What is Substance Abuse?
Why Do People Abuse Drugs or Alcohol?
- They experience a traumatic event or stressful situation – People who have experienced stressful events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and loss of a job are at a higher risk of abusing substances.
- They have experienced depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue – Those who have experienced depression or another mental health issue may turn to substances as a way to try and feel better.
- They have a genetic predisposition – Some people are more likely to become addicted to substances due to their genetic makeup. If family members have a history of alcoholism and drug dependence, you have a greater risk of developing an alcohol or drug problem.
- They have other people in their lives who are addicts – If someone you are close to is addicted to a substance, you are more likely to abuse substances as well.
- They are in an environment where substances are present – If you spend time around people who abuse substances, there’s a greater chance you will abuse them as well.
Which Substances Are Most Common?
Drugs and alcohol are the two most common substances of abuse. Drugs are usually illegal, synthetic substances that produce a psychoactive (mind-altering) effect when someone takes them. They include marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and other substances. At the moment, the highly addictive drug fentanyl is the biggest culprit behind the United States’ opioid epidemic. Because there are many different types of drugs, it can be tricky to find the telltale signs and symptoms of drug abuse. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the United States. It’s available legally to those 21 or older, and people misuse it all the time. Alcohol abuse is easy to miss because alcohol can be a part of daily life in many cultures. In addition to alcohol and drugs, there are a number of other substances that can be misused, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, inhalants, and even certain supplements.
Why Family Members Should Know the Psychological and Physical Signs of Drug Use
Signs of Substance Abuse
- Mood changes – Mood swings are normal, but if someone you know is alternating between extreme lows and highs, they may be abusing drugs or alcohol.
- Increased social withdrawal – If someone you know who used to be the life of the party suddenly stops hanging out with friends or doesn’t want to go out, they may be abusing substances.
- Physical changes – Physical changes such as sudden weight loss or gain, sleep issues, poor hygiene, and sores or infections where they shouldn’t be are all signs of substance abuse.
- Rapid changes in spending habits – If someone you know who always has a stable job and a steady income starts to blow through money quickly and make strange purchases, they may be spending their money on drugs or alcohol.
Red Flags for Drug Addiction and Alcohol Dependence
- They’ve tried to quit, but can’t – If someone has tried and failed to quit using drugs or alcohol, they may have a substance use disorder.
- They use more than they initially intended to – If someone initially intended to use drugs or alcohol once but ends up doing it every day, they may have a substance use disorder.
- They have cravings – If someone has a strong urge to use drugs or alcohol that’s hard to control, they may have a substance use disorder.
- They experience withdrawal – If someone experiences withdrawal symptoms when they don’t use drugs or alcohol (like having a bad mood, feeling intense cravings, or feeling sick), they may have a substance use disorder.
Physical Signs of Substance Abuse
- Inability to focus or concentrate – This can be caused by changes in the brain’s ability to process information. It’s a common side effect of long-term abuse of stimulants like meth, cocaine, or amphetamines.
- Insomnia – Abusing substances like alcohol or opioids can cause you to have difficulty sleeping. It’s important to get enough sleep, because it’s when your body does a lot of its healing.
- Dry mouth or nose – Long-term use of alcohol can cause your mouth to dry out or your nose to run. This is because the body isn’t able to produce enough saliva or tears.
- Slurred speech – Alcohol and many other drugs affect a person’s ability to control their speech.
- Constricted pupils or expanded pupils – Opioids, magic mushrooms, and many other drugs can cause changes in the appearance of a person’s eyes. Bloodshot eyes are also a common symptom.
Which Drugs Cause Sudden Weight Loss?
Psychological Signs of Substance Abuse
- Changes in behavior – Behavioral changes can wreak havoc in a person’s life. If you notice that someone who used to be the life of the party has become quieter and more reserved, or if someone who used to be reserved suddenly starts to be more social, these changes could be signs of substance abuse. These changes in a person’s behavior can lead to poor judgment, which can cause them to steal money when they have financial problems.
- Changes in relationships – If you notice that someone who used to be very close with their family, co-workers, or friends seems to be drifting away from them, if they seem to be spending less time with their friends, or if they are being confrontational or hostile towards their loved ones, these changes could be signs of substance abuse.
- Changes in hygiene – If you notice that someone who used to take pride in their appearance and hygiene has become noticeably unclean, or if someone who used to be clean and tidy has become smelly and unkept, these changes could be signs of substance abuse.
- Sudden mood swings – When a person abuses illicit drugs, they are likely to experience dramatic ups and downs as they become intoxicated and go through withdrawal. These mood swings can dramatically alter behavior, leading to angry outbursts, drastic changes in personality, and a more depressed and worried state of mind in general.
Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse
What is Doctor Shopping?
Signs of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal
Many substances cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. If you notice that your loved one is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, this could be a sign that they are no longer consuming the substance. Drugs that cause withdrawal symptoms include opioids (like heroin and prescription painkillers), benzodiazepines (like Valium), methamphetamine, and alcohol. If your loved one has recently stopped consuming a substance and is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, they may be experiencing substance abuse. If you notice withdrawal symptoms in your loved one, you should talk to them about what is happening. If they are denying that anything is wrong, you should seek help for them as soon as possible.