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What is Substance Abuse ?

June 07, 2022 | Farah Jassawalla

Substance abuse is the use of drugs or substances in an amount that may impact your health in harmful ways. It can be confused with addiction, but the two terms slightly differ. Individuals with a habit of substance abuse can quit or control their habit with more ease than those with substance addiction. Substance abuse can be caused by alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, and other legal or illegal drugs.


One of the most heavily relied upon substances is alcohol. Alcohol depresses the activity of your brain and may provide you temporary relief from stress. It is often noticed that people who are stressed due to work, family, relationships, or other causes yearn for a drink to ease their distress. The repetitive pattern of drinking alcohol over recommended amount can make you dependent on this substance.

A high intake of alcohol in a short time can lead to alcohol poisoning, which may become a life-threatening condition. Alcohol can also have long-term effects on your health. In the United States, alcohol is one of the biggest causes of chronic liver diseases and liver failure. It can also affect your stomach, pancreas, kidneys, and other organs.


Smoking is the most common form of consuming tobacco. The primary addictive substance in tobacco is nicotine. It improves alertness, decreases stress, and provides temporary pleasure. Often people begin smoking at an early age due to peer pressure or stress. Cigarettes contain tobacco and many other substances that can harm your respiratory and other systems.

Tobacco products are available in other forms as well. If you have a habit of smoking or using tobacco products, especially in periods of stress, you may become reliant on them for short-term relief. Excessive tobacco intake in any form can destroy your lungs and cause many other problems. Over a million people suffer from the adverse effects of tobacco each year in the United States.

Prescription Drugs

Drugs or medicines prescribed by your doctor are to be taken in recommended doses only. But some people develop reliance upon prescription drugs to continue with their daily activities of life. This is common in patients with chronic pain disorders, especially those who use opioids. People who use morphine for pain relief may intake it every time they start feeling pain.

Some prescription drugs, such as those given for common cold or cough, may contain substances that may cause a state of drunkenness. Cough or cold syrups that contain dextromethorphan are a common example. Exceeding the dose that your doctor prescribes can have harmful effects.

Legal or Illegal Drugs

Heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines are some of the most common drugs responsible for substance abuse. Some of these drugs are legalized in a few states for medicinal use, but they are illegal in most parts of the world. Each substance can alter your brain activity, mood, and stress levels. Youngsters may take these drugs just for fun initially, but they may soon become addictive if they are not stopped. These substances can be inhaled, snorted, injected, or swallowed. Major effects of these drugs occur on your nervous system and cardiovascular system.

Another example of substance abuse is excessive steroid use. This is frequent among bodybuilders or athletes. It can affect your liver, kidneys, and other organs. Other readily available drugs at clubs or parties include LSD, ecstasy, ketamine, GHB, PCP, etc. Overdose or long-term use of any drugs can cause serious health-related complications.

When to see a doctor?

If you experience the following symptoms due to habit of substance abuse, it is better to seek medical care at an early stage before it progresses:

  • Loss of interest in regular activities
  • Anger or irritability
  • Frequent changes in mood
  • Reduced focus or concentration
  • Forgetful memory
  • Depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts
  • Persistent craving for the substance
  • Avoiding social circles
  • Change in appetite
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle weakness

Depending on the type and amount of substance abuse, you may develop other symptoms. If you experience any such symptoms yourself or see a loved one suffering from them, consult professional help to avoid any life-threatening condition. It is important to remember that substance abuse can be treated and controlled using appropriate measures.

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