What Is Substance Abuse?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.” It can also include using prescription medications and legal substances (such as glue and paint thinners) the wrong way. Substance abuse can lead to addiction and dependence. Some people have a genetic predisposition to substance abuse whereas others are prone to substance abuse due to environmental factors. People will use substances to feel high, relax, or feel a way to disconnect and avoid problems in their lives. In 2010, an estimated 230 million people worldwide used an illicit substance. The World Health Organization estimates that three million people die annually as a result of alcohol abuse alone.
Commonly Abused Substances
- Prescription opioids
- Prescription tranquilizers
- Hallucinogens (mushrooms, LSD, etc.)
- Inhalants (glue, gasoline, computer dusters, etc.)
- Crystal meth/methamphetamines
The Opioid Crisis
One form of substance abuse, in particular, is gaining notoriety in the American news these days, and that is opioid abuse. Experts, in fact, are using the word “epidemic” to describe the current opioid crisis in the United States. Opioids are prescription painkillers that in addition to blocking pain, also give users a feeling of euphoria or high. Originally claimed to be non-addictive, this turned out not to be the case. Because they were marketed as not being addictive, doctors were more likely to prescribe them for pain management. A whopping 282 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in 2016, an estimated 66 prescriptions for every 100 people in the United States -- much more than any other country. That same year, 42,249 Americans died from opioid overdose. On average, 115 people die each day from opioid overdose.
Opioids, which get their name from opium, are available in several different forms. Here are some common names:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (Percocet)
Fentanyl is actually a very powerful anesthetic used in surgery and also may be used to combat severe pain in terminal illnesses. People who abuse fentanyl typically get it illicitly-made, whereas other types of opioids may be gotten via prescription for chronic pain. Methadone is used to treat heroin addiction. Heroin can be made from morphine, and it is not unusual for people who become addicted to opioids to later turn to heroin, which is often cheaper to acquire. An estimated 75% of heroin users started out as prescription drug abusers.
Substance Abuse Treatment
It’s not always easy for someone to stop abusing substances on their own. There is no one right treatment option for individuals struggling with substance abuse. Treatment isn’t a quick fix and it requires a long-term commitment. The first stage of treatment is a medically-assisted detoxification. People who abuse illicit substances often go through a painful withdrawal period where they may experience symptoms like sweats, anxiety, irritability, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, headaches, and more.
Counseling is one of the most common forms of substance abuse treatment. There are licensed therapists and counselors who specialize in substance abuse and addiction. There are also support groups available such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Recovering substance abusers will learn about what situations trigger them to abuse substances and how to avoid them, healthy coping mechanisms, and more. Some substance abusers may find residential treatment programs to be the most effective way for them to recover from substance abuse. These can be short or longterm treatment centers, and there may be an option for recovery group housing afterward to begin a healthy transition to independent living. Recovery from substance abuse is not easy, but with the right tools and support, it can get easier with time.