Focus On: Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and addiction can have dramatic effects on a person’s life, including health, financial and safety issues.

Substance abuse is a major public health issue in the United States. When people become addicted to alcohol and other drugs, including prescription drugs, it can affect their health, job security, personal finances, family and personal relationships and the safety of those in the community around them.

The effects of substance abuse and addiction

Alcohol and other drugs affect the brain by altering the chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, producing a temporary intoxication and sense of euphoria. However, not everyone who uses alcohol or drugs is considered an addict. Use of alcohol and drugs becomes an addiction when the person compulsively seeks these substances and cannot stop using them, even when it means risking important aspects of their lives. Addiction is also characterized by long-term changes in brain chemistry, such as tolerance – the need to consume larger amounts of the substance to produce the same level of intoxication. It’s important to note that somebody can become addicted to a substance after the very first use, or the addiction may develop over time.

Substance abuse signs

Those closest to a person may notice several changes in behavior that could indicate substance abuse and addiction, including:

  • Use of alcohol or drugs on a regular basis
  • Talking about the use of alcohol or drugs even when not using them
  • Pressuring others to join in the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Declining performance at work or school
  • Taking unnecessary risks and poor decision making
  • Loss of interest in previous activities and avoiding or lying to family and friends
  • Changes in mood, such as being angry, irritable or depressed
  • Poor concentration or memory loss, including “blackouts,” where the person doesn’t remember the previous night
  • Sudden trouble with personal finances

Substance abuse causes

Addiction is a complex disorder, and as with other complex conditions, there may be no one single cause. However, there are several risk factors, including:

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • A poor nurturing environment as a child
  • Experimenting with alcohol or drugs due to peer pressure
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress at work or school, or to compensate for other issues, such as relationship problems, guilt or low self-esteem

When to seek professional help for addiction

If you’re struggling with substance abuse, it may help to talk to an ENHANCE counselor. You may also wish to consult with your physician, who can refer you to support resources and who may prescribe medications to address any medical complications related to substance abuse.

If you experience any of the following, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department:

  • Thoughts of suicide or of harming others
  • Recurrent seizures or severe tremors
  • Ongoing hallucinations or confusion
  • Chest pain or rapid heartbeat
  • Severe headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Difficulty keeping your balance
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