Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is the excessive use of a drug or substance, despite the harmful consequences that may occur. Individuals that abuse certain drugs or substances become addicted to these substances and cannot control their ability to resist the intense urges to take them. This abuse can affect a person's physical health and personal or social functioning. Substance abuse can include regular, excessive, compulsive drinking of alcohol, and/or the habitual use of illegal or prescription drugs or other harmful substances. Substance abuse is a serious and dangerous condition that affects millions of people in the United States each year. Severe substance abuse can destroy relationships, end careers, and lead to stroke, heart disease, brain damage, cancer, and even death.

Causes of Substance Abuse

People may turn to substances like alcohol, drugs and tobacco for various reasons including pleasure, relaxation, anxiety, or relief of depression. Traumatic events, stress or chaotic home lives may trigger a dependence on these substances. The exact cause of substance abuse, however, is not known, but genes, the type of drug used, emotional distress and other mental health problems can all be factors. Children who grow up in homes where a parent abuses drugs or alcohol may be at a greater risk for developing a substance abuse problem for both genetic and environmental reasons. Individuals who may be at a greater risk for substance abuse or dependence may include those who:

  • Are depressed
  • Have bipolar, schizophrenic or anxiety disorders
  • Have easy access to drugs
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Have a relative with an alcohol or drug problem
  • Have problems with relationships
  • Experience severe economic or emotional stress
  • Live in a culture with an great social acceptance of drug use
  • Have post- traumatic stress disorder

Types of Substance Abuse

Individuals may abuse substances that are legal or illegal. Abused substances commonly produce some form of intoxication that alters judgment, perception, or physical control. Substance abuse may include the abuse of drugs or substances including:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Prescription medications
  • Methamphetamines
  • Narcotics
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhaled chemicals

Treatment of Substance Abuse

Treatment for substance abuse may vary, but the common goal is to help the individual stop abusing drugs or other substances, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and sustain a productive family and professional life. The first step in successful treatment of substance abuse often begins when the individual admits that they have a problem and need help. Treatments may differ based on the individual and the specific substance that is being abused. Common treatment options may include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Medication
  • Support groups
  • Residential treatment programs

In some cases, a combination of medication and therapy is an effective form of treatment for substance abuse. A life-long commitment to sobriety can be crucial to a person's success in achieving and maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.

Additional Resources