Recognising Substance Abuse

Many different substances alter a person’s mood and perceptions, including alcohol, drugs, prescription medication, and nicotine. Substance abuse refers to the harmful use of a mood-altering substance, which results in negative consequences for the individual concerned. Those who abuse psychoactive substances are in danger of developing addictions, which can lead to a host of problems both with health and lifestyle. Repeated use of chemical substances can cause health problems such as depression, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer.

Why Substance Abuse Occurs

There are many reasons that people turn to mood-altering substances. Young people tend to dabble with things such as tobacco, alcohol and drugs out of curiosity or because of peer pressure.

Those with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression often find that these substances offer temporary relief. However, the more the individual abuses these chemical substances, the greater the chance that he or she will develop a physical dependence, which will, in turn, mean he or she is now dealing with two illnesses instead of one.

Another reason people abuse substances such as alcohol and drugs is that they are dealing with painful memories resulting from a traumatic experience. Studies have found that those who have experienced abuse or neglect, have suffered the loss of a loved one, have been bullied, or have witnessed combat are more likely to be affected by substance abuse than others.

Commonly Abused Substances

  • Alcohol – For most, alcohol is a substance that can be enjoyed socially with family and friends. It is a legally available substance, and use of it is encouraged in society. Nevertheless, alcohol is very addictive and can be harmful to health when consumed in large quantities. Alcohol abuse is a growing problem within Western society today, with more and more people drinking at home than ever before. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and it can lead to illnesses such as liver disease, obesity, and cancer.
  • Tobacco – Although fewer people are taking up smoking nowadays, there are still millions of others around the world harming their health because they are abusing tobacco. The addictive ingredient in cigarettes is nicotine, but it is the harmful chemicals that are produced during combustion of the tobacco that can cause health issues such as lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes.
  • Cannabis – Cannabis, or marijuana, is the most widely abused drug in the UK. Many people are of the opinion that because it is natural (the drug derives from the cannabis plant), it must be safe and cannot be addictive. In fact, this is not the case. There are many individuals around the UK struggling with cannabis addiction. And this type of addiction can lead to problems such as depression, poor co-ordination, memory issues, and even psychosis.
  • Heroin – Heroin is a powerful drug that typically results in a destructive drug addiction. Those affected will do anything to get their hands on the drug, and they tend to put everything else out of their mind when the cravings occur. Because it is impossible to tell the strength of street heroin, it is common for users to overdose on the substance, thus resulting in serious medical complications and even death.
  • Cocaine – Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that produces intense highs followed by crashing This drug makes the user feel confident and euphoric, but the effects do not last for long, resulting in the intense urges to take more. Long-term effects include kidney disease, heart disease, and problems with the brain.
  • Methamphetamine – Methamphetamine, or crystal meth as it is also known, is a very powerful and highly addictive drug. It is possible to become hooked on crystal meth after just one use, and the physical consequences of taking this drug can be enormous. The appearance of crystal meth users can change drastically within months, as they often do not eat or sleep, and many suffer from sores and severe tooth decay.
  • Prescription Medication – Certain medications are prescribed by doctors for patients who are suffering from chronic pain. Nonetheless, strong painkillers and sedatives should only be taken for a short period as they can be addictive. Abuse of prescription medication can lead to physical

Signs of Substance Abuse

If you are worried about a loved one and believe that this person may be abusing drugs or alcohol, there are certain signs to look out for. In most instances, it is the behavioural signs that will indicate a problem exists, as many of the physical symptoms can be attributed to other illnesses or conditions.

Those who are abusing chemical substances tend to stop taking an interest in certain activities or friends. They may begin to perform poorly at school or work and could become progressively aggressive or irritable. Substance abusers often suffer from memory problems, and many will start to have money troubles. You may notice that he or she is borrowing money continually and lying about what the money is for.

A person who is abusing drugs or alcohol might become secretive about where he or she has been, and may stop confiding in you, having previously been quite open. You may notice that he or she suffers extreme mood swings (happy one minute and depressed the next).

Teenage substance abusers may spend considerable periods of time alone in their room and stop spending time with family members. Adults who abuse substances could spend a lot of their time drinking or taking drugs or may become obsessed with planning activities where these substances will be present. They may believe that the only way to have fun is to drink alcohol and so will start to avoid spending time with family and friends unless there is alcohol or drugs present.

Substance abusers often forget things they did while under the influence, and they may take unnecessary risks, such as having unsafe sex or driving while intoxicated.

If you are worried about a loved one, then you need to get help immediately. Here at, we provide a free referral service for those affected by substance abuse and addiction. Our service is completely free and confidential, and you are under no obligation. Call today for advice and support for yourself or a loved one.

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