Substance Abuse

Published 12 Apr 2017

Nothing is wrong when someone uses drugs as medication and drinks alcoholic beverages. But becoming addicted to these substances is a serious case that becomes difficult to deal with when it gets out of control. Substances that are usually abused are drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and abuse can turn into dependency.

The Food and Drug Administration defines substance abuse as the use of substance “for more than its intended purpose…that can harm the user’s health or capability to function properly”. In most cases, people become victims to substance abuse because the substance “provides a positive, euphoric effect.” Moreover, the substance is believed to reduce tension and even enhance personal abilities. However, addiction to substances differs from individual to individual. Biological factors also have effects on a person’s susceptibility to substance addiction (Friends4Life, 2000).

Substance Abuse

There are varied and complicated reasons why people abuse substances such as alcohol, drugs and tobacco. There are studies which showed that there is a strong connection between drug dependence and abuse and crime. Despite the decline in the use of drug such as cocaine, the use of heroin and club drugs dramatically increased. Addiction to these substances affects people’s judgment, attention, perception, and physical control due to intoxication. Moreover, there are substances which can cause withdrawal. It occurs when a person’s use of a substance reduces or stops. Withdrawal symptoms can be in the form of hallucinations, anxiety, or seizures. Drug overdose, however, can cause death. Substances can also cause tolerance, a phenomenon wherein a person has to use or take a larger amount of the substance so that the person experiences the same level of intoxication (eMedicineHealth, “Substance Abuse,” 2009).

Past researches have tried to determine factors that may be associated with substance abuse. Some say it is a family disease. On the contrary, substance abuse can be considered a person disease as it is about a certain person and his or her use of substances. However, there are instance when it is useful to look at addiction from the perspective of the user and there are also other circumstances that addiction may be better explained by looking through the perspective of the family (Levin, Culkin, and Perrotto, 2001).

In some ways, addiction is a family disease because it runs in the family. As addiction is partly genetic, evidences to show that there is a clustering in the families with regards to drug and alcohol problems are present. Further, families sometimes share predisposition. Addiction being a family disease can also be explained by the notion that addiction can be learned through modeling. A son or a daughter can possibly smoke at a young age because he or she sees his or her father or mother smoke all the time (Levin, Culkin, and Perrotto, 2001).

Another explanation for this behavior is the “defensive identification with the aggressor.” It means that children whose parents are addicted to substances cope with the dysfunction by becoming like their parents. Moreover, most of those who have addicted families experience pain that using substance as anesthetics and self-medication helps. In short, children tend to be substance abusers if their parents are. This can be backed by the evidence in studies that alcoholism which runs in the family has consistent results. Moreover, researches and clinical experience from studies on drug abuse also show that addiction is inherent in the family (Levin, Culkin, and Perrotto, 2001).


Even in the early times, people have been using drugs for a variety of purposes. Some take them for reasons such as altering consciousness, medication, and participating in religious and cultural rituals. As times changed, people have come to use drugs for reasons that are completely not related to the historical purposes. In fact, they use substances due to their psychoactive effects. A psychoactive drug is one that influences one’s emotions, perceptions, motivation and behavior. Drugs that have psychoactive effects are depressants, opioids, hallucinogens, inhalants, and cannabinoids (Levin, Culkin, and Perrotto, 2001).

Specific examples of drugs that are usually abused are marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and club drugs, which include ecstasy and LSD. Results of studies showed that the use of marijuana and other drugs are closely related to violent behavior. Methamphetamine, for instance, increases paranoia and reduces inhibitions (Division of Behavioral Health Services, 2005).


Tobacco contains nicotine, which is the primary addicting substance in cigarettes. However, there are other chemicals in a cigarette smoke that could damage a person’s health. Diseases that are associated with smoking include lung cancer, peptic ulcer disease, stroke, and heart disease. Once a smoker withdraws, he or she will experience depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and hunger (eMedicineHealth, “Substance Abuse,” 2009).
Like drugs, people have varied reasons for using tobacco. These reasons could range from simple pleasure to weight control. Other reasons are curbing hunger, relief of depression and improved vigilance and performance (eMedicineHealth, “Substance Abuse,” 2009).


Alcohol is a depressant that has a tranquilizing effect and sleepiness. A person may abuse the use of alcohol because of its psychoactive effects. It can relieve emotional tension, and can cause a person to feel happy, bold, and more confident. The negative effect, on the other hand, includes the person becoming intoxicated by it. It also adds to the impairment of reasoning and judgment. Moreover, intoxication may cause slurred and garbled speech, disturbed vision, and difficulty in motor coordination and maintaining balance (cited in Levin, Culkin, and Perrotto, 2001).

Perhaps the most prominent effect of alcohol abuse is loss of memory. In addition, alcohol usually releases a person from inhibitions as alcohol affects certain parts of the brain, especially in the limbic system and frontal lobe that are responsible for self-control, emotions, and moral reasoning. This causes the drunken person to become rowdy and at times violent. Studies have also shown that intoxication is related with aggression and violent crimes (cited in Levin, Culkin, and Perrotto, 2001).

People may interchange the terms abuse and dependency. However, dependency is worse. This stage shows that the “use of the substance becomes progressively worse” (Division of Behavioral Health Services, 2005). While abuse refers to the body’s intense desire to take increasing amounts of a substance, dependence indicates the body’s need, or addiction, to a certain substance. Dependence can result in behavioral problems and physical harm. Moreover, it can cause a person to associate with others who abuse drugs (eMedicineHealth, “Drug Dependence and Abuse,” 2009). Most of the time, the use of substances is continued despite the serious consequences in the personal lives and health of those who are dependent on substances (Division of Behavioral Health Services, 2005).

There are symptoms which indicate if substance abuse is already on to the level of dependency. Dependence is characterized by the increasing episodes of intoxication. It is also characterized by a person’s loss of interest in other things. Moreover, he or she loses control over use of the substance, and feels remorse at how his or her use of the substance resulted to. In addition, dependence indicates the person’s tolerance to the drug or alcohol. It is also possible that he or she reacts negatively to withdrawal from the drug. Furthermore, memory failures can be a result of substance dependence. And, in many cases, those who are dependent on substances experience problems on a personal and social level with regards to work, and relationships (Division of Behavioral Health Services, 2005).


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