Substance abuse

You are here

Definition

Substance abuse is the compulsive use of a substance despite adverse consequences. People suffering from substance use disorder (i.e., addiction) have an intense preoccupation with using a certain substance, regardless of the harmful outcomes of their dependency and the fact that it may eventually take over their life. People can develop an addiction to alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens such as LSD and PCP, inhalants like paint thinners and glue, opioids like codeine and oxycodone, heroin, sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics, cocaine, methamphetamine, other stimulants, and even tobacco.

Symptoms of substance use disorder may include5 :

 

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Using substances in physically hazardous situations such as while driving or operating a machine
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
  • Bloodshot eyes and abnormally sized pupils
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Legal problems related to substance use
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems
  • Using substances even though it causes problems in relationships
People begin taking drugs to feel good (‘‘high’’), to relieve stress, to improve performance, out of curiosity, and even due to peer pressure.1
Drug addiction is preventable. Drug education and prevention efforts aimed at children and adolescents and involving families, schools, communities and media can be effective in reducing drug misuse.1
The intervention of concerned loved ones like friends and family often prompts treatment. A health professional can conduct a formal assessment of symptoms to see if a substance use disorder exists.1 Because addiction affects many aspects of a person’s life, multiple types of treatment are often required. Treatments may include1 :
  • Medication, used to control drug cravings and relieve severe symptoms of withdrawal
  • Sober houses (highly controlled, drug-free environments)
  • Individual or group therapy like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family Groups for family members of those suffering from addiction
Funded by

Vulnerability, Trauma, Resilience & Culture Laboratory
School of Psychology
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Ottawa

136 Jean-Jacques Lussier, Ottawa, ON,
Canada, K1N 6N5
613-562-5800 ext. 4459
vtrac@uOttawa.ca