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Substance Abuse Guide
The UK has multiple options for substance abuse treatment, including top-quality private rehab centres.
Recognising the signs and symptoms of substance abuse at an early stage could be the difference between a fully lived life and a life of addiction. Although substance abuse is different from addiction, regular abuse of any substance can lead to addiction or physical dependence. Substance abuse can also have an adverse impact on both your physical and mental health. However, rest assure that substance abuse can be identified and treated early, and with the right professional help, it does not necessarily lead to addiction.
In this guide, we will describe the symptoms, signs and available treatments for substance abuse, how to recognise it in someone you love, and what is the best approach to finding support.
What Is Substance Abuse?
According to some addiction resources, substance abuse is when you take drugs that are not legal. It’s also when you use alcohol, prescription medicine and other legal substances in too abundant quantities or in a way for which these medications were never planned to be consumed. (1) Whether you are using illegal drugs such as or marijuana or heroin, drinking too much alcohol or taking medication not as prescribed by your doctor, you are abusing a substance.
Substance abuse left untreated could potentially lead to addiction or dependency.
Many people find that using a substance, for example, having “a” drink to unwind after work, can help them relax or socialise. The majority of people who do use materials in this way are unlikely to have a problem with addiction. However, for others, what starts as one drink can morph into a problem that becomes difficult to control. Whatever your problem, whatever the substance, it’s essential to seek professional help and advice.
Which substances are commonly abused?
The most commonly abused substances are not always illegal. Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances worldwide. Drug abuse can also occur with legal prescription drugs used in illegal ways. (2) Many people have struggled with addiction to prescription opiate medications, that they started using as prescribed. Still, as their tolerance built and the pain didn’t recede as quickly, they began to take more and more.
Sleeping tablets and other pills that are given by doctors to help control mood are also at risk of abuse. If you are overusing legal substances, we can help.
Marijuana is often quoted as the most commonly used illicit substance. (3) Illegal drug use is nationally widespread, and the reality is that most people will experiment to varying degrees with illegal substances at some time in their lives. Other commonly abused illegal substances include MDMA or ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamines, inhalants and many, many more.
Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse
If you feel like you may be misusing a substance, there are a few telltale signs to help you recognise that your use has developed into something out of your control. Here is an outline of some common signs and symptoms of substance abuse (4):
- You keep taking medication after it’s no longer needed for a health problem.
- You feel strange when the effects wear off. You may feel shaky, depressed, nauseous, sweat more and have headaches. You could also feel tired or lack appetite. In severe cases, you could feel disoriented, experience seizures or develop a fever.
- You’ve lost interest in things
- that once interested you.
- You now have trouble doing daily things, like cooking, studying or working.
- You operate heavy machinery or drive while intoxicated.
- You hide your use and its effects from those around you.
- You’re having trouble getting along with co-workers, teachers, friends, or family members who complain more about changes in your behaviour.
- Your sleep routine and diet have changed as a consequence of your drug use.
- Your looks have changed. Your eyes are bloodshot, you may have bad breath or experience tremors, have frequent nosebleeds, or you may have gained or lost weight.
- You have started to go to more than one doctor to get prescriptions for the same problem.
- You check others’ medicine cabinets for drugs to take.
- You take prescribed meds and drink them with alcohol or other, counteractive drugs.
ReIf you recognise yourself in any of the above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our professional team are well versed in addressing these problems and more; we are here to support you and set you on the path to long-lasting, sustainable recovery.
The Dangers of Substance Abuse
The way that substance abuse impacts on you and your loved ones can seem devastating if trying to tackle it alone. Drug misuse of any form has a habit of pulling apart the building blocks of life. Our experience shows us that the sooner you address the presenting problem, the lesser the impact will be. The dangers of substance abuse are varied and can be severe, and when left untreated can cause serious complications:
Physical health complications:
Health complications associated with substance abuse will vary depending on the substance. If your alcohol consumption is on the increase, hangovers will be all too common. The strain excessive alcohol use can place on your internal organs, particularly to your liver, could also result in long-term damage.
Abusing prescription medication can also be dangerous to your physical wellbeing. Primarily, the risk of unintentional overdose is high, especially if they are mixed with alcohol or any other substance.
Illegal drugs which are snorted, such as cocaine, can cause haemorrhaging to the nasal wall. Nosebleeds are common, as are sinus infections.
Infections for intravenous drug users are also common. Abscesses can form in the injection site.
Symptoms of abuse rarely get better should the behaviour continue, and more likely than not, you will see your physical health deteriorate more and more, the longer your drug abuse continues. Please do not worry, though, as we can help. Reach out to us if you feel like you have any physical ailments as a consequence of substance misuse.
