Substance Abuse Facts

Most people use a drug because they enjoy the effects. But continued use can cause changes in the brain’s structure and function, turning substance abuse into addiction—a