Broadly, the term “drug abuse” refers to the abuse of substances as a means to induce pleasant feelings or to self-medicate. However, drug abuse is hazardous and can result in many immediate harmful effects on an individual’s health, emotional stability, and overall quality of life.
Signs of Drug Abuse vs. Addiction
Drug abuse is hallmarked by the misuse of legal substances, such as prescription medications, or the use of any form of an illicit drug. Individuals may engage in this behavior to improve mood, alleviate stress, or avoid reality. Still, drug use may be somewhat controllable, and people may be able to manage potentially dangerous patterns of abuse to some extent or discontinue using a drug altogether.
Conversely, addiction is characterized by an inability to stop using a substance, despite multiple attempts to do so. At this stage, individuals are often physically, mentally, and emotionally dependent on one or more substances. Moreover, they are more or less unable to control their drug use despite the incurrence of adverse physical, emotional, legal, and financial effects.
The brain is, essentially, designed to make us want to repeat experiences associated with rewarding feelings and encourage us to do them again. These include basic survival needs, such as eating, as well as the receipt of affection and engagement in pleasant sexual experiences. Drugs with the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction specifically target the brain’s reward center and may drive people to engage in repeated, compulsive use.
Addictive drugs flood the brain with neurochemicals responsible for pleasure, such as dopamine and serotonin. Therefore, users may keep abusing a drug to reexperience or enhance a high. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the presence of excessive feel-good chemicals, and other activities or hobbies once enjoyed do not produce as much pleasure.
When drugs are used for an extended period, they can cause changes in other brain circuits and systems. They can impair judgment, decision-making, and learning abilities and encourage an individual to seek out and use drugs in ways that reveal that the problem is out of his or her control.
Drug Abuse Causes
Drugs of abuse are intoxicating substances used by individuals for various reasons, such as the following:
- Peer pressure, especially among teenagers
- To relieve pain or mental health issues as a form of self-medication
- Recreational purposes for euphoric feelings
- For religious or spiritual purposes (e.g., ayahuasca)
- As a means of fostering creativity (e.g., LSD, marijuana)
- For energy or alertness (e.g., MDMA, meth, cocaine)
- To help with relaxation and sleep (e.g., benzodiazepines, Ambien)
Who Is Most Likely to Abuse Drugs?
Every individual is different and therefore responds in different ways to different drugs. Some people enjoy the feeling of being intoxicated the first time they encounter it and seek to do it more. Others don’t like it, feel anxious, depressed, or out of control, and never experiment again.
Factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of engaging in chronic drug abuse include, but are not limited to, the following:
Genetic and hereditary factors are responsible for about half of the likelihood that a person will decide to continue using drugs following initial experimentation. If an individual’s parents or siblings approve of the use/abuse of alcohol or drugs or have addictions themselves, the chance that the person will also use is higher.
Early Experimentation with Substances
The adolescent brain and its ability to make sound decisions and regulate emotion is still maturing, and exposure to intoxicating drugs or alcohol can dramatically interfere with this process. Drinking or abusing drugs at an early age before the brain has fully developed may make a young person more likely to continue using substances into adulthood or become addicted.
Mental Health Conditions
Persons who are anxious, depressed or experiencing other mental health disorders have a higher risk of abusing substances as a misguided way to alleviate stress or self-medicate against negative thoughts and feelings.
History of Family Dysfunction or Childhood Trauma
Individuals who grew up experiencing severe dysfunction in their families, such as constant arguments, domestic violence, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect, may be at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.
General Signs of Drug Abuse
- Bloodshot or glazed-over eyes
- Dilated or pinpoint pupils
- Sudden weight changes
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Shakiness or tremors
- Dependence and withdrawal
Drug abuse can dramatically influence an individual’s behavior and habits. Many drugs can compromise the brain’s ability to concentrate and think clearly.
Adverse changes in behavior can indicate a person has a substance abuse disorder and may include the following:
- Increased irritability
- Unwelcomed personality changes
- An abrupt change in social groups
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Changes in habits and priorities
- Deceptive or secretive behavior
- Disheveled appearance
- Poor hygiene
- Legal troubles
Stimulant abuse, such as that involving amphetamines, meth, or cocaine, can result in hyperactivity, including talkativeness, an appearance that one is “bouncing off the walls,” and compulsive engagement in repetitive behaviors.
Treatment for Drug Abuse
Effective treatment for drug abuse must be based on a comprehensive approach that includes therapeutic services essential for the recovery process, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, substance abuse education, art and music therapy, and group support.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers employ compassionate health professionals who deliver these services and others to those we treat in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our objective is to provide all individuals with the resources and support they desperately need to recover and enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness.