Substance abuse occurs when you use alcohol, prescription medicine, and other legal and illegal substances too much or in the wrong way.
Substance abuse differs from addiction. Many people with substance abuse problems are able to quit or can change their unhealthy behavior. Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease. It means you can’t stop using even when your condition causes you harm.
When you first start taking a substance, you may think you can control how much you use. But over time, you may need more of the drug to get the same feeling or effect. For some people, that can lead beyond abuse to addiction. Signals that you may have a problem with substance abuse include if you:
Substance abuse affects every part of your life. It can hurt you and the people around you. It can ruin relationships and your financial health. Abusing drugs can also lead to addiction and cause serious health problems and even death.
People abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol for varied and complicated reasons. Substance abuse may begin in childhood or the teen years. Early recognition of drug or alcohol addiction increases chances for successful treatment.
Both legal and illegal drugs have chemicals that can change how your body and mind work. They can give you a pleasurable “high,” ease your stress, or help you avoid problems in your life.
Alcohol affects everyone differently. But if you drink too much and too often, your chance of an injury or accident goes up. Heavy drinking also can cause liver and other health problems or lead to a more serious alcohol disorder.
If you’re a man and you drink more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 in a week, you’re drinking too much. For women, heavy drinking means more than three drinks in one day or more than seven drinks a week.
One drink is:
Prescription and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicine
These can be just as dangerous and addictive as illegal drugs. You can abuse medicine if you:
Types of prescription drugs that are most often abused include:
The most commonly abused OTC drugs are cough and cold medicine that have dextromethorphan, which in high doses can make you feel drunk or intoxicated.
This illegal drug is the natural version of manmade prescription opioid narcotics. Heroin gives you a rush of good feelings at first. But when it wears off, everything slows down. You’ll move and think more slowly, and you may have chills, nausea, and nervousness. You may feel a strong need to take more heroin to feel better. Learn more about the symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
This drug speeds up your whole body. When you use cocaine, you may talk, move, or think very fast. You may feel happy and full of energy. But your mood may then shift to anger. You may feel like someone is out to get you. It can cause you to do things that don’t make sense.
Using cocaine for a long time will lead to strong cravings for the drug.
Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products
You may not think of these as drugs. But tobacco has a chemical called nicotine that gives you a little rush of pleasure and energy. The effect can wear off fast and leave you wanting more. You can abuse and get addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, just like other drugs.
A growing number of states have legalized medical uses of marijuana. A handful of states also allow recreational pot. But in most states, it’s still illegal.
Marijuana can make you feel silly and laugh for no reason. Or you may feel sleepy and forget things that just happened. Driving while high on pot is just as dangerous as drunk driving. And heavy marijuana use can leave some people “burned out” and not think or care about much.
What is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana uses the marijuana plant or chemicals in it to treat diseases or conditions. It’s basically the same product as recreational marijuana, but it’s taken for medical purposes.
The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine. THC also produces the “high” people feel when they smoke marijuana or eat foods containing it.