What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse is a condition in which someone consumes excessive amounts of drugs. These might include prescription drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a book that helps doctors diagnose mental health conditions. This book breaks substance abuse into two categories: dependence as substance use disorders. These disorders may be mild, moderate or severe. The severity depends on someone's behavior patterns.

Causes of substance abuse

Substance abuse disorder is the result of brain changes. When you use a controlled substance repeatedly, it affects your brain's nerve cells. It can change how they communicate. You may then have to consume greater amounts of the drug. You might also have to consume it more frequently to get the same effect as the original amount. This can lead to dependency and addiction.

Risk factors for substance abuse

It's not possible to predict who might develop a substance abuse disorder. However, there are some factors that may increase your risk:

  • Age: The risk of having a substance abuse disorder decreases as people age. 
  • Peer pressure: People who spend time around friends who use drugs have an increased risk of using similar substances.
  • Medical history: Some people use controlled substances to manage symptoms of mental illness instead of going to a doctor.
  •  Substance of choice: People are more likely to have a dependency on certain drugs. These include stimulants like cocaine and painkillers like opioids.
  • Family and community involvement: Young people sometimes don't have enough parent supervision. They may be more likely to use controlled substances.

Symptoms of substance abuse

The most common symptom of substance abuse is a change in a person's behavior. Specific behavior changes vary from person to person. They depend on how severe the disorder is. Symptoms may include the following:

  •  Decreased motivation
  •  Using a drug more often
  •  Suddenly needing money
  •  Decreased or increased energy
  •  Using bigger amounts of a drug
  •  Suddenly gaining or losing weight
  •  Having a strong desire to use a drug
  •  Keeping a supply of a drug available
  •  Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence of a drug
  •  Missing work or school or having a sudden disinterest in work or school
  •  Changes in behavior, including being secretive about friends and activities

Diagnosis of substance abuse

A medical doctor, psychologist or substance abuse counselor can diagnose a substance use disorder. They'll do an exam and a patient interview. The DSM specifies certain criteria you have to meet to receive a diagnosis.

The medical professional asks questions about the type of controlled substance you use. They want to know how often and how long you've used a drug. This helps them figure out the behavioral patterns associated with substance use disorders.

Treatments for substance abuse

Treatment for substance abuse starts with detoxification. This removes all traces of the drug from your body. The withdrawal process affects people differently. You might detox in a facility. You'll have medical professionals helping you. You might also do this process at home.

Many people participate in chemical dependency treatment programs. These usually include individual or group sessions to help you understand your addiction. You may also learn how to prevent relapse. These programs can take place in a rehab facility while you're staying there. You might choose to go to meetings while you're living at home, too.

Recovery from substance abuse

Substance abuse disorder is a chronic condition. That means it can last a long time. You may have to work hard to apply the skills you learn from a treatment program. There's no cure for this disorder. But it's possible to manage it. Some people join a 12-step program or similar support group. Others continue attending individual and family therapy sessions. The key is finding what works well for you and sticking with it.