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Drug abuse: definition, causes, commonly abused substances, effects, and treatments

Reading time: 18 mins

Drug abuse is defined as the continuous, excessive, or maladaptive use of legal or illegal drugs, notwithstanding the adverse physical, psychological, or social consequences of such use. 

The causes of drug abuse include accessibility, social factors, environmental factors, mental health conditions, genetic predisposition, lack of social support, and curiosity or experimentation. 

The most commonly abused drugs are benzodiazepines, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, tobacco, inhalants, prescription opioids, and synthetic cannabinoids. 

The effects of substance abuse on the brain and body include decreased reward sensitivity, white matter alterations, cognitive impairment, gray brain matter abnormalities, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, permanent changes in body weight, respiratory problems, cardiovascular complications, weakened immune system, and kidney damage.

Finally, the treatments for drug abuse involve detoxification, behavioral therapies, individual, group, and family therapy, self-help groups, and medication-assisted treatment.

What is drug abuse?

Drug abuse is the use of illegal drugs or prescription or over-the-counter medications for reasons other than what they are meant for, or in large amounts. This inappropriate or excessive use of drugs, legal or otherwise, may result in issues with relationships, health, emotions, and employment.

According to the 2020 substance abuse statistics from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), 59.277 million, or 21.4% of Americans aged 12 years and older have abused prescription medications or used illegal drugs within the past 12 months. 

When does drug use become drug abuse?

Drug use becomes drug abuse when an individual continues to use a drug even when they are aware of its repercussions to their physical and mental health, relationships, work, school, or daily functioning. 

This includes using illegal substances as a way to cope with life and taking prescription medication in a way other than what one’s doctor has prescribed. Using prescription drugs recreationally to experience their euphoric effects and combining them with other drugs to intensify their effects are also considered forms of substance abuse.

What are the causes of drug abuse?

a girl smoking cigarette

The causes of drug abuse involve different factors that may explain why someone who abuses drugs has engaged in such behavior around harmful substances. The causes of drug abuse are listed below.

  • Accessibility
  • Social factors
  • Environmental factors
  • Mental health conditions
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Lack of social support
  • Curiosity or experimentation

1. Accessibility

Accessibility is a term used to describe the degree to which a drug is easily obtained or used by anyone. In a 2022 survey of 1,000 people conducted by the Laguna Treatment Hospital, almost 70% of respondents who acknowledged using illegal substances stated they had easy access to them. 

Easy access to drugs causes substance abuse by increasing the chances of a person trying out or experimenting with a drug and consequently abusing it. For instance, if you live in a neighborhood where drugs of abuse are often sold in secret, there is a greater chance that you may be offered such substances in your area. 

Another example is if a family member takes prescription painkillers, which are also often abused, someone who engages in drug abuse may take those medications which are not intended for them, or forge or even steal prescriptions to obtain a certain drug from a pharmacy.

2. Social factors

Social factors are determined by various influences, including family background, education, income, wealth, occupation, or religion, that can affect someone’s risk for substance abuse. 

Some examples of social factors that can contribute to drug abuse are peer pressure, a desire to fit in, and stress from work or school. These social factors can play a role in substance abuse by serving as the driving forces that compel someone to use drugs in excess. 

For instance, being in a group of friends that experiments with drugs may push someone to engage in similar activities due to a desire to please and to avoid disappointing other members of the social circle, or to feel included and keep up with the group. 

Another example is when an individual uses drugs in an attempt to deal with daily life stressors, such as additional workload or pressure at school. They may start using substances to feel relaxed or even to just temporarily forget their problems, without thinking of the possibility that they may develop more serious problems as a result of these habits in the future. 

3. Environmental factors

In the book Stress: Concepts, Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior, published by the Academic Press in 2016, W.R. Avison defines environmental factors as social or economic circumstances that influence exposure to stressors. They may also be categorized as social roles, social statuses, or prevailing social circumstances.

Environmental factors can cause drug abuse by increasing the risk of one’s exposure to harmful substances, such as drugs. These factors may include family members engaging in drug use, parenting styles, social media interactions, and unrealistic depictions of addiction in media. 

For instance, children who grew up in an environment where family members engage in drug abuse are exposed to substance use early in life, and are therefore more likely to adopt the behavior in adulthood. 

