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Substance Abuse and Addiction

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Substance Abuse and Addiction

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Substance abuse and addiction affect the person's brain and behavior, leading to uncontrolled use of legal or illegal drugs. Read the article to know more about substance abuse and addiction.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. C. Elanchezhian

Published At February 24, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 8, 2024

What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance or drug abuse refers to the use of a drug by self-medication that deviates from the approved medical patterns, that is, social disapproval of the form and purpose of drug use. There are two major patterns of drug abuse. They are,

a. Continuous Use - The drug is taken regularly, and the person wishes to remain under the influence of the drug continuously. For example,

b. Occasional Use - The drug is taken occasionally to obtain pleasure in rave parties or to get the sexual experience.

For example,

  • Cocaine.

  • Amphetamines.

  • Psychedelics.

  • Binge drinking (alcohol).

  • Cannabis.

  • Solvents (inhalation).

What Is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a pattern of compulsive drug use characterized by increased involvement with the use of a drug. Even after withdrawal, most addicts tend to relapse. It makes the person seek personal satisfaction, which is a higher priority than other basic needs, often in the face of known health risks. It alters the mood and feelings on repetitive use to derive,

  • Euphoria.

  • Recreation.

  • Withdrawal from reality.

  • Social adjustment.

Addictions can make a person depend physically and physiologically on the drug. Physical dependence is a strong drive for continued drug use, but it is not an essential feature of addiction. Amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis are drugs that produce addiction but little or no physical dependence.

Psychological Dependence - The person is emotionally upset if the drug is not taken. A certain degree of psychological dependence accompanies all patterns of self-medication. Increased likelihood to create a response is the ability of the drug to produce effects that the user enjoys, and this makes the person wish to take it again or to induce drug-seeking behavior.

Drugs act according to a certain type of reinforcer; the faster the drug acts, the more reinforcing it is. Some of them are,

  • Opioids, cocaine - Strong reinforcers.

  • Benzodiazepines - Weak reinforcers.

  • Inhaled drugs, injected IV - Highly reinforcing.

Physical Dependence - It is produced by repeated administration of a drug that necessitates the drug's continued presence to maintain the body's physiological equilibrium. The discontinuation of the drug can result in a characteristic withdrawal syndrome. It makes the nervous system function normally in the presence of the drug (neuroadaptation). The following are the drugs producing physical dependence.

  • Opioids.

  • Barbiturates.

  • Alcohol.

  • Benzodiazepines.

Drug Habituation - It creates less intensive involvement with the drug so that its withdrawal produces only mild discomfort. They are consumption of,

  • Tea.

  • Coffee.

  • Tobacco.

  • Social drinking.

What Are the Causes of Drug Addiction?

Several factors can contribute to developing a drug addiction. They are,

  1. Mental health disorders.

  2. Family problems.

  3. Friends who encourage drug use.

  4. Genetic traits.

  5. Environmental factors.

What Are the Common Types of Addictive Drugs?

Additive drugs are widely classified, but the most common types of addictive drugs are listed below. They are,

1. Alcohol:

  • Legally controlled substance abuse.

  • Beer, wine, and liquor are available forms.

  • It is associated with,

  1. Slurred speech.

  2. Loss of coordination.

  3. Inhibits judgment.

  4. Lowers a person’s ability to think.

  • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUS) -

  1. In women - Consuming more than three times a day.

  2. In men - Consuming more than four times a day.

  • Withdrawal Symptoms - Withdrawal symptoms occur on stopping the alcohol after prolonged use, such as,

  1. Sweating.

  2. Increased heart rate.

  3. Vomiting.

  4. Anxiety.

  5. Mild fever.

  6. Tremors.

  • Chronic alcohol consumption results in liver failure, and in order to avoid health complications, the person should undergo treatment for alcohol abuse.

2. Illicit Drugs:

These are powerfully addictive and illegal substances, but the nature is different for each one. They are,

1. Cocaine-

  • Snorted in powder form.

  • Causes damage to nasal passages.

2. Crack cocaine-

  • It is smoked through a short pipe.

  • Causes blisters in the mouth and hands.

3. Ecstasy-

  • Creates hallucinogenic effects.

  • It is extremely dangerous, and it is mostly consumed at parties.

4. Hallucinogens-

  • It is a psychoactive substance that looks to distort reality.

  • It is usually self-medicated to overcome mental disorders.

5. Heroin-

  • A synthetic derivative of morphine.

