Substance abuse is the harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. In other words it's the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which the drug was intended or used in quantities other than what was originally directed.
While the effects of substance abuse vary from person to person, there are a few common characteristics that signal when substance use has transitioned to substance abuse. If your substance use has negatively impacted your performance at work or school; if your behavior becomes more risky while you're on the substance, if you continue to use even though use of the substance is causing stress and strain on your relationships; or if you're having legal or financial problems as a result of the substance use, then you most likely have a substance abuse problem.
There are many factors that can contribute to someone developing a substance abuse problem. Some factors have a genetic origin, others are developmental in nature, some are mental health related and still others are influenced by the social and physical environments that surround us. These factors can combine in unique ways such that no two people are impacted the same. We sometimes see this situation in families where two siblings growing up in the same household will have vastly different relationships to drugs; one sibling will be drawn to them while the other won't have any interest in them at all.
Still, if left untreated, substance abuse can turn into substance addiction. As the disorder progresses, affected individuals tend to develop an increasing and irrational need for more of the substance. Their responsibilities to work, family and friends become secondary to the need for more of the drug. They feel the need to use the drug on a regular basis, focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug. They feel they need the drug to be able to deal with their problems and they attempt to keep a constant supply of the drug on hand even if they can't afford it. They will even resort to uncharacteristic behaviors such as stealing and lying just to get the money to purchase the drug.
In some cases, depending on the individual and the substance involved, addiction can evolve into real physical dependence. This is caused by the continued use of the substance that ultimately results in changes to the mind and body. As these changes occur, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the addicted individual to control their use of the substance regardless of the negative consequences. Depending on the degree of the dependence, physical issues such as vomiting, diarrhea and sweating can regularly occur along with psychological issues such as anxiety, depression and impaired mental functions that make it difficult to concentrate. Finally, individuals with a dependency issue, require the substance in order to feel "normal" and function on a daily basis and they'll experience withdrawal symptoms if they aren't able to obtain the substance for any period of time.
As you can see, substance abuse is a complicated and multi-faceted problem. The resulting negative effects of it are cumulative and they have a devastating impact on the individual, their loved ones, and their community. Because of this, it is critical that early detection and intervention take place in order to stop the downward spiral and get the individual on a path to recovery.
I have extensive experience in successfully treating individuals and families impacted by substance abuse, addiction and dependency. I have seen and experienced firsthand the devastation that substance abuse causes in families; the hopelessness, the fear, the stress, the uncertainty and confusion. I understand what you're going through and I'm here to offer you hope.
If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse, addiction or dependency, I encourage you to contact me so I can perform an assessment and determine the best level of care needed to help you or your loved one get clean and sober.