Many series, movies, or other forms of media have attempted to portray addiction but only end up with unrealistic depictions that border on glorifying addictive behaviors. One example is the movie Wolf of Wall Street (2013), where Leonardo DiCaprio plays scamming stockbroker Jordan Belfort.

According to a 2018 article from SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) entitled, “The most (and least) accurate depictions of drug addiction onscreen,” during a scene where Belfort tried crack, his personality suddenly shifted into a party animal, where in reality a strong substance like crack would cause someone to initially be overwhelmed with such drastic changes that the drug can cause in their state of mind.

4. Mental health conditions

Mental health conditions are clinically significant disruptions in a person’s ability to think, regulate their emotions, or behave, according to a fact sheet on mental disorders from the World Health Organization. 

Psychological disorders can cause drug abuse by increasing the likelihood of an individual to self-medicate using legal or illegal substances. However, an article entitled, “Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders” from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that although some medications may temporarily alleviate some symptoms of mental problems, they may exacerbate the symptoms over time.

For instance, an individual suffering from depression may turn to substances that can cause relaxation or numb pain, such as alcohol or prescription drugs, to change their mood, face their fears, or cope with unpleasant emotions.  

On the other hand, someone dealing with uncomfortable emotions and terrifying memories because of a past traumatic event may also use recreational drugs, such as marijuana or stimulants, to relieve the stress associated with their situation.

5. Genetic predisposition

A genetic predisposition means that a person has a higher probability of developing an illness based on their genetic makeup, according to an article entitled, “What does it mean to have a genetic predisposition to a disease?” from Medline Plus.

Genetic predisposition stems from specific genetic differences, which are frequently inherited from one’s parents. It can cause drug abuse by influencing the amount and types of receptors in a person’s brain, the rate at which their bodies metabolize drugs, and how effectively they respond to particular medications. 

For instance, according to a 2019 article entitled, “Genetics: The Blueprint of Health and Disease,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, family studies involving identical twins, fraternal twins, adoptees, and siblings reveal that a person’s genetic composition may account for up to half of his or her risk of being addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs.

6. Lack of social support

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) data states that a lack of social support reflects the percentage of people who say they don’t have any friends or family members they can count on in hard times. 

Having no social support can play a role in drug abuse by contributing to emotional distress due to a lack of connection with other people, which may lead someone to connect with anything around them – including drugs.

For instance, a 2019 study on the inverse relationship between perceived social support and substance use frequency in socially stigmatized populations published in Addictive Behaviors Reports found that in a sample involving prisoners, higher lifetime alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco usage is associated with lower social support. 

7. Curiosity or experimentation

Experimentation means that someone might experiment with drugs out of curiosity about their effects or to blend in with their peers. Drug use is often minimal during the experimental phase.

Experimenting with drugs can cause substance abuse later in life by leaving lasting changes on a teenager or young adult’s brain, which still continues to experience rapid changes at an early age. During this time, an underdeveloped brain is more likely to learn and rely on the rewarding effects of drugs, heightening the risk of drug abuse. 

One example is when a teenager attends a school where drugs are being used, sold, or kept. This increases the likelihood of them personally knowing a classmate or schoolmate who sells drugs and subsequently experimenting with those illicit substances.

What are the most commonly abused drugs?

smoke coming out of man's mouth

The most commonly abused drugs can cause a wide array of dangers that range from addiction to death. These drugs can be highly addictive because they affect the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is released in large quantities when someone uses drugs, especially those with psychedelic effects. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved with pleasure, motivation, and rewarding behavior reinforcement. Regular drug use can change the brain’s reward system, creating a cycle of behavior focused on obtaining rewards. Different types of drug abuse or substance abuse examples are listed below. 

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Tobacco
  • Inhalants
  • Prescription opioids
  • Synthetic cannabinoids

1. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, also called “benzos”, are a class of drugs that reduce brain and nervous system activity. They are depressant medications that impede the flow of information between the brain and the body, helping a person relax their muscles and making them feel sleepy. 

That said, benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium can be used as medications to help alleviate anxiety and insomnia, especially if either condition is starting to have a significant impact on an individual’s daily functioning. 

