Substance abuse is the harmful use of any substance that is being used for mood-altering purposes. Common substances of abuse include alcohol and marijuana, e-cigarettes, illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and prescription medications such as Xanax, Norco and Hydrocodone. Other substances of potential abuse include nicotine and caffeine.
Many people engage in recreational and/or celebratory substance use and don’t experience problems in their day to day lives. Substance use becomes disordered when it causes problems at school, work, or in relationships, or when there are negative consequences associated with use. For example, when substance use interferes with daily responsibilities, such as getting to work on time, when it is associated with participation in risk-taking behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated, and when it negatively impacts relationships, one would be identified as abusing the substance. Also, use is considered disordered when one uses in a manner in which they did not intend, for example consuming larger amounts of alcohol than intended or continuing to drink despite desire and/or attempts to cut back or quit, or using in a manner in which it is not recommended, such as consistently using higher doses of pain medication than prescribed. For many who abuse substances, tolerance develops and individuals find that they need more and more of the substance to obtain the desired effect. Withdrawal symptoms may develop and individuals may try to relieve the withdrawal experience by taking more of the substance.
Disordered substance use is a disease and not a matter of will power. When substance use problems develop, they can be difficult to recognize. Oftentimes, it is our family and friends who may notice problems before we do. If you find that mood-altering substances are impacting your health, work, or relationships, your substance use may be problematic and it would be helpful to discuss your use with a professional. Identifying the problem and seeking appropriate treatment is important to your overall health and well being.