is another factor that could be cited as the reason for
substance abuse. Stress in itself caused due to several factors. It may be due
to sudden life changes, illness, or the death of a near one. The stress of any
kind could lead to your chances of substance abuse.

Emotional Issues

Emotional and health may be a deciding factor in whether or not
you will fall prey to substance abuse. People suffering from depression,
anxiety and PTSD have more chances of developing a habit of substance abuse.
People suffering from social anxiety disorder may take to substance abuse in
order to look cool.


A person’s age also plays a great role in deciding the seriousness
of substance abuse.  Persons who have
started substance abuse at an earlier stage are more likely to develop a
serious kind of substance abuse. Young persons are more likely to develop such

Different Stages of Substance Abuse

There are several stages of substance abuse. Here we take you
through its different stages.

Experimental Use

A person may experiment with substance abuse due to peer pressure.
The person may also experiment with drugs for recreational use or as a
rebellion against the family.

Regular Use

At this stage, the person may get regular at substance abuse. He
may get regular at using drugs or other kinds of substances to combat negative
feelings. The user may try to ensure a steady supply of things for substance
abuse.  At this stage tolerance toward
drugs increases.

Risky Use of Drugs

At this stage, the user faces a lack of motivation, change in
behavior, and absence from school and work. He gives preference to drugs or
other materials of substance abuse over everything. He starts keeping things to
himself and may start selling drugs for finances the habit of substance abuse.
At this stage, the substance abuser may experiment with harder drugs.


At this stage, the abuser gets heavily dependent on drugs. His
physical condition may get worse. The abuse may break ties with family and
friends. This stage is called addiction.

Substance Abuse – Commonly Abused Drugs

As we have discussed earlier, substance abuse is an umbrella term
for a number of things to be abused. Here we list important among them.


There is no denying the fact that alcohol is one of the major
things of substance abuse. Its excess use may affect your health, relations,
and daily life.

Prescription and Over the Counter Drug (OTC)

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly used
drugs for substance abuse. As per data for substance abuse the 

NationalInstitute on Drug Abuse 8 to 12 percent of people who
have been given opioid pain relievers may develop a habit for substance abuse.

People with substance abuse disorder may take an overdose of drugs
or may buy drugs on someone else prescription.

Abusers take opioid pain killers, anxiety medicines and medicines
administered for sleep disorders.  Apart
from that cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan are also used by
substance abusers.


Heroin is an opioid that is highly addictive in nature. The abuser
gets a good feeling initially but he feels sad once its effects wear off.  The user may feel chills, nausea and
nervousness once the effects of heroin go down.


Like heroin, cocaine is also highly addictive in nature.  It makes the user very fast. He talks, walks
and thinks very vast but it can also make him angry. He may end up unruly
things creating problems for him, his family and society in general. Once
addicted, the user feels strong cravings for it.


Marijuana use is very common in the United States. The use of
marijuana other than for medicinal purposes is illegal in most states in the
country, however, some states have legalized it.  Marijuana abuse can do awkward things like
laughing for no reason. Driving after marijuana intake is highly risky.


Tobacco contains nicotine that gives pleasure and energy to those
who consume it. As cigarettes contain tobacco, their users soon get addicted to
them. it is why people smoke very frequently.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Do you have doubts that one of your relatives, friends or family
members is suffering from substance abuse but you don’t know how to ascertain
it? A counselor could be in a better position to know it. But there are certain
signs and symptoms that hint at the problems. Here we list the major signs and
symptoms of substance abuse.

  • The abuser feels that he has to take drugs or other things
  • He feels a strong craving for drugs.
  • His use of addictive materials increases over time.
  • He tries to maintain a steady supply of the drugs.
  • He spends money on drugs even when he doesn’t afford it.
  • He abstains from fulfilling his social and personal
    responsibilities as he always thinks of drugs.
  • Not stopping the use of drugs even when it is harming his health and
    family life.
  • Doing things for drugs that may not be part of their behavior.
    Like he may steal money to fulfill his cravings.
  • Driving in a rash way under the influence of alcohol so causing
    harm to others.
  • Getting withdrawal symptoms while trying to quit the habit.