  • Obtained as a powder or sticky gel known as black tar heroin.

6. Inhalants-

  • Commonly used are nail polish remover, paint thinner and lighter fluid.

  • Causes muscle deterioration and psychological disturbances.

7. Ketamine-

  • Date rape drug.

  • It is tasteless, colorless, and cannot be identified when mixed in beverages.

8. Marijuana-

  • Obtained from the cannabis plant.

  • It causes brain damage.

9. Meth-

  • Methamphetamine or meth is extremely dangerous.

  • Obtained from lithium batteries and drain cleaner.

3. Benzodiazepines:

  • It is used to treat mental disorders such as anxiety and can lead to dependency on prolonged misuse. They are,

  1. Ativan - Brand name for the drug lorazepam.

  2. Halcion - Short-acting medication.

  3. Klonopin - Long-acting benzo.

  4. Librium - Low potency benzo, usually taken in combinations to reach the desired mood.

  5. Xanax - Highly addictive on extended use.

  6. Valium - Brand name for diazepam.

  • Symptoms on Prolonged Use-

  1. Drowsiness.

  2. Dizziness.

  3. Lack of inhibition.

  4. Lack of coordination.

  5. Memory problems.

  6. Reduced blood pressure.

  7. Changes in mood.

  8. Slurred speech.

  9. Accidents.

  10. Involuntary eye movements.

4. Opiates:

  • It is used to treat mild and chronic pain, and it turns out to be addictive for major users.

  1. Codeine.

  2. Demerol.

  3. Dilaudid.

  4. Fentanyl.

  5. Hydrocodone.

  6. Methadone.

  7. Morphine.

  8. Oxycodone.

  9. Propoxyphene.

  10. Tramadol.

  • Symptoms on Prolonged Use-

  1. Confusion.

  2. Depression.

  3. Constricted pupils.

  4. Slurred speech.

  5. Constipation.

  6. If injected - needle marks.

  7. Memory problems.

  8. Sedation.

  9. Lack of awareness.

5. Sleeping Pills:

  1. Ambien.

  2. Amytal.

  3. Lunesta.

  4. Sonata.

6. Stimulants:

  • They are often used to reach high moods and boost energy. They are,

  1. Adderall.

  2. Antidepressants.

  3. Concerta.

  4. Dexedrine.

  5. Diet pills.

  6. Ritalin.

  7. Anabolic steroids.

  • Symptoms on Prolonged Use-

  1. Dilated pupils.

  2. Impaired judgment.

  3. Rambling speech.

  4. Excess confidence.

  5. Nausea.

  6. Vomiting.

  7. Gum disease.

  8. Insomnia.

  9. Behavioral changes.

What Are the Steps to Be Followed to Prevent Addiction?

In Adults:

  • Avoid self-medicating.

  • Avoid taking the drugs beyond the dose prescribed by the doctor.

  • The doctor should prescribe the correct dose of the drug to the patient.

  • While prescribing, the doctor must explain the dosage, its adverse effects on misuse, and safety measures to be followed.

  • If you need to take more than the prescribed dose, talk to your doctor.

In Children:

  • Any medication prescribed by the doctor should be placed out of children's reach.

  • Instruct the child on the adverse effects of the drug.

  • In case your child speaks up with you about the stress they face, guide and support them to overcome their peer pressure.

  • Do not drink alcohol or addictive drugs in front of children, making them at a greater risk for misuse of drug addiction.

  • In case your child is addicted, have a strong bond with the child because a good and stable relationship could reduce the risk of misusing the drugs.

To Prevent Relapse:

  • Continue to see your counselor.

  • Interact with people, and feel free to have group meetings to express your feelings.

  • Take the prescribed medications at the correct time.

  • Do not go to the drug crowd or areas where you received it.

  • In case you start using the drug again, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor or your loved ones.

What Treatment Programs Are Needed to Overcome Drug Addiction?

There is no cure for drug addiction, but the treatment options needed to overcome drug addiction depend on the drug used and any related mental health disorders.

Dependence Treatment Programs:

  • It involves treatment for individuals, groups, or families.

  • The aim is to understand the reason for addiction and prevent relapse.

Withdrawal Therapy:

It enables the person to stop taking the addicting drug as quickly as possible. It can be done on an outpatient basis or within the hospital based on the extent of addiction. This treatment reduces the dose of the drug by temporarily substituting other drugs in case of the previously taken medication.

