Substance Abuse

The magnitude of America’s substance abuse issue may be shocking to some. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that approximately 27 million Americans use either illicit substances or misuse prescription drugs. Also, more than 66 million people reported engaging in binge drinking at least one time per month.

The use and abuse of drugs is no longer reserved for those on the fringe of society. People of all ages and walks of life are affected by substance abuse in many different ways. The use of drugs and alcohol can impact not only a person’s physical health but also his or her mental and emotional stability. Those who abuse controlled substances may also find that their addiction negatively impacts their relationships, work and other commitments.

In the year 2014, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that over 20 million Americans 18 years of age and older had some sort of substance abuse disorder. That is approximately 8 percent of the country’s population. That same number of Americans suffer from diabetes. Furthermore, the amount of people with drug abuse disorders is 1.5 times that of those with cancer. However, hope is not lost for those who suffer from drug addiction. They can seek treatment and with the help of family and friends overcome this disorder.

Signs of Substance Abuse

The first step to treating a substance abuse problem is recognizing that one does in face have a problem with drugs and alcohol. These signs come in many forms: social, behavioral and physical. The social aspects of substance abuse include the following:

  • Legal issues related to substance use
  • Depleting financial resources
  • A change in hobbies and/or how on spends free time
  • The continual use of substance in lieu of its negative impact on relationships

Some of the behaviors that you may whiteness in a person who abuses drugs and/or alcohol include the following:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of sleep or appetite
  • Sudden changes in personality
  • Mood swings
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Getting into accidents, fights or getting arrested

The physical signs of abuse are perhaps the first ones a loved one will notice:

  • Overall deterioration of one’s physical appearance
  • Extreme and sudden changes in one’s weight
  • Strange or unpleasant smells coming from the person and their personal space/clothing
  • Pupils that are abnormal in size or bloodshot eyes

If you notice more than a few of these signs in your loved one’s life, it is likely that they have an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol.

Diagnosing Substance Abuse

Health professionals like doctors must evaluate several factors when determining if an individual has a problem with drugs and/or alcohol. They can’t simply rely on the social, behavioral or physical signs of abuse as they can be misinterpreted. Instead, doctors look out for if two or more of the following patterns of behavior are present in a patient:

  • The abuser physically/chemically craves the substance.
  • The abuser’s body has reached a high level of tolerance for the substance which causes him or her to have to increase the amounts taken in order obtain the same level of satisfaction.
  • The abuser experiences symptoms of withdrawal when not on the substance.
  • The abuser devotes an excessive amount of time and effort in order to acquire the substance or to recover from use of the substance.
  • The abuser has a desire to stop using the substance buy is unsuccessful in his or her attempt to quit doing so.

Following a diagnosis of substance abuse, the doctor determines the extent of the problem. It can be an addition, a physical dependency or simply a dependency. Addiction and dependence are viewed as the most severe level of substance abuse. Those in this position are both psychologically and physically dependent on a substance. While those who are physically dependent on a substance are merely reacting to the physiological affects of a substance. This is not considered a substance abuse disorder.

The Consequences of Substance Abuse

Substance abusers and their loved ones experience a variety of consequences associated with the use of drugs and/or alcohol. These consequences are of course physical for the abuser but also emotional and psychological for both the abuser and those close to him or her. The direct results of abusing drugs and alcohol are a change in heart rate and body temperature. More serious consequences are overdose and death. Those dependent on drugs or alcohol may also experience indirect consequences of their substance use. These can include engaging in risky behaviors such as operating a vehicle while impaired or having unprotected sexual encounters and sharing needles and syringes. Furthermore, those who abuse illicit substances for an extended period of time often experience mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Substance Abuse in the Community

As stated, substance affects people from all walks of life in our cities and communities. However, there are some groups that experience substance abuse issues at a higher rate than others. For example, men are two times more likely to be dependent on illegal substances than women. Though, neither sex is immune to relapses as both tend to do so at the same rate. Dependency on drugs and/or alcohol is a higher among Native Americans and also African Americans, to a lesser extent.

Generally speaking, more than half of Americans had their first alcoholic beverage before turning 18 years of age. As well, at least half the population older than 12 years of age were supplied with pain relievers from a friend or relative for recreational use. Sadly, more than 5,000 children and adults younger than 21 years of age die in drunk driving related accidents.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Both mental health disorders and substance abuse affect Americans, and in many cases, the two intersect. For example, nearly 8 million people suffer from drug addition and at least one mental health condition. This is referred to as co-occurring substance use and mental disorder by health professionals. It can be twice as hard for substance abusers to recover from their addition as the mental disorder may exacerbate it and vice versa. To that end, treatment for mental disorders and substance abuse can occur simultaneously. The kinds of treatment commonly implemented are talk therapy, support groups and rehabilitation.


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