Substance Abuse

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, more than 27 million Americans in 2015 said they were currently using illicit drugs or misusing prescription drugs, while more than 66 million reported binge drinking at least once in the month prior to being interviewed.

Anyone of any age and from any walk of life can be affected by a substance use disorder. When your recurring use of drugs or alcohol causes severe impairments to your health, emotional well-being and ability to function, you may have a substance abuse disorder.

Substance Abuse Statistics

Likewise, if your drug or alcohol use impacts your ability to live up to your home, school or work responsibilities, then you may have a problem with substance abuse. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported approximately 20.2 million American adults 18 years of age and older, or over eight percent, had a substance use disorder in 2014. This is approximately the same number of Americans who have diabetes and over one and a half times the number of all cancer diagnoses combined.

Fortunately, while substance abuse disorders are common and recurring and can be extremely severe, they are also treatable and recovering from a substance abuse problem is possible. If you read the following information and determine you have a dependence or addiction to drugs or alcohol, then a good place to reach out to get help is through your local family doctor or through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration site.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Recognizing your or another person’s substance abuse is the first step to treating and recovering from it. Signs of substance abuse may be physical, social or behavioral in nature. Physical symptoms of substance abuse include the following:

  • Impeded coordination, slurring speech or tremors
  • Strange bodily smells or smells on clothing or breath
  • Physical appearance deteriorating
  • Sudden changes in weight either up or down
  • Abnormally-sized pupils and/or bloodshot eyes

Social symptoms of substance abuse include the following:

  • Continuing to use a substance despite its negative impact on relationships
  • Inexplicable financial troubles or monetary need
  • Substance abuse related legal turmoil
  • Friends, hobbies and hangouts suddenly changing

Behavioral symptoms of substance abuse include the following:

  • Paranoia, anxiousness or seeming fearful for no reason
  • Lack of motivation
  • Burst of extreme giddy behavior, agitation or hyperactivity
  • Sudden outbursts of anger, irritability or other swings in mood
  • Inexplicable attitude or personality changes
  • Sleep or appetite pattern alterations
  • Acting suspiciously or secretively
  • Use of substances while driving, using a machine or in other potentially hazardous scenarios
  • Getting into frequent trouble, such as accidents, fights or arrests
  • Lowering in performance or attendance at school or work

When you continue using a substance despite these social, behavioral and physical impairments in your life, you may have a substance abuse problem. Those dealing with substance abuse should look into getting mental health help to overcome the addition.

Diagnosing Substance Abuse

When diagnosing mental health conditions and substance abuse, doctors take several factors beyond the mere prevalence of physical, social and behavioral symptoms into account. What they also look for are at least two of the following conditions existing as a direct result of your patterns of using an intoxicating substance:

  • The substance is taken for lengthier periods or in greater amounts than initially intended
  • You feel a persistent yearning to stop or cut down on using the substance but are unsuccessful
  • You spend a large amount of time doing what is necessary to acquire, use or recover from using the substance
  • You crave the substance
  • Your body has become tolerant of the substance, requiring you to continually take larger amounts in order to produce the same results
  • Your body experiences withdrawal symptoms when you are not on the substance

When a doctor diagnoses a substance abuse problem, he or she might observe a dependence, physical dependence or addiction. A physical dependence involves a daily or nearly daily use of the substance, regardless of whether it is legal or illegal, even if you take it as prescribed by a physician. Physical dependence is not technically a substance abuse disorder but rather a physiological response to a substance. However, dependence and addiction have a psychological component and are both considered types of substance use disorder.

Consequences of Substance Abuse

The consequences of substance abuse are broad and varied, permeating every aspect of your life. Immediate and direct consequences of substance abuse include changes in heart rate and body temperature regulation, overdose, psychotic episodes and death. Indirect consequences of substance abuse may include impairment of judgment prompting risky behavior like driving while impaired, sharing syringes or needles or having unprotected sex. Likewise, taking unregulated drugs can lead to substance-related mental health conditions like schizophrenia.

In addition to these short-term consequences of substance abuse are potential long-term consequences as well. Alcohol abuse can result in cancer, liver disease or hypertension. Stimulant abuse can result in heart disease. If you abuse substances while pregnant, you can cause lasting damage to your baby. Moreover, beyond long-term consequences to you and your loved ones are long-term consequences to society of your substance abuse. You may be less productive at work and contribute to rising health care costs. You may have an unintended pregnancy, commit a drug-related crime, spread an infectious disease, commit or become the victim of personal violence and cause familial stress. Substance abuse can also have numerous broad and far-reaching impacts, direct and indirect alike, on the economy, your community and society at large.

Prevalence of Substance Abuse in Communities

Men tend to have double the rates of dependence on illicit substances as women. However, men and women have equal rates of continuing to use illicit substances despite having received prior substance abuse treatment. Higher rates of drug dependence can also be found among Alaska Natives and American Indians as well as, to a lesser extent, African Americans. In terms of the impact of substance abuse on youth, more than half of people have their first alcoholic drink before 18 years of age. Similarly, more than half of people 12 years of age or older who used pain relievers recreationally were given to them by a relative or friend. Meanwhile, 5,000 kids younger than 21 years of age die every year due to underage drinking and driving. Advice for parents is to seek treatment for their children as soon as they are aware of the situation.

Substance Use And Mental Health Disorders

Nearly eight million Americans have both a substance use disorder and another mental illness, commonly referred to as a co-occurring substance use and mental disorder. If you have both a substance abuse and other mental health disorder, then you must get treated for both illnesses in order to properly and fully recover. That said, many of the treatments for mental illnesses and substance abuse are the same, including talking therapy, support groups, medications and rehabilitation.

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