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Substance Abuse: Is it our way of life?

Substance abuse in America today: 

substance abuseSubstance abuse has easily become one of our society's biggest problems. A research study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1998, found that substance abuse was costing at least $276 billion per year in the United States alone.  

Substance abuse is not limited to medicines or illegal drugs.  The term "substance", or controlled substance, is now frequently used in place of "drug" as many people fail to see that substances such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other ingested substances are also subject to abuse.  When a person ingests any substance, whether it is in the form of coffee, cigarettes, cocaine or prescription medicine, trillions of powerful molecules surge through their bloodstream into the brain.  Once these molecules have reached the brain they set off powerful biochemical reactions that influence or disturb brain functioning.  It is not surprising that substance abuse can lead to very negative consequences in an individualís life. 


Drugs frequently cause temporary changes in behavior, emotions and thoughts.  The abuse of alcohol obviously leads to intoxication in which an individual is in a temporary state of poor judgment, mood changes, irritability, slurred speech and poor coordination.  Another particular form of intoxication called hallucinosis is associated with drugs such as LSD, which consists of perceptual distortions and hallucinations.  Substance abuse comes in many forms.  

Substance abuse can also lead to long-term problems. When this term is used by mental-health clinicians, they are usually referring to a particular maladaptive pattern of behavior and changes in an individualís physical responses. More definitively, substance abuse in the eyes of mental health practitioners usually refers to when individuals rely on a drug excessively and chronically, and in so doing damage their family and social relationships, function poorly at work, or put themselves or others in danger. 

A more advanced pattern of substance abuse is substance dependence, which many people refer to as addiction. This is a pattern in which people not only abuse a drug, but pattern their lives around it, and frequently develop a physical dependence upon it marked by tolerance for it and withdrawal symptoms or both. When people develop tolerance they need a higher dosage to get the same desired effect.  Withdrawal consist of unpleasant and even dangerous symptoms which may include cramps, anxiety attacks, sweating, nausea and other such symptoms when an individual suddenly stops taking or cuts back on the amount of the drug they use.  Some researchers have found that while 11.3% of all adults in the United States may exhibit symptoms of substance abuse or dependence, only about 20% of them receive treatment.  

Many drugs are available in our society and new ones seem to be introduced every day.  Some are provided by nature, others are derived from natural substances and others are produced in laboratories.  Some, such as anxiety drugs are prescribed by physicians legally.  Others such as alcohol and nicotine are legally available to any adult.  Others, such as heroin, are illegal under all circumstances.  The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse found that in1962 only 4 million people in United States and ever used marijuana, cocaine, heroin or any other legal illegal substance.  That number had climbed to over 72 million by 1998.  In fact, that same survey found that presently approximately 3 million people have used an illegal substance within the past year and 14 million are currently using one.  Also, it states that approximately 10% of teenagers have used an illegal drug within the past month. 

Substance abuse usually falls within several categories such as the substance abuse of depressants, which includes alcohol and uploads, which slow the central nervous system; stimulants of the central nervous system from drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines; hallucinogens such as LSD, which cause delusions, hallucinations and other powerful sensory and perceptual changes, and cannabis substances such as marijuana which cause a mixture of hallucinogenic, depressant and stimulant effects.  Substance abuse in the form of polydrug use is also popular in our society in which an individual takes more than one substance at a time. 

Some information from Abnormal Psychology by Ronald Comer 

By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Health Psychology)

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