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Get the Facts on Substance Abuse

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. Introduction to Substance Abuse
  3. Prescription Drug Abuse
  4. Short- and Long-Term Effects of Drug Abuse
  5. Dependence, Drug Abuse and Addiction
  6. Understanding Overdoses
  7. Getting Clean and Sober
  8. Common Questions and Answers

substance abuse

Introduction to Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a pandemic in the United States. From the abuse of seemingly innocent substances such as marijuana and alcohol to the abuse of street drugs like cocaine and heroin, substance abuse costs individuals substantially, and it costs the nation as a whole. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Illicit drug use costs the United States approximately $181 billion annually.
  • Excessive alcohol use costs the country approximately $235 billion annually.

It’s not surprising that substance abuse comes with such a high price tag when you consider all the health, legal, criminal, and personal issues that often come in its wake.

Substance abuse costs individuals substantially, and it costs the nation as a whole.

In 2012, nearly 24 million Americans, age 12 and older, had abused an illicit drug, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Marijuana is still the most frequently abused drug, with more than 20 million Americans citing use of marijuana within the prior 30 days, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), and more than 8 million people admitting to using marijuana on a near daily basis.

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Prescription Drug Abuse

rx bottlesWhile various street drugs are known to be dangerous, such as heroin and crystal meth, prescription drugs are often viewed in a more favorable light, due to their status as being doctor-prescribed. Though many believe these drugs are “safer” as a result, they can be as addictive as heroin.

Today, prescription drugs are abused more often than illicit drugs are, illustrating the prevalence of this issue.

In 2010, opiate painkillers, such as morphine, OxyContin, and Vicodin, were tied to almost 60% of drug overdose deaths.

Short- and Long-Term Effects of Drug Abuse

Drugs work by stimulating various parts of the human body, including certain areas of the brain. The many different types and classifications of drugs produce a variety of short-term effects, but the most common ones include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, dizziness, tremors, mood changes and paranoia. In high dosages, the risk for more dangerous effects increases, and the potential for heart attack, stroke, respiratory failure and coma increase.

In the long-term, substance abuse may lead to mental and physical effects that will require treatment to resolve. These effects can include:

  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.
  • Immune deficiencies.
  • Organ damage.

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Dependence, Drug Abuse and Addiction

While drug use often begins as a way to seek recreation, the addictive properties of drugs quickly turn a perceived outlet for fun into a constant need to remain high. This compulsion is uncontrollable and may interfere with a person’s everyday life.

man depressed

While substance abuse comes with a great many side effects, ranging from mild physical side effects like nausea and dehydration to work-related consequences such as reduced productivity, one of the greatest risks of substance abuse is dependence.

What might begin as the occasional bump of cocaine or hit on the bong can quickly spiral into dependence and eventually full-blown addiction. Once addiction takes hold, comprehensive treatment is needed.

Even when the effects of drugs are damaging to a person’s body and relationships with friends, family members and coworkers, the constant need for a substance often overcomes any rational thinking.

Per NIDA, addiction is a persisting disease that requires ongoing management. Individuals are never “cured” of addictions; instead, they learn how to manage their disease so they can lead healthy, balanced lives.

Understanding Overdoses

Most people who struggle with drug addiction face the issue of tolerance buildup. After continuous use, the body becomes less and less stimulated by the drug. This may cause a person to begin using higher dosages to obtain the same high. Although the person may not feel as high, the damaging properties of the drug cause the same amount of harm. If the body receives a level of drugs that it cannot tolerate, this leads to an overdose. While some overdoses occur after continuous use, they can also happen after one single use of a drug.

Signs and symptoms of a drug overdose include:

  • Losing consciousness.
  • Fever or sweating.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Abnormal pulse.
  • Change in skin color.

If any of these signs are present, or if you believe a person might be having an overdose, seek life-saving medical attention immediately.

Getting Clean and Sober

The decision to seek out a clean and sober lifestyle is one of the most important steps in the recovery process. Since addiction is such a widespread condition, anyone seeking help will find numerous options for treatment.

These treatment options are designed to help walk a person through the steps to sobriety, which can make the transition easier. By calling 1-888-744-0069Who Answers? or filling out the quick contact form, we can help guide you toward the right option for your situation.

How an Intervention Works

Deciding to stop using drugs may be a difficult decision for a person to make. Even if drugs are causing a disruption in a person’s life, the compulsion to abuse substances habitually often overcomes any desire to quit. In some cases, the family and friends of an addict may consider holding an intervention.

During an intervention, each person needs to plead with the person to consider rehabilitation. While it is important to confront the person with the harsh realities of his or her drug use—including the negative effects the drugs have on the person’s relationships with loved ones—this confrontation should be one tackled with compassion and an understanding of the struggle of drug addiction.

Methods for Drug Withdrawal and Detoxing from Drugs

Before an addict can begin a rehabilitation program, full withdrawal or detoxification may be necessary. During this process, the body adjusts to its drug-free state and rids itself of the remainder of the drug. Some detox programs use controlled amounts of medicinal drugs to help a person through this process.

Rehab and Addiction Treatment Options

A doctor or addiction specialist or counselor can help each individual find the right rehabilitation or treatment option. The setting is determined by individual needs, so some people may benefit from an inpatient rehab, while others may thrive by using an outpatient program.


At the core, the goal is to help a former addict assimilate into a drug-free life as easily as possible. The most commonly used treatment options for addiction include:

  • Psychotherapy, which helps patients learn how to resist and redirect compulsions.
  • Support groups
  • Individual counseling

If you want to know where to look for help for someone with a drug problem, call 1-888-744-0069Who Answers? or fill out the easy contact form to learn about your options.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

Relapse is best prevented by structured cognitive-behavioral therapy. By learning about drug abuse prevention and avoid situations that may cause compulsions or cravings, a person is more likely to retain control and make the decision to not seek out or use drugs. Utilizing therapy or support groups as aftercare options can reduce the potential for relapse.

Support Groups and Recovery Tools

The guidance of an experienced peer can be invaluably helpful to someone going through the initial steps of sobriety.

At times, an addiction can seem like a personal struggle that no one around you understands. For this reason, drug addiction support groups can help recovering addicts find comfort in their peers.

Depending on the person’s location, there may be a single support group for anyone recovering from an addiction, or there may be groups tailored to those recovering from a specific drug. In addition to providing support as a group, these organizations often pair up new members with existing members who have maintained sobriety for an extended amount of time. The guidance of an experienced peer can be invaluably helpful to someone going through the initial steps of sobriety.

Common Questions and Answers

What are the signs of a drug problem?

While anyone who uses an addictive drug may be hooked with only a few uses, drug addictions signs generally involve continued use despite a decline in health or happiness.

What are the most commonly abused drugs?

Cannabis products, including marijuana and hash, are the most commonly abused drugs. Prescription drugs, cocaine and hallucinogens are also popular and addictive substances.

What causes addiction?

The answer to this is only a theory, but scientists theorize that addiction is both a genetic trait and a learned behavior. While a person’s genes may set him or her up for the potential for addiction, exposure to drugs may be the catalyst for exposing these addictive tendencies.

Last updated on August 2, 2019
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