Substance use disorder, also known as drug addiction, affects the brain of the user, and their ability to control the use of legal or illegal drugs or medicines. Substance abuse starts with the recreational use of the drugs like alcohol, nicotine and marijuana in social situations that becomes more frequent. Over a period of time, the user needs larger doses of the drug to get high. The risk of addiction and how fast the addiction develops will vary as per the drug. Some drugs, like opioids and painkillers have a faster rate of addiction. An addict will need the drug just to feel good. Attempts to stop the drug abuse may result in intense cravings and may make the person feel physically ill.
Substance abuse differs from addiction. People on substance abuse can change their unhealthy behavior with proper remedial treatments but addiction is a disease. The person is unable to stop using drugs even when the condition causes them harm. Substance abuse can occur due to many factors, like societal acceptance of alcohol and drug abuse, and public laws related to legal or illegal drugs. Substance abuse and dependence can be caused by multiple factors, including genetic vulnerability, individual personality characteristics, environmental stressors, and psychiatric issues.
Some of the substances that are commonly abused include:
- Pain killers
- Inhalants, and
- Methamphetamine (Meth)
If your teenager or other family member is getting addicted to drugs, you can notice it by observing behavioral changes, like sudden disinterest in school activities, lack of energy and motivation, neglected appearance, drastic changes in behavior and relationships, and sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation.
Symptoms of substance abuse include:
- Feeling the need to use the drug regularly
- Having intense urges and thoughts about the drug
- Taking more amounts of the drug to get a high
- Spending money on the drug even if you can’t afford it
- Continuing the use of drugs despite adverse events
- Driving or doing other risky activities
- Ensuring the supply of the drug
- Doing things to get the drug that you won’t normally do, like stealing
- Spending a good deal of time getting the drug
Substance abuse may develop into substance dependence, which means the person will feel uncomfortable without the drug. Substance abuse develops due to the activation of reward mechanism in the brain, each time they abuse the substance, the brain rewards them with a feel-good hormone called dopamine that makes them want to use the substance again.
The individual having drug dependence may experience some or all of the below symptoms:
- Using or drinking a larger amount of drugs than planned
- Unsuccessfully trying to control the use of the drug
- Craving to use drugs or alcohol
- Continuing the use of drugs or alcohol even with continued relationship issues
- Taking risks, including driving and sexual risk
- Spending a lot of time recovering from drug
- Giving up or reducing activities
- Having withdrawal symptoms if not using drugs or alcohol
Diagnosis and treatment
A family doctor, psychiatrist, or healthcare professional can diagnose substance abuse and drug dependence. Clinical findings may include constant fatigue, red eyes, frequency of use, weight loss, lab abnormalities, length of time since last use, depression, sleep problems, and little concern for hygiene.
The treatment of drug abuse will include the age and health history of the patient, extent of the symptom and dependence, type of substance abuse, and tolerance of specific medicines. A variety of recovery programs are available for the affected individuals. Detoxification and long-term follow-up management are important for successful outcomes that include psychosocial support systems, formalized group meetings, and continued medical supervision.