Benzodiazepines became one of the most commonly abused drugs when they began creating new concerns on the possibility of abuse and dependence with their use a decade after they topped all “most frequently prescribed lists” in the 1970s, according to a study on the history of benzodiazepines by Jeanette Y. Wick published in The Consultant Pharmacist.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is produced through the fermentation of grains, fruits, or vegetables. It is also classified as a depressant, which means that it slows down essential processes, resulting in slurred speech, shaky movements, and a slower response time. 

Alcoholic drinks cannot be used as a medication, and experts’ opinions are split regarding alcohol’s medicinal properties. While some claim that alcohol is not safe at any amount, others contend that it could provide some health benefits by reducing the risk of heart disease, as stated by a 2022 article entitled, “Is Alcohol A Drug?” from Alcohol Rehab Guide. 

Alcohol became one of the most commonly abused substances because drinking alcohol is considered a social activity, and this widespread acceptance can lead many people to conceal or deny their drinking problem.

3. Marijuana

In its cannabis (marijuana) research report, the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines marijuana as a blend of Cannabis sativa dried flowers that is greenish-gray in color. Some people choose to consume their marijuana as joints, pipes, water pipes (also known as bongs), or blunts. 

The potential medical benefits of marijuana and its components have long been the focus of intense study and heated debates for years. According to an article entitled, “Medical Marijuana” from the Mayo Clinic, the use of cannabis as a treatment for any illness has not received FDA approval in the United States. 

However, the cannabinoids dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and cannabidiol (Epidiolex) have received FDA approval. Severe epilepsy can be treated with cannabidiol in some cases. Dronabinol can be used to treat nausea and vomiting brought on by cancer chemotherapy, as well as anorexia and weight loss in AIDS patients.

Marijuana became one of the most commonly abused drugs during the 1960s, when cannabis usage increased most quickly in industrialized nations like Australia, Western Europe, and North America due to its close ties to youth culture, as stated by the Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Unit of the World Health Organization’s article on Cannabis.

4. Cocaine

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug extracted from the leaves of the South American coca plant. As a street drug, cocaine is usually snorted as a fine, white powder. 

Stimulant drugs like cocaine produce intense feelings of euphoria, as they speed up or stimulate the transmission of signals from the brain to the rest of the body. In the United States, cocaine can be used as a medication, specifically as a local anesthetic during surgery on the nose, mouth, and throat. Other types of cocaine are illegal narcotics when not used for this specific purpose.

Cocaine became one of the top abused drugs during the 1980s and 90s, when it was no longer seen as only a rich man’s drug, but was instead associated with crime, poverty, and death. This period also saw cocaine gaining a reputation as the most harmful and addictive drug in America.

5. Heroin

Heroin is a morphine-based narcotic drug produced from certain poppy plants cultivated in Asia, Mexico, and South America. It is a depressant drug that slows down the central nervous system (CNS), lowering neurotransmission levels to induce feelings of relaxation, drowsiness, and pain relief. 

Heroin is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. According to the drug fact sheet on heroin from the Drug Enforcement Administration, this means that it has no approved medical use in the United States, has a high abuse potential, and has no established safety for usage when supervised by a physician. 

Heroin abuse became widespread in the 1960s, when the drug quickly gained popularity among young people as a result of the nationwide hippie movement and the drug culture it generated.

6. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, also called meth or crystal meth, is a highly addictive drug that appears as a white, flavorless, bitter-tasting powder that can be smoked, snorted, or injected, and dissolves readily in water or alcohol.

As a powerful stimulant, meth can speed up the heart, and produce significant increases in body temperature, with long-term use leading to insomnia, anxiety, and hallucinations. Methamphetamine in tablet form can be used as a medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

It works by enhancing attention and reducing restlessness in hyperactive, unable to focus, easily distracted, and impulsive children and adults, according to the drug information on methamphetamine (oral route) published in Mayo Clinic

However, methamphetamine is rarely prescribed. Prescribed doses are also far lower than those typically misused. Problems surrounding meth use have been evident since World War II.

Its wide use started during this period, when both sides used meth to keep the soldiers awake. Before their suicide missions, Japanese Kamikaze pilots received high amounts of the drug. After the war, when the supplies kept for military use were made available to the Japanese people, methamphetamine misuse via injection reached epidemic proportions.