Behavior Therapy:

It is done by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Therapy may be done with a family or a group. The therapy helps,

  • To cope with drug cravings.

  • To avoid drugs and prevent relapse.

  • To deal with a relapse if it occurs.

  • To overcome issues regarding your job, relationships with family and friends.

  • To develop better communication skills.

  • To address mental health conditions.


When you come to suffer from drug abuse, feel free to share with your known relationships and do not hesitate to share when you do anything that is apart from normal. The best way to overcome drug addiction is to share your feelings and experiences with your family, join a support group, seek help from a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, and also seek treatment for mental health problems. But before an appointment, prepare to be honest on the drugs you use, make a list of all the drugs you are taking, and make a list of questions you would like to ask the counselor to overcome drug addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Root Causes of Addiction?

Various factors can lead to the abuse of substances which include -
- Peer pressure.
- Physical and sexual abuse. 
- Early exposure to drugs.
- Stress.
- Developmental, genetic, and environmental factors.


What Is the Biggest Factor in Addiction?

Peer pressure is considered one of the strongest factors in initiating the misuse of drugs, especially in young adults. Family involvement, difficult family situations, and lack of bonding with parents or siblings can also increase the risk of addiction. 


What Part of the Brain Is Linked With Addiction?

Addiction usually affects the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, also known as the reward circuit in the brain, which causes addiction. This begins in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) above the brainstem. 


What Are the Three Stages of Addiction?

Addiction can be characterized as a repetitive cycle comprising three stages. Each stage is linked to three brain parts: the basal ganglia, extended amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. The three stages of addiction are -
- Binge or Intoxication - The patient starts consuming an intoxicating substance and experiencing its pleasurable effects.
- Withdrawal or Negative affect - Experiencing a negative emotional stage without substance.
- Preoccupation or Anticipation - The stage at which one seeks substance again after some time of absence.


How to Stop the Addiction?

Some of the following steps can be followed to stop the addiction -
- Set a quit date.
- Change the environment and keep your distance from people who are involved with the object of addiction.
- Create a support network.


What Are the Harmful Effects of Addiction?

There are various harmful effects of addiction, and some of the common effects include the following -
- Unintentional injuries.
- Alterations in the functioning of the brain.
- Weakening of the immune system.
- Accidents.
- Cardiovascular complications.
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
- Impaired decision-making.
- Permanent brain damage.
- Increasing medical problems.
- Legal problems.
- Liver damage or failure.
- Seizures.
- Strokes.
- Child abuse.
- Domestic abuse.


Is Addiction a Mental Disorder?

Addiction can be considered a mental disorder that comes under substance use disorder (SUD). It is a form of mental disorder that impacts the behavior and functionality of an individual's brain. As a result, individuals experience a loss of control over their consumption of substances such as drugs and alcohol, with symptoms varying in severity depending on the specific addiction.


What Are the Signs of Addiction?

Behavioral changes are the early signs of addiction which include -
- Unexplained changes in personality or mood.
- Appearing paranoid or anxious without any reason.
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts.


Is Addiction Genetic?

Various studies have pointed out that addiction can be genetic. It was found that a person has a 50 % chance of developing an addiction to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs, depending upon their genetic makeup. It has also been found that genes usually are responsible for 60 % of a person's tendency to become addicted and 54 % to quit the addiction.


What Is It Called When an Individual Gets Addicted to Another Individual?

A person can get addicted to another person, which is codependency, relationship addiction, or love addiction. This can be described as seeking external validation to compensate for low self-esteem. In relationships, this can be linked with difficulty with reliability.


What Is Defined as Addictive Behaviour?

Addictive behavior refers to a pattern of behavior or stimulus that is rewarding and reinforces its continuation. This type of addictive behavior leads to addiction. Behavioral addictions like gambling, overeating, or mobile use are similar to drug addiction. Still, in these cases, a person is not addicted to a substance but is addicted to the behavior or feeling while using the substance.


What Is Non-Addiction or Sobriety?

Being not addicted to anything is termed sobriety. The state of being sober is considered the opposite of addiction. Being sober refers to a condition where an individual is not under the influence of intoxicating substances and is clear-minded and non-intoxicated. 


What Are the Effects of Being Drunk?

Being drunk makes a person feel euphoric, which means feeling happy and excited. This is because when a person drinks alcohol, it causes the increased production of dopamine, which travels to the brain and makes a person feels good and happy. 
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. C. Elanchezhian
Dr. C. Elanchezhian

General Medicine


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