Substance Abuse Signs & Effects

Substance abuse is a serious problem that is characterized by the continued consumption of drugs and/or alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences as a result. In most cases, substance abuse requires professional treatment to overcome. Without treatment, a variety of health risks can develop, including overdose, and a myriad of other health problems. In addition, other aspects of an individual’s life can suffer negative effects if substance abuse continues, and one might find that he or she is unable to succeed academically, hold a job, or maintain relationships. When individuals are also struggling with eating disorders while battling a substance abuse problem, the effects on their health and wellbeing can be even more damaging.

Fortunately, there are treatment options that can help those who are simultaneously facing substance abuse and eating disorders obtain the help they need. For those who are battling with the abuse of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, meth, heroin, or prescription drugs, obtaining proper substance abuse treatment is necessary so the appropriate coping skills can be developed, support can be provided, and additional treatment for eating disorders can be implemented. With dynamic and tailored care, individuals can avoid the many dangerous, long-term effects of substance abuse and go on to live a healthy life in recovery.

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Statistics

With almost 319 million people in the United States, researchers approximate that more than 9% of the entire population has used or abused substances at one point or another. This statistic includes children, adolescents, and adults. Researchers project that this statistic will to continue to rise.

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

There are many factors to consider when trying to grasp why some people develop a substance abuse problem and others do not. Specialists in the field of addiction have deduced that it is necessary to look at genetics, environmental influences, and additional factors when trying to understand the development of a substance abuse problem. Consider the following:

Genetic: An exceptional amount of research has shown that individuals can have a genetic predisposition to addiction if their family background includes a history of substance abuse, dependence, or addiction. For those who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who battles with a substance abuse problem, there is a higher likelihood that they will also abuse substances, too.

Environmental: Mental health experts believe that environmental influences can cause an individual to develop a substance abuse problem. Exposure to substance abuse during childhood can cause an individual to turn to substance abuse later in life, as viewing these types of behaviors can make one feel that using drugs and/or alcohol is an effective means of coping. In addition, other factors including stressful environments, crime, neglect, trauma, and abuse can make individuals feel it necessary to misuse substances to block out their surroundings. All of these environmental factors can lend themselves to the development of this disorder, which can grow worse if one does not have the appropriate support to help him or her navigate these challenges.

Risk Factors:

  • Lack of caregiver involvement / poor parenting during formative years
  • Lack of healthy, effective coping skills
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of crime, abuse, or neglect
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Difficulty achieving academically
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to chaos
  • Having easy access to substances
  • Lack of employment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer pressure
  • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse will vary based on the type of substance one is abusing. If you feel that you or someone you care for is struggling with a substance abuse problem, take note of the following symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Missing school or work
  • Not fulfilling roles or responsibilities
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Change in peer group
  • Unwarranted outbursts of varying emotions
  • Lethargy
  • Declining participation in things that were once enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Hyperactivity

Physical symptoms:

  • Presence of injection sites
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Delayed thinking
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Detachment from reality
  • Delusions
  • Inability to reason
  • Confusion
  • Hindered decision-making capabilities
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Increased anxiety
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Changes in temperament
  • Depressed mood

Effects of Substance Abuse

There are many effects that can develop when an individual continues to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. If an individual with a substance abuse problem does not obtain treatment to stop his or her use of substances, the following effects can develop:

  • Suicide attempts
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Overdose
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Damage to the heart
  • Heart failure
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Compromised immune system
  • Possibility of exposure to viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Homelessness
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Malnutrition
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Exacerbation of symptoms associated with a mental health condition
  • Discord among friends and loved ones
  • Academic failure
  • Development of a mental health condition

Co-Occurring Disorders

When a substance abuse problem exists, it is common for another mental health condition to also be present. For some individuals, substance abuse serves as a means of coping with the symptoms of a mental illness. The effects that come from being under the influence might hide some of these symptoms and provide the individual with the false notion that his or her distress is relieved. For instance, eating disorders often occur alongside substance use disorders, as some find the effects of being high comforting. In addition to eating disorders like binge-eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa, the following mental health conditions can present themselves alongside of substance use disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of withdrawal: Continued abuse of drugs and/or alcohol can change the body’s chemistry and cause physical dependence to develop. When this occurs and an individual stops using her substance(s) of choice, withdrawal can occur. Depending on what substances are being abused, the type and severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary. Some of the potential withdrawal symptoms that one might endure can include:

  • Paranoia
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Profuse sweating
  • Intense cravings
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Effects of overdose: The most dangerous consequence of substance abuse is the ever-present risk of overdose. When an individual takes too much of a substance and his or her body cannot metabolize it, this is known as an overdose. Overdosing should be treated as a medical emergency, and treatment should be obtained immediately to prevent loss of life. Some signs that someone has overdosed can include:

  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Passing out
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Labored breathing
  • Heart failure
  • Severe confusion
  • Chest pains
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