In General Knowledge for the Family, Physical & Mental Health

Substance Abuse Definition

What is the definition of substance abuse? The common substance abuse definition is the misuse of any substance for uses other than its intended purpose. In many cases, the substance in question is used for its intended purpose but is consumed in excess of the prescribed or required amount. When more than the necessary amount is consumed on a regular basis, the user can become dependent on the substance causing addiction and related behaviors.

Substance Abuse Disorder Definition

The substance abuse disorder definition can be applied to any disorder that is directly related to the misuse or abuse of any type of medication, chemical or substance. Medical professionals still debate the legitimacy of some disorders as actual afflictions, while others firmly believe that chemical reactions in the brain can lead to addictive behaviors.

The decision as to whether or not a set of behaviors can be “treated” or resolved, is normally the way in which a person’s disorder or addiction is diagnosed. For those who believe that individuals can control the cravings, substance abuse is considered to be more of a habit than a disorder.

Treatment plans and addiction programs are designed to control the symptoms of addiction and withdrawal while the level of the substance within the body is gradually reduced. In some cases, as in with cocaine and heroin use, the drug is immediately stopped. This can lead to severe reactions within the body including:

  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Profuse sweating
  • Night sweats
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Irritability
  • Aggression

Treating the symptoms of withdrawal may prolong their severity. Great care must be taken by a person’s medical team to ensure their safety and prevent them from harming themselves during the time when the drugs are leaving their system.

Substances That Are Commonly Abused

There are several substances that are commonly abused. The major groups include but are not limited to:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription Medications – Xanax, Oxycontin, Vicodin, Morphine, etc.
  • Recreational Drugs – Heroine, Cocaine, Crack, Marijuana, Methamphetamine, etc.
  • Over the Counter Medications – Cough syrup, antihistamines, etc.
  • Bath Salts
  • Aerosol Products

Substances and medications come in different strengths and potencies. Knowing the type of substance that is being abused is important in understanding how to best treat the person’s addiction.

Ways to Abuse

Taking medications orally is not the only way to abuse or misuse substances. They can be applied to the skin and absorbed into the bloodstream. Some drugs, such as heroin, is easily injected into the veins. Substances can be inhaled as well. Cocaine and bath salts can be snorted or inhaled. Aerosol products are also inhaled, but in this circumstance, it is referred to as “huffing”.

Addictive Behaviors and Patterns

Substance abuse and misuse can be diagnosed by the addictive behaviors and patterns exhibited by the patient. Irritation, frustration, increase or decrease in appetite and unusually high energy levels. Individuals who have substance abuse issues can sometimes exhibit specific patterns, alternating between high levels of energy and lethargy or extreme happiness and plummeting depression.

Patterns that are associated with addictive behaviors are hard to break and it can take several years before the pattern is broken to the point where the craving for the substance is diminished. In some cases, the craving and desire for the “high” never goes away. Individuals who have fought drug addiction and survived must constantly remain aware of their sobriety.

Signs of Substance Abuse and Disorders Associated With It

Alcoholism is considered to be the most common of the abused substances. Many alcoholics can cover their abuse so well, that even their own family has no clue of the level of addiction. Over time, deteriorating health and their constant use of alcohol can betray their addiction. Individuals who suffer from alcoholism have been known to hide bottles in various places in their office and home. They may also choose to mix their alcohol with other beverages so that others do not know what or how much they are drinking.

Drug addiction is accompanied by many physical signs of abuse depending on the type of substance a person is addicted to. For example:

  • Methamphetamine: Skin lesions, rotting teeth, unexplained weight loss, irritability and aggression are a few of the more common signs of meth abuse.
  • Cocaine: Hyperactivity followed by periods of lethargy, reddened skin around the nose and mouth, agitation and irritability are associated with cocaine abuse.
  • Heroin:  Along with the signs associated with cocaine abuse, heroin users also have “track marks” located in areas where they often inject the drug.
  • Marijuana: Slow speech, drooping eyelids and slight confusion are common with marijuana smokers. It must be noted, however, that not all marijuana users exhibit these signs. Those who use medicinal marijuana can exhibit few, if any, symptoms at all.

An individual who noticeably changes in derogatory ways, may be the victim of drug abuse. While that is not always the case, it is often their outward appearance that gives friends and family members the idea that something is amiss. A person who is normally well kept and takes pride in their appearance, may be abusing drugs if they begin to lose that pride in how they look.

The need for the drug begins to consume their thoughts and taking the time to dress nicely or apply makeup takes away from the time they spend either looking for the drug or enjoying their high. The cost of their habit may increase to the point where they can no longer afford nice clothes, make up or beauty care products. As the addiction increases, they will spend less time on their physical care causing them to appear disheveled and unkempt.

Many times, the appearance of a person’s skin will give away their addiction. Drugs like methamphetamines can cause skin lesions to appear. These lesions are hard to treat and will not heal like normal wounds. As long as the drug abuse continues, the skin will continue to breakdown, causing old lesions to remain open and new lesions to appear.

Dangers That Trigger Substance Abuse

There are several things that can trigger substance abuse. Bullying is one of the most common and, also, one of the most preventable. Bullies target individuals who are supposedly “weaker” or inferior. The person being bullied often has few friends and may not fit in with other groups and are left to fend for themselves. They often turn to drugs and alcohol to escape from their lives, even if it is only for a short period of time.

In some cases, bullies may encourage substance abuse and use peer pressure to force the victim into using a recreational drug or drinking alcohol. Once the person uses for the first time, they may continue to do so if they believe it will stop the threats and bullying. After a few times, the person being victimized often begins to seek out the drug on their own without the constant pressuring of the bully.

Another dangerous trigger associated with the misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol is depression. Depression is often a result of bullying, but can also be caused by mental disorders, low self esteem and chemical imbalances in the brain. Individuals who begin to abuse drugs and alcohol because of depression often start out only with the attention of escaping their problems for a short periods of time.

Individuals who suffer from depression and receive treatment may still have addictive tendencies. If they were using drugs prior to the beginning of their treatment, they may continue to use, unless the addiction is discovered and a treatment plan is developed that thoroughly addresses both issues. Most mental health professionals understand that both conditions go hand in hand and for any treatment to be effective, both must be addressed as soon as possible.

The definition of substance abuse is rather black and white. Misusing and abusing any substance is detrimental to a person’s health and well being. The main issue is the amount of a substance that must be used to create an addiction. While any misuse of a substance is considered abuse, it’s when that misuse begins to exceed healthy limits that addiction occurs.

Every person’s tolerance is different which means that what would leave to addictive behavior in some, may not cause addiction in another. The key is catching the misuse and abuse before it gets to the point of addiction. This can be accomplished in some fashion by identifying known dangers and addressing them as soon as they are uncovered.

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