is at Risk • Commonly
Abused Substances • Signs
and Symptoms •
How Family and Friends Can Help
Substance abuse is the misuse of a mood-altering
substance and is one of the most common and costly problems
in society today. We hear about it, see it, and feel its consequences
every day, in the media, in school, in the workplace, in our
homes. It costs this country untold amounts in property damage
and loss, treatment of illness and injury, and even death.
Substance use, such as the morning cup of
coffee, the social drink, or the prescribed or recommended
medication, is frequently accepted as normal behavior. Abuse
occurs when the use of these substances begins to affect relationships,
school or work performance, or personal finances, or cause
other negative behaviors. At this point, the addiction requires
psychiatric and/or medical treatment.
Just about everyone has or will be faced
with making decisions about substance use or abuse, however
it touches our lives. Education is the first and most critical
step toward making the right decision.
Who is at Risk
Accessibility, peer pressure and the appeal
of the physical effects draw people from all walks of life
into substance abuse. Many times abuse starts as experimentation.
People want to satisfy their curiosity about the drugs, and
they are usually in control of their situation. As they continue
using the substances to the point of excess, their control
slips away and they develop an addiction, eventually leaving
them powerless to stop.
In some cases, a person might have a predisposition
to substance abuse, based on family history. Some research
suggests that immediate relatives of substance abusers are
more likely to abuse substances themselves. Other potential
risk factors include environmental influences and some mental
or emotional disorders.
drugs are physically addictive. Most, however, can cause psychological
addiction, where the person feels he or she must have the
substance to function. Substances that are most commonly abused
fall into the following categories:
(Cannabis; also called dope, grass, pot, weed, hashish,
(include cocaine, crack, amphetamines; also called speed,
uppers, rock, coke, snow, blow, nose candy)
(include barbiturates, tranquilizers; also called downers,
(include heroin, opium, morphine; also called junk, smack)
(include LSD, mescaline, MDA, MDE, MDMA, MMDA, psilocybin,
(PCP; also called angel dust)
(include glue, solvents, propellants, correction and lighter
substance variety causes its own set of symptoms, and users
share some common behaviors. In general, however, someone
who is abusing a legal or illegal substance will likely display
one or more of the following symptoms and behaviors:
in work or school attendance, quality of work, or discipline
in personal appearance and hygiene
in relationships; association with known substance abusers
borrowing of money
off personal possessions
behaviors; frequent trips to restrooms and other private
in attire; constantly wearing sunglasses to hide dilated
or constricted pupils, constantly wearing long sleeves to
hide injection marks
a substance, legal or illegal, can result in a number of negative
consequences. From the health perspective, drugs can cause
short- and long-term effects, including:
or respiratory failure
or loss of motor skills
legal and illegal substance carries its own set of dangers.
Used in excess or combined with other substances, they can
cause irreversible damage or even death.
isn't the only thing at risk. Drug abuse can have serious
legal consequences. You might be arrested, put on trial and
sentenced to anything from probation to imprisonment. The
penalties vary from case to case, but any such experience
would surely be embarrassing, expensive and inconvenient.
substance abuse reaches the point of addiction, it is no longer
a bad habit that must be broken. A dependency this strong
requires intervention and treatment to overcome. But the abuser
first must come to grips with the reality of the addiction
and admit that he or she needs help.
usually begins with detoxification, a period of time in which
the body rids itself of the substance, flushing the chemicals
from the body. This takes a few days to a few weeks, depending
on the substance(s). Depending on the drug and the severity
of the addiction, detoxification may take place in the hospital.
detoxification is complete, the recovering addict goes through
counseling and other supportive therapies. Individual, group
and family therapies encourage and motivate the addict to
change his or her behavior and commit to a drug-free life.
from substance abuse is a constant battle for the addict.
The person will likely experience withdrawal symptoms that
complicate the recovery, and the cravings for the substances
don't go away immediately. It is therefore critical for the
addict to see treatment through to the end.
Family and Friends Can Help
with a relative or friend who abuses drugs can be tremendously
stressful. Like the recovering addict, family and friends
can find emotional support, understanding and hope from outreach,
education and advocacy groups.