Mental health complications
All drugs, whatever the substance, change your mood by altering your brain chemistry. For example, heroin and cocaine directly activate the reward pathway in the ventral tegmental area (5) and nucleus accumbens, while other drugs (such as nicotine and alcohol) activate this pathway as well, although sometimes indirectly. Although each drug has a different mechanism of action, they do increase the activity of the reward pathway by increasing dopamine transmission. Dopamine “re-programs” the brain to repeat pleasurable behaviours. (6)
When the behaviour is repeated regularly, it can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Because the substance has increased your dopamine levels, your brain’s natural ability to produce dopamine without the substance will be affected. Because your brain gets used to needing the substance to produce dopamine, it will struggle without it. You will stop feeling happy when you are not using it. To varying degrees, the same thing happens in the brain with all drugs. They induce feelings of euphoria or calm, in a brain that is perfectly adept at creating these feelings on its own. When you are chronically using, some drugs can lead to both short- and long-term changes in the brain. In effect, this can lead to mental health issues, including paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, and other problems. (7)
If you are worried about any of the potential mental health complications that your drug use may be having, please reach out to an addiction specialist such as a private clinic, like ours, a charitable organisation, a 12-step based practice, such as the AA or the NA, or even your GP. It will take some work and a period of abstinence, in order to get your body and brain to work normally again; with the right environment and support that is more than possible.
While drug abuse is when you use legal or illegal substances in ways you shouldn’t, (8) if you’re unable to change your unhealthy habits or stop using altogether, we’re talking about addiction. If even when this substance puts your health in danger, you still cannot stop using it, it’s an addiction. If it causes financial, emotional and other problems for you or your loved ones, but you still cannot bring yourself to cease using – it’s an addiction.
Chemical dependency will occur should you continue using the same substance. Over time, you may develop a tolerance to the substance, and the effects you feel will decrease unless you continually increase your dosage.
When you become dependent on a substance, your brain and body will begin needing it in order to function. When you are without the substance, you will start to feel your body craving it and start to have withdrawal symptoms. Although withdrawal symptoms do differ with each substance, they are some which are often mentioned during initial assessments including anxiety, depression, muscle weakness, nightmares, body aches, sweating, nausea and vomiting.
Experiencing these withdrawal symptoms can make stopping without the support of a team of dedicated professionals near impossible.
Who Is at Risk from Substance Abuse?
Children and teens who don’t have much parental involvement can be inclined to risk-taking or experimentation with alcohol and other drugs. Also, young people who experience abuse or neglect from parents may also use drugs or alcohol to cope with their emotions. (9)
Genes also contribute to the risk. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, up to half the risk of substance abuse is based on genetics. If you have family members who’ve experienced addiction, you’re more likely to experience it too. (10)
Mental health risk factors
Finally, those with pre-existing mental health disorders are also known to be at risk from substance abuse. According to a study by Joel Swendsen, ‘many mental disorders are associated with an increased risk of later substance use.’(11)
Screening and Assessment
Assessing substance abuse can be difficult. In order to get the best diagnosis for possible alcohol dependency, doctors regularly use a series of four simple questions on something called the Cage Questionnaire. (12) The questionnaires you will discover on our website are also based on the proven practices, as well as the ones used in this type of assessment.
Another screening tool used on adolescents is CRAFFT, a recommended assessment and validated by various organisations including the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to identify substance use and offer the chance for intervention at a young age. Aimed at 12-21-year-olds the CRAFFT screening test has just been updated to include vaping as a way of smoking marijuana. (13)
Treating Substance Abuse
Being able to distinguish whether your substance abuse has developed into dependency or addiction will better inform you of your next step when dealing with a drug or alcohol problem.
If you feel like your regular drug use has already developed into drug dependency, you may need a medically-assisted detox. This is an inpatient procedure that involves round the clock care from a team of medical professionals, who endeavour to make your first steps towards a clean and sober life, as comfortable as possible. Where needed, substitute medication will be administered, ensuring the withdrawal symptoms are kept to a minimum.
Substance dependency and addiction may also require psychological therapy. It is uncommon that dependence or addiction forms purely at random. More often than not, especially for those who are addicted, addiction is simply a symptom of an underlying issue that needs to be resolved. We can help you resolve these issues and in turn, address the addiction or dependency problems, through varied empirically tested modalities. In order to ensure that you get the best chance of recovery from addiction, we use the most cutting edge psychological treatments including, DBT, CBT, group therapy, 1-2-1 therapy, and many more.
(1) https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/substance-abuse#1 (accessed 18/11/2019
(2) https://www.drugs.com/article/drug-substance-abuse.html (accessed 18/11/2019)
(3) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/most-commonly-used-addictive-drugs (accessed 18/11/2019)
(4) https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/signs-of-drug-addiction#1 (accessed 19/11/2019)
(5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/ventral-tegmental-area (accessed 19/11/2019)
(7) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/health-consequences-drug-misuse/mental-health-effects (access 19/11/2019)
(8) https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/drug-abuse-addiction#1 (accessed 19/11/2019)
(9) Swendsen, Joel et al. “Mental disorders as risk factors for substance use, abuse and dependence: results from the 10-year follow-up of the National Comorbidity Survey.” Addiction 105 6 (2010): 1117-28 .
(10) https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/risk-factors#genetics (accessed 19/11/2019)
(11) https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/risk-factors#environment (accessed 19/11/2019)
(12) https://www.healthline.com/health/cage-questionnaire (accessed 19/11/2019)
(13) https://crafft.org/about-the-crafft/ (accessed 19/11/2019)