Warning signs of substance abuse

Family persons of substance abusers often say that they didn’t
know about the problem. To help them, we are listing the warning signs of
substance abuse.

Missing from Work

One of the major warning signs of substance abusers is that the
user may be missing from work or school. If your family member is showing such
behavior then it is time to get alert.

Lack of Energy

People suffering from substance abuse disorder may be feeling a
lack of energy. Change in weight (loss or gain) is among other symptoms.

Carelessness About Looks

People with substance abuse disorder may not be concerned about
their looks. He will be neglecting his appearance and clothing.

Behavior Changes

You can spot sea changes in his behavior. He may use secretive
ways to come to the home. Changes can also be spotted in his relationship with
family and friends.

Money Issues

The sufferer may be borrowing for no reason. He can steal money
from home. If things are regularly missing from your home without any trace,
then it is a warning sign.

Diagnosis of Substance Abuse Disorder

Substance abuse can be initially diagnosed using signs and
symptoms.  Here family and friends of the
abuser have a great role to play.

In the later part, the abuser should be taken to a doctor who
conducts a thorough examination and take a call on whether the patient should
be treated in inpatient our outpatient mode.

Substance Abuse -Treatment and Management

As substance abuse ruins health, family and social life, those
around the abuser search for its treatment and management. Here we list the
major treatment options available.

Detoxification Treatment

Over time several toxic substances accumulate in an abuser’s
body.  With detoxification therapy, a
doctor removes these toxic substances in a medically safe manner.
Detoxification is highly beneficial as the accumulated toxic material could be
harmful to your body.

But detoxification alone is not sufficient and it should be used
in conjunction with some other treatments.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavior therapy or CBT has been proved highly efficient
in treating mental disorders and addictions including substance abuse disorder.
The therapy helps you identify triggers that initiate craving for substance
abuse and suggests a way to control them. The therapy should also be given in
tandem with other therapies.

Also Read

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a kind of therapy that
help a person deal with negative feelings. This therapy helps the patient
believe that you are already a rational thinker and no outside factor can help
you think irrationally.

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency Management (CM) has been found useful in treating
substance abuse issues successfully. In this therapy, the therapist reinforces
positive behavior by rewards. This treatment should be used in conjunction with
other therapies.

12-Step Facilitation Therapy

12 Step Facilitation Therapy has been found effective in the
treatment of substance abuse. As the name suggests this therapy involves 12
steps. From acceptance to believing and making an inventory to making a list of
things done wrong, these 12 steps of facilitation therapy help to get rid of
the disease.


When it comes to the treatment of substance abuse, medication
therapy hardly any parallel. The medication therapy helps control the craving
for substance abuse materials like drugs, alcohol and tobacco. For example,
lofexidine is an FDA-approved medicine for opioid addiction.

Substance Abuse – Frequently Asked Questions

What percentage of US population suffers from substance abuse?

Substance abuse disorder is highly prevalent in America and it is
one of the major reasons for untimely death. The official statistic says that 1
in 9 Americans (around 11 percent) suffers from substance abuse disorder.

What are the most abused drugs in America?

Marijuana and prescription drugs are most commonly misused drugs.

Why do people use drugs?

People use drugs and indulge in substance abuse because it gives
them pleasure. It changes their mood from unpleasant feelings. Peer pressure
and improving their performance are other reasons.

Which treatment option is better for substance abuse? Inpatient or

It is up to your doctor to decide which treatment option is good
for you. Depending on the assessment he will decide whether the abuser should
be given treatment as outpatient or inpatient.

Can I get a permanent cure for substance abuse?

There is no cure for substance abuse disorder. But an abuser can
lead a good life with better management. Schools, communities, and families
have a role in keeping people away from substance abuse. Keeping away from
illegal, following instructions on prescriptions and disposing of unused
prescription drugs.

Can substance abuse come back?

Yes. People recovering from substance abuse can return back to
drug and substance abuse. Even after quitting the drugs. 

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