7. Tobacco

Tobacco is a plant whose leaves contain nicotine, a mind-altering, addictive substance with both stimulant and depressant effects. Tobacco leaves are matured, processed, and cured in a variety of methods after harvest. The end products can be applied to the gums (as dipping and chewing tobacco) or inhaled (as snuff) in addition to being smoked (in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes).

Tobacco has some traditional therapeutic purposes, such as to help soothe itching and mild pain with the poultice of tobacco leaves and to give first aid to minor cuts. However, dosage is frequently uncontrolled in the therapeutic applications of tobacco. As with any other forms of drug, excess doses may do more harm. 

The early 20th century saw a surge in cigarette smoking, coupled with articles addressing its negative health effects in scientific and medical journals. An article about the brief history of tobacco published in CNN (Cable News Network) adds that researchers in Cologne, Germany, established a statistical link between smoking and cancer in 1930. Eight years later, Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Raymond Pearl reported that smokers do not live as long as nonsmokers do.

8. Inhalants

Inhalants refer to ordinary household, medical, or industrial products that give off vapors sniffed or inhaled by some people to get high. These chemical substances include solvents or aerosols, gases, and nitrites. 

Amyl nitrite, a medicine prescribed to treat heart diseases such as angina, is classified as an inhalant. It is a clear, yellowish liquid inhaled directly from the bottle and works by widening blood arteries, boosting the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, and lightening the stress on the organ.

According to an article entitled, “Substance use – inhalants” from Medline Plus, teenagers who snorted glue in the 1960s made the use of inhalants widespread. Since then, various different inhalants have gained popularity, including paint and lacquer thinners, lighter fluid, shoe polish, nail polish remover, spray paint, and others. Although some adults also use inhalants, younger teens and school-age children use them most frequently.

9. Prescription opioids

Prescription opioids are medications that can be used to alleviate moderate to severe pain, and are frequently given after surgery or injury, or for medical conditions such as cancer. 

Painkillers containing oxycodone and hydrocodone are the most common drugs involved in prescription opioid abuse. The feelings of pleasure that result from taking opioids can develop in someone a desire to keep experiencing the same effects, which can develop into opioid abuse.

An article on prescription opioids published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that in recent years, the use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis, has increased dramatically despite substantial hazards and the lack of evidence about their long-term usefulness. 

Opioids became one of the most commonly abused drugs in the 1990s, when healthcare providers began prescribing more opiate painkillers to address what was at the time believed to be a widespread issue of undertreated pain. This resulted in a steady increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids until 1999.

10. Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids, such as spice or K2, are man-made, mind-altering chemicals that some individuals consume as an alternative to marijuana. They are either offered as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled using e-cigarettes and other devices, or sprayed on dried, crumbled plant material to be smoked. These products are also referred to as liquid incense or herbal incense.

There are currently no approved medical uses of synthetic cannabinoids, as they have a much stronger influence on our brain than the THC (short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in cannabis. This enables them to produce stronger effects. In fact, in contrast to cannabis, the effects of synthetic cannabinoids are more similar to those of a stimulant (like ice or cocaine), according to a 2023 article entitled, “Medicinal and recreational cannabis vs. synthetics: what’s the difference?” from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation

A 2014 study by Castaneto et al., on the epidemiology, pharmacodynamics, and clinical implications of synthetic cannabinoids published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence states that synthetic cannabinoids rose to popularity as “legal highs” in the 2000s, in part because they can’t be detected by typical cannabinoid screening tests.

What are the long-term effects of drug abuse on the brain and body?

a boy smoking cigarette

Long-term drug abuse can have devastating effects on the brain and body. The long-term effects of drug abuse on the brain and body are listed below. 

