Defining a Drug Abuse Problem

Defining a Drug Abuse ProblemWhether its called drug experimentation or addiction, there are a wide range of problems associated with substance abuse.

Casual and Recreational Drug Use

Casual drug use can be considered the first stage of a drug problem. Depending on several hereditary and environmental factors, a person who begins to use a drug casually may develop a dependence on it or begin to use other drugs with the danger of becoming a poly-substance abuser.

Individuals may use drugs casually to fulfill a variety of needs according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The following reasons may lead a person to abuse a drug although the abuse may never reach the level of dependence:

  • To feel pleasure or euphoria – Stimulants such as cocaine produce feelings of self-confidence and higher energy levels, while opiates such as heroin produce feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
  • To manage stress – People who suffer from anxiety disorders, depression, or other mental illnesses may use drugs to decrease tension or overcome anxiety.
  • To improve performance – Some people feel pressure to improve athletic or academic performance and will use drugs to enhance these skills.
  • Curiosity – A particular issue for adolescents, some people try substances to see what other people are talking about or to fit in with a group of people.

While some people may experiment with substances on a limited basis, other people may rapidly progress to abusing substances or substance dependence due to environmental stresses or biological factors that make the substances more pleasurable to them.

Abuse, Dependence and Addiction

Defining a drug abuse problem can help individuals understand the seriousness of misusing a drug. Prescription drug abuse, for example, is a leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States partially because people believe prescription drugs are safe. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention show that drug overdose deaths have more than tripled in the U.S. since 1990.

Even when people associate problems with illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, they may not understand what causes problems or the disease of addiction. There are definitions of abuse and dependence commonly used by organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). The difference between common and clinical terms is described in a manual published by The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. Some basic descriptions include the following:

  • Addiction – This is a colloquial term that is widely used to describe a person’s dependence on a substance or repetitive act even when it causes the person harm or dramatically disrupts the person’s life. It refers to uncontrollable impulses as well as the social and physical problems that result from the substance or act (this term is not used by clinical organizations like the APA).
  • Dependence – This is a clinical term that refers to the changes in brain chemistry that occur when individuals misuse drugs or alcohol. It includes symptoms of physical dependence that include withdrawals symptoms for many drugs as well as psychological symptoms that include cravings and compulsions. It is referred to as a cluster of cognitive, behavioral and physiological symptom in the DSM-IV.
  • Abuse – This is a term that is similar to dependence, and some clinicians prefer the term misuse. A person who abuses a substance may not reach the level of dependence on it. He or she may misuse the substance to obtain a high or other feeling without ever reaching the cognitive, behavioral, or physiological symptoms that indicate dependence.

Overcoming Drug Abuse Problems

The NIDA promotes the use of protective factors to prevent drug abuse problems. Research shows that the more risk factors in a person’s life, the more likely he or she is to develop an addiction. Scientifically-based prevention programs, however, are effective at preventing drug abuse and dependence.

Specialized education programs should target individuals who are at higher risk for developing an addiction. The following risk factors indicate a person may be more likely to abuse substances according to the New York University Langone Medical Center:

  • Male
  • Young age (adolescents and young adults)
  • Family members with substance abuse problems
  • Early antisocial behavior (breaking the law, repeated lying)
  • Social and peer pressure (spending time with people who abuse drugs)
  • Stress
  • Easy access to drugs
  • Mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, panic disorder )

Programs that help people at risk for drug abuse include a strong educational component, according to NIDA. When young people and other at-risk groups understand the dangers and health consequences of drug abuse, they reduce their usage.

Need Help Finding Treatment for Drug Abuse Problems?

Drug abuse problems range from substance abuse that can harm a person’s health to a serious dependence that can destroy a person’s relationships and ability to maintain employment. There are a range of effective treatments that help people overcome urges to use drugs and alcohol. The most effective programs combine psychological services with practical solutions to handle daily problems.

If you or a loved one is suffering with a drug abuse problem, reach out today for help. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to guide you toward the best treatment options. Don’t spend another day suffering with the consequences of a drug abuse problem, call our toll-free helpline today and get the help you need.

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