The term “drug abuse” refers to the use of drugs to produce pleasurable feelings or as a method to self-medicate. Drug abuse is hazardous, however, and can result in many immediate harmful effects on a person’s health, emotional state, and overall quality of life.
Signs of Drug Abuse vs. Full-Blown Addiction
Drug abuse is characterized by the misuse of legal substances, such as prescription drugs, or any use of any type of illicit drug. People may engage in this behavior to improve mood, relieve stress, or avoid reality. But at this stage, drug use may be controllable, and people may be able to manage potentially dangerous habits to some extent or quit using drugs altogether.
Conversely, addiction is hallmarked by the inability to stop using a substance, despite several attempts to do so. At this stage, people are often physically and psychologically dependent on drugs. Moreover, they cannot control their drug use despite the incurrence of physical, emotional, legal, and financial problems.
Effects on the Brain
The human brain is designed to make us want to repeat experiences that induce pleasure and motivate us to do them again and again. These include basic needs such as eating, receiving affection, and having desirable sexual experiences. Drugs with the potential for abuse and addiction target the brain’s reward system and thus, may encourage people to engage in repeated, compulsive use.
Addictive drugs inundate the brain with chemicals responsible for pleasure, such as dopamine. Therefore, users may keep using a drug to re-experience or intensify a high. Over time, the brain adapts to the presence of excessive feel-good chemicals, and other activities once enjoyed, such as hanging out with friends or hobbies, may not produce as much pleasure.
When drugs are used for a prolonged period, they can induce changes in other brain circuits and systems. They can impair judgment, decision-making and learning capabilities, and encourage a person to seek out and use drugs in ways that exceed his or her control.
Causes of Drug Abuse
Drugs of abuse are intoxicating drugs that are used by people for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- Curiosity or peer pressure, especially among teens and young adults
- The misuse of prescription drugs that were initially intended to treat pain or mental health disorders
- Drugs may be used as part of religious practices or rituals, such as ayahuasca or peyote
- Recreational purposes for euphoric feelings
- As a means of fostering creativity or spirituality, such as the case of LSD users
Who Is Most Likely to Abuse Drugs?
Every person is different and therefore react in different ways to drugs. Some people enjoy the feeling the first time they experience it and seek more. Others don’t like it, feel out of control, and never try it again.
Risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of chronic drug abuse include the following:
- Family History
Genetics and hereditary factors are responsible for about half of the odds of a person deciding to continue using drugs following experimentation. If a person’s parents or siblings condone the use of alcohol or drugs or have addictions themselves, the chances that he or she will also use increases.
- Early Experimentation with Substances
The adolescent brain and its ability to regulate emotions and sound decision-making are still in development, and exposure to psychoactive drugs or alcohol can interfere with this process. Using drugs at an early age before the brain has fully matured may make a person more likely to continue abuse drugs into adulthood or become addicted when they get older.
- Mental Health Disorders
People who are anxious, depressed, or experience other mental health conditions have a higher risk of abusing substances as a means to relieve stress or to self-medicate.
- Family Dysfunction or Childhood Trauma
People who grew up experiencing severe dysfunction in their families, such as constant fighting, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect, may be at an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder.
Signs of Drug Abuse
- Bloodshot or glazed eyes
- Dilated or constricted pupils
- Sudden weight changes
- Shaking or tremors
- Dependence and withdrawal
Drug abuse can dramatically influence a person’s behavior and habits. Many drugs can compromise the brain’s ability to focus and think clearly.
Negative changes in behavior can be signs of drug abuse and may include the following:
- Increased irritability
- Changes in personality
- Sudden change in social groups
- Social withdrawal/isolation
- Changes in habits and priorities
- Deceptive or secretive behavior
- Unkempt appearance
- Poor hygiene
- Involvement in criminal activity
Stimulant abuse, such as that involving amphetamines or cocaine, may result in hyperactivity, including talkativeness and the compulsive engagement in repetitive behaviors.
Treatment for Drug Abuse
Effective treatment for drug abuse is based on a comprehensive approach to substance abuse, addiction, and mental health. This approach includes therapeutic services vital to the recovery process, including behavioral therapy, counseling, education, and group support.
Harmony Treatment and Wellness employs caring addiction and health professionals who render these services to clients in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our goal is to provide all clients with the resources and support they need to achieve a full recovery and experience long-lasting sobriety and well-being.
If you have identified signs of drug abuse in yourself or a loved one, contact us today to discuss treatment options. Discover how we can help you begin your journey to recovery and reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve—one step at a time!