Substance abuse is a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. It is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication.”Substances” can include alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and other drugs (illegal or not) as well as some substances that are not drugs at all. It is also known as Drug addiction.
“Abuse” can result from using a substance in a way that is not intended or recommended, or from using more than prescribed.
Drug addiction can start with experimental use of a recreational drug in social situations, and, for some people, the drug use becomes more frequent. For others, particularly with opioids, drug addiction begins with exposure to prescribed medications, or receiving medications from a friend or relative who has been prescribed the medication.
Drug addiction symptoms or behaviors include, among others:
• Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — daily or even several times a day
• Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts
• Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
• Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended
• Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
• Spending money on the drug, even though you can’t afford it
• Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
• Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm
• Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
• Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug
• Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
• Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
Cause & Risk Factors –
Use and abuse of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs may begin in childhood or the teen years. Certain risk factors may increase someone’s likelihood of abusing substances.
▪︎ Family history factors that influence a child’s early development have been shown to be related to an increased risk of drug abuse, such as
• chaotic home environment,
• ineffective parenting,
• lack of nurturing and parental attachment,
• parental drug use or addiction.
▪︎ Other risk factors for substance abuse are related to the substance abuse sufferer him- or herself, like
• male gender,
• childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
• history of anxiety or other mood disorders,
• conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder.
▪︎ Factors related to a child’s socialization outside the family may also increase the risk of drug abuse, including
• inappropriately aggressive or shy behavior in the classroom,
• poor social coping skills,
• poor school performance,
• association with a deviant peer group or isolating oneself from peers altogether,
• perception of approval of drug-use behavior.
Dependence on drugs can create a number of dangerous and damaging complications, including:
• Getting a communicable disease.
People who are addicted to a drug are more likely to get an infectious disease, such as HIV, either through unsafe sex or by sharing needles.
• Other health problems.
Drug addiction can lead to a range of both short-term and long-term mental and physical health problems. These depend on what drug is taken.
People who are addicted to drugs are more likely to drive or do other dangerous activities while under the influence.
People who are addicted to drugs die by suicide more often than people who aren’t addicted.
• Family problems.
Behavioral changes may cause marital or family conflict and custody issues.
• Work issues.
Drug use can cause declining performance at work, absenteeism and eventual loss of employment.
• Problems at school.
Drug use can negatively affect academic performance and motivation to excel in school.
• Legal issues.
Legal problems are common for drug users and can stem from buying or possessing illegal drugs, stealing to support the drug addiction, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or disputes over child custody.
• Financial problems.
Spending money to support drug use takes away money from other needs, could lead to debt, and can lead to illegal or unethical behaviors.
Similar to many mental health diagnoses, there is no one test that definitively determines that someone has a chemical use disorder. Therefore, health care professionals diagnose these conditions by thoroughly gathering medical, family, and mental health information. The practitioner will also either conduct a physical examination or ask that the person’s primary care doctor perform one. The medical assessment will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person’s general medical health and to explore whether or not the individual currently has drugs in their system or has a medical problem that might mimic symptoms of drug addiction.
Most substance abusers believe they can stop using drugs on their own, but the majority who try do not succeed. Before treatment for the addictive behavior can be directly addressed, the substance abuse sufferer might need help in lessening physical withdrawal from alcohol or other drugs they have been using. That initial phase of treatment is called detoxification or “detox.” It often requires inpatient hospital treatment.
Research shows that long-term drug use alters brain function and strengthens compulsions to use drugs. This craving continues even after drug use stops.
Because of these ongoing cravings, the most important component of treatment, also called recovery, is preventing relapse. Treating substance abuse often requires treatment in a rehabilitation (rehab) program and depends on both the person and the substance being used. In behavioral treatment, a counselor (like a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, or nurse practitioner) provides strategies to cope with drug cravings and ways to avoid relapse. Treatment often includes individual and group therapy.
Once they have performed a thorough assessment of someone’s condition, a doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe medications, such as nicotine patches and methadone, to control withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Random drug testing is often an integral part of encouraging the person with substance abuse problems to refrain from further drug use. Drug-abuse hotlines can be an invaluable resource for people to initiate treatment and prevent relapse.
Often, a drug user has an underlying behavioral disorder or other mental illness, one that increases the risk of substance abuse. When an individual suffers from a substance use disorder in addition to another mental-health disorder, he or she is referred to as having a dual diagnosis. Such disorders must be treated medically and through counseling along with treatment of the drug abuse.
The best way to prevent an addiction to a drug is not to take the drug at all. If your doctor prescribes a drug with the potential for addiction, use care when taking the drug and follow the instructions provided by your doctor.
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