  • Decreased reward sensitivity: With every use of a certain drug, the dopamine component of the reward system becomes more stimulated each time. Following repeated use, the reward circuitry of the brain becomes tolerant to the highly rewarding environment stimulated by drugs that sources of natural rewards, such as sex, food, or sleep now seem less pleasurable.
  • White matter alterations: Substance abuse can cause changes in white matter, the neural tissue that carries, processes, and sends nerve messages up and down the spinal cord. White matter abnormalities may be associated with antisocial behaviors, such as violence and aggression, according to a 2017 systematic review of diffusion tensor imaging studies across development on white-matter tract abnormalities and antisocial behavior published in NeuroImage: Clinical.
  • Cognitive impairment: One of the main regions of the brain affected by drug abuse is the prefrontal cortex, which is implicated in higher cognitive functions, such as planning, working memory, impulse control, decision-making, and personality expression. Teenagers and adolescents who engage in drug use at an early age run the greatest danger of damaging their prefrontal cortex because it is the last area of the brain to fully develop.
  • Gray brain matter abnormalities: Gray matter volume in the brain decreases with continuous drug use. Gray matter decline can lead to issues in basic functions, such as motor function, memory, and emotions.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome: is a neurological disorder caused by a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine). It is typically associated with chronic alcohol misuse and severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), as stated by an article entitled, “Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome” from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  • Permanent changes to body weight: Some drugs suppress appetite, long-term usage may have effects that may be permanent, such as decreased bone density and muscle mass, which may ultimately cause changes in body weight that are irreversible regardless of diet.
  • Respiratory problems: Opioids (heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone) and central nervous system depressants (benzodiazepines, barbiturates) are among the substances that have a depressing effect on the CNS. These drugs decrease the function of the respiratory centers that control breathing by attaching to particular receptors in the brain, such as opioid or GABA receptors. Meanwhile, the main illegal drug that is known to cause other respiratory problems such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer is tobacco, especially when taken in the form of cigarettes.
  • Cardiovascular complications: Drugs such as stimulants and opioids can affect levels of catecholamines – neurotransmitters that play a key role in the regulation of blood pressure – in the brain and body. This may result in variations in blood pressure, abnormalities in the heart’s or blood vessels’ regular rhythms, increased blood clotting, and an increase in the production of arterial plaque. With ongoing drug misuse, this may potentially raise the chance of major incidents like heart attacks, according to a 2023 article entitled, “Substance Abuse & Heart Damage, Disease, Complications” from the American Addiction Centers.
  • Weakened immune system: Long-term drug use can weaken the immune system, making an individual more prone to diseases and having a harder time fighting off common infections. The general theory behind how drug addiction influences your immune system is that it overworks itself to the point of deterioration.
  • Kidney damage: Most drugs of abuse are eliminated from the body through the kidneys. Illegal drugs may also damage the kidneys indirectly or directly through rhabdomyolysis, excessively elevated body temperature (frequent among ecstasy users), and dehydration, as stated by a 2022 article about the physical effects of drug abuse published in the Greenhouse Treatment Center.

How does drug abuse affect families and relationships?

Drug abuse affects families and relationships by changing the priorities of the affected person, causing them to neglect responsibilities at home, work, or school in favor of drug use. A substance abuser may be so preoccupied with getting drunk or high that they may leave their spouse, children, or partners to fend for themselves, resulting in family conflict, division, and loss of trust. 

Personal relationships with friends or romantic partners may also be negatively affected by drug abuse, as the affected individual may lie, hide their drug problem, or underplay it to the point of isolating themselves to keep it a secret.

How does drug abuse impact society?

Drug abuse impacts society in several ways, such as by contributing to violence and crime rates, reducing productivity in the workforce, and influencing health care costs. Not everyone may realize it, but both on an individual and a societal level, substance abuse is extremely costly.  

Violent crime rates rise as a result of drug misuse. In fact, according to 2023 inmate statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons last updated on July 1, 2023, 65,837 prisoners (44.5%) are currently detained for drug-related offenses or crimes. Furthermore, data on the economics of incarceration from the Prison Policy Initiative states that the total cost to the U.S. government for public prisons and jails is $80.7 billion, while private prisons and jails cost $3.9 billion. 

Drug abuse also has consequences in the workplace. According to a news release from 2006 entitled, “15 Percent Work Under Influence of Alcohol” published in the University at Buffalo, a study conducted at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) found that 19.2 million Americans, or 15% of the workforce, either drank at work or showed up to work while under the influence of alcohol. 

This indicates the problematic acceptability of drinking at work despite its dangers. Furthermore, a cost-benefit analysis presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Prevention revealed that the annual revenue lost owing to lower productivity brought on by substance abuse amounted to $510.8 billion. 

Finally, an article entitled, “The High Cost of Drug Addiction” from Gateway states that the expense of drug-related healthcare costs, such as emergency services, inpatient or hospitalized treatment programs, prevention, and research, totals more than $11 billion in the United States. About $161 million is also spent on emergency room visits related to substance misuse, and an additional $5.5 million is spent on hospitalization expenses. 

