Drug and Alcohol Abuse 101

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

What is drug and alcohol abuse?

Drug and alcohol abuse, also commonly referred to as substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. There’s no magic threshold or line for when substance use becomes substance abuse, so it is easier to define as when the consequences of someone’s substance abuse are have a negative impact on an individual or their loved ones.

When people talk about drug and alcohol abuse, they are generally discussing the abuse of illegal or prescription drugs.  You may think that all drugs that are addictive and that may cause negative health effects are illegal, however legal drugs, such as prescription drugs and alcohol are just as likely to cause negative health effects when abused.  Commonly abused drugs include: Oxycotin, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and amphetamines.

Effects of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Drugs and alcohol often alter a person’s consciousness, mood or perception of the world around them.  Physical effects include addiction, dependency and changes in body chemistry.  In addition to the physical effects on the drug or alcohol user, families, friends and communities are also affected.  A person’s career, home life, academic success and relationships are often negatively affected with drug and alcohol abuse – often making substance abuse a family issue.

Many state and federal regulations and laws govern the use of drugs and alcohol, leading to consequences in the criminal justice system.  While these may be a deterrent for initial use or casual users, those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol cannot generally be stopped with threats of legal consequences.

Warning Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

You may be wondering if you or someone you know has substance abuse issues.  Unlike other illnesses, there is no blood test to confirm abuse or addiction.  Indicators or warning signs of substance abuse include:

  • Unusual or uncharacteristic behaviors, including sudden irresponsibility to oneself and others;
  • Difficulty paying attention, making decisions or recalling information;
  • Slurred speech, inability to make eye contact, severe mood swings and depression or paranoia;
  • Frequent tardiness, unexplained changes in condition, or avoids personal contact.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Substance abusers may be in denial that a problem exists, making treatment difficult for many individuals.  Family, friends and co-workers may notice a problem before an individual and in some cases try to help the person seek treatment.  Drug and alcohol abuse is not something an individual can overcome on their own.  Treatment centers are designed to support people with substance issues, not only from a medical and health perspective, but also from an emotional and psychological treatment focus.  This multi-pronged or holistic approach often results in the most effective and successful treatment.


Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse are incredibly difficult to overcome and individuals may experience reoccurrence of symptoms.  Therefore it is important that an individual constantly be supported by his/her community and treatment center.  Addiction is a lifelong disease so it is essential that any treatment address the underlying problems or issues that lead to the abuse in the first place. Minimizing the opportunities for reoccurrence requires vigilance and an understanding of the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse.