Substance abuse can be defined as the continual use of hazardous or psychoactive substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs. There are many different reasons people choose to partake in substance abuse, but continual abuse of these substances can result in a whole host of serious, and potentially life-threatening, side effects.
In the following paragraphs, we will look at the more commonly abused substances, along with the side effects each can produce. We will also explore why people turn to substance abuse.
Commonly Abused Substances
There is a range of substances such as alcohol, opiates, stimulants and tranquilisers which, when taken over time, can lead to tolerance. This means that the individual would require more and more of the substance to feel the same effects, which is what can eventually lead to addiction.
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world. It is used socially for many occasions, for example as a way to celebrate or mourn, or even to cope with stress. Although alcohol is clearly used as a pick me up in many of these situations, it actually depresses the system, so drinkers are in fact making their situation worse. Withdrawals from alcohol can cause an array of serious and even life-threatening side effects that can include anxiety, hallucinations, irregular heartbeat, heart enlargement, cancer, and cirrhosis of the liver.
Tobacco is another addictive substance, which contains nicotine (the primary addictive substance contained within it). Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals as well, which can damage health. Some of the health risks associated with smoking are:
- heart disease
- peptic ulcer disease
- lung cancer
- sleeping disorders.
Drugs such as cocaine can be snorted, injected, swallowed, or smoked. The intensity of the drug depends on how it is taken. Short-term effects of this type of substance abuse include irregular heartbeat, intense paranoia, and constriction of the blood vessels, which can then lead to stroke or heart damage and even death. Some of the long-term effects of drug abuse include damage to the brain, kidneys, heart, and lungs.
Reasons for Substance Abuse
There are many reasons a person would begin to abuse drugs or other substances. Some of the more common are:
- peer pressure
- financial worries
- relationship problems
- stress relief
- mourning a loved one.
For some, abusing drugs can be perceived as a way out. A way to escape the troubles of everyday life and forget problems. However, these harmful substances are causing more damage than the affected person realises.
There are also certain risk factors that can increase an individuals likelihood to abuse substances. Some of these are:
- chaotic home life
- genetic risks
- poor social skills
- poor school performance.
As you can see, it is not always the addict choosing to get into drugs; often there are perceived mitigating circumstances that can push them towards it and without the person even realising.
Symptoms of Substance Abuse
- Aggressive behaviour
- Erratic behaviour and taking risks
- Lying about taking drugs
- Declining grades if in education
- Getting into trouble with the law.
When to Seek Medical Help
It is important to know when you or a loved one may need to seek help due to a substance abuse problem. See a doctor straight away if you know you want to quit, as he or she may be able to provide you with medication to help curb withdrawal symptoms and cravings, alternatively, he or she could refer you to community resources. If you recognise that you or a loved one is displaying any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
- Leg swelling
- Continual feelings of depression
- Increasing abdominal girth.
If you or your loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, call the emergency services straight away:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Dark brown urine
- Severe abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Difficulty with speech, visual changes or imbalance.
Treatments for Substance Abuse
- Behavioural counselling
- Medication (for opioid, alcohol or tobacco addictions)
- Evaluation and treatment for mental health issues associated with the drug
- Long-term follow-up to minimise the risk of relapse.
A successful treatment should be tailored to the individuals requirements, including both medical and mental health options if needed. Sometimes, behavioural therapies are required as well, and these can include cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing.
Substance abuse is something that affects many people across the world. As seen in the above paragraphs, there is a range of symptoms to help one figure out whether he/she or a loved one may be suffering from addiction. If you are concerned about any of the above, then you should always seek professional medical support before anything else. This can be crucial in helping yourself or a friend/family member to recover from their illness and get the correct help that they need to move forward. You can also call us here at UK Rehab for advice and information on possible treatments.