What are the treatments for drug abuse?

The treatments for drug abuse usually involve a combination of different approaches. There are several treatments available for drug abuse, including: 

  1. Detoxification: As the initial stage in treating drug abuse, detoxification is the process of eliminating the substance from the body. To ensure safety and lessen withdrawal symptoms, this can be carried out in a medical setting.
  2. Medication-assisted treatment: Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is a treatment option for drug abuse that combines the use of medications with behavioral therapy and counseling. It has gained recognition as an effective method of treating opioid abuse and other types of substance use disorder.
  3. Behavioral therapies: Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and contingency management, can assist individuals in developing coping skills and drug-prevention strategies.
  4. Individual, group, and family therapy: Patients may participate in treatment under the direction of a therapist in a one-on-one setting, with a group in a secure environment with peer support, or with involvement from family or anybody important in the patient’s life.
  5. Self-help groups: Self-help support groups like Narcotics Anonymous offer support to drug abusers by letting them meet other people who are going through the same struggles and experiences. Peer group meetings allow individuals to listen, offer advice, or show support to other people who understand their situation.
  6. Ongoing treatment: After initial therapy, returning to the outside world of temptations and life pressures may increase the likelihood of relapse. This is why ongoing care is critical, which may include attending sessions with your counselor or continuing with regular group meetings.

What are ways to prevent drug abuse?

The ways to prevent drug abuse address various factors influencing substance use. The ways to prevent drug abuse are listed below. 

  • Education and awareness: It is very important to give people correct, evidence-based information about the risks and effects of drug abuse. Different populations should be the focus of educational initiatives, including kids, teens, parents, and the broader public. Promoting awareness campaigns and publicizing the harmful effects of drug abuse can be effective in keeping individuals from experimenting with drugs.
  • Resist peer pressure: Avoiding peer pressure is an effective way of preventing drug abuse. By developing skills to resist peer pressure, individuals can make choices that align with their own values and avoid succumbing to negative influences. It works effectively at assisting individuals in forging a better sense of who they are and what they stand for, which can improve their general wellbeing and increase their resistance to drug misuse.
  • Seek mental health treatment: Mental health and substance misuse are closely linked, thus treating mental health issues is essential to preventing or treating substance abuse. Prompt and timely mental health treatment can effectively reduce the desire to use substances as a way of managing symptoms.
  • Learn healthy ways to cope with stress: Stress is a frequent cause of substance misuse because people may use drugs to numb or escape from their stressors. People can manage stress in a constructive and good way by learning and using healthy coping techniques, which is effective in reducing their tendency to use drugs as a coping mechanism.
  • Lead a well-balanced life: Effective time management, setting priorities for obligations, and achieving a positive work-life balance are all essential components of leading a balanced life. This is helpful in reducing stress levels and preventing feelings of overwhelm, which can be triggers for substance abuse.

How can individuals and communities work together to prevent drug abuse?

Individuals and communities can work together to prevent drug abuse by promoting public awareness of the advantages of not using drugs and involving key community members in planning the program. 

According to a pamphlet from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it is important to focus on the advantages of not using drugs, which may include messages about saying ‘NO’ to drugs and rejecting peer pressure. 

Youth involvement is crucial for preventing youth substance use, according to the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Program, which is run by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Communities can encourage young people to acquire solid social and emotional skills, problem-solving techniques, and decision-making ability. It is also important to foster nurturing situations in families that promote direct dialogue, confidence, and healthy interactions between parents and kids.

What is the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction?

a bottle of pills

The difference between drug abuse and drug addiction lies in their defining characteristics. Drug addiction is a chronic illness that causes compulsive substance seeking and use, regardless of the health risks.

Furthermore, when comparing drug addiction vs. drug abuse, it’s critical to highlight the differences between the two based on the degree of self-control that each user is capable of displaying.

Addiction to drugs is characterized by a lack of self-control over drug use due to physical and psychological dependence on a substance. 

In addiction, the user’s capacity for self-control is severely compromised, and they may have strong cravings, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, and an obsession with getting and using the drug.

On the other hand, in drug abuse, individuals may choose to take drugs voluntarily and initially have control over their drug use. Keep in mind, however, that substance abuse can lead to a loss of self-control over drug use, and eventually, addiction.