Causes & Effects of Substance Abuse & Addiction

Defined as the continued harmful use of drugs and/or alcohol for mood altering purposes, substance abuse is a serious problem that can result in a number of negative physical, emotional, and social consequences. Those with substance use disorders will continue to use drugs and/or alcohol despite the adverse effects that are occurring around them. Furthermore, the longer that the abuse continues, the greater the likelihood that tolerance and an addiction will develop, of which will only exacerbate the situation. When an addiction is present, an individual’s life will become consumed with his or her drug of choice and daily responsibilities will go by the wayside as their main goal is obtaining and using drugs and/or alcohol.

Today some of the most commonly abused substances include alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain medication, heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, stimulants such as Adderall, and central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines. When an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol has developed, it can be extremely difficult for an individual to stop using on his or her own. The good news is, there are many treatment options available to help men and women overcome the devastating cycle of addiction.

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Statistics

Researchers estimate that over 9% of the total population in the United States has used or abused substances at some point in life. This statistic accounts for people of all ages, including children, adolescents, adults, and senior adults. Furthermore, researchers state that this percentage will only continue to rise.

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Most professionals in the field of mental health and addiction agree that there are a number of factors that play a role in whether or not an individual will choose to use substances and potentially go on to develop an addiction. The following are some of these specific variables and risk factors that may play a role in the development of a substance abuse problem:

Genetic: Years of research conducted on substance abuse and the development of an addiction have come to the conclusion that the presence of a family history of substance abuse can put an individual at an increased risk for substance abuse and addiction. This indicates that there may be a genetic predisposition to the development of an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

Environmental: It is also widely accepted that environmental factors play a significant role in the development of a substance abuse disorder or addiction. For example, things such as being the victim of physical or sexual abuse or neglect, as well as experiencing a traumatic event can all place an individual at an increased risk for abusing substances. Furthermore, when a person has easy access to drugs and/or alcohol, he or she is more likely to begin using.

 Risk Factors:

  • Presence of a mental health condition
  • Family history of mental illness and/or chemical dependency
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Having easy access to substances
  • Lack of appropriate coping skills

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse are going to differ depending upon the actual substances that an individual is abusing, as well as additional individual characteristics, which may include frequency of abuse and duration of abuse. The following are examples of possible signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of a substance abuse problem:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased aggression
  • Excessive hyperactivity or lethargy
  • Sudden changes in social network
  • Engagement in reckless behaviors
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Social isolation
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Not meeting responsibilities
  • Increased conflict with others

Physical symptoms:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Shakiness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Blood shot or glazed eyes
  • Abrupt changes in weight
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Chronic headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Problems with concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Poor decision-making
  • Lack of sound judgment
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Detachment from reality
  • Inability to reason
  • Impaired memory

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Heightened levels of anxiety and depression
  • Excessive irritability and agitation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Changes in temperament
  • Rapidly changing moods
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Inability to experience pleasure
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Prolonged, chronic substance abuse can lead to a vast number of negative effects that can ultimately destroy a person’s life. If this abuse is not properly treated, it will most likely get worse over time and produce the following consequences:

  • Decline in one’s overall physical and mental health
  • Development of a mental health disorder
  • Decline in occupational functioning
  • Job loss
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Malnutrition
  • Financial difficulty
  • Conflict among family and friends
  • Compromised immune system
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Heart damage
  • Lung problems
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

More often than not, individuals who are struggling with a substance abuse problem are also suffering from another type of mental health disorder. In some instances, the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of a pre-existing mental health disorder or can bring about the development of new symptoms. The following are some of the most commonly diagnosed co-occurring mental health conditions known to exist alongside substance use disorders:

  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Additional substance use disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of withdrawal from substances: Whenever substances are used consistently, and then their use is suddenly stopped, the development of withdrawal symptoms is likely to occur. Some of the most common symptoms of withdrawal may include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia

Effects of an overdose on substances:

No matter the substance, when an individual takes more than the body can metabolize, an overdose is often the result. An overdose is considered a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. Examples of signs that could be indicative of an overdose may include:

  • Losing consciousness
  • Blacking out
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme confusion
  • Severe chest pains
  • Labored breathing
  • Heart failure / heart attack
  • Disorientation
  • Stroke
  • Psychosis
  • Falling into a coma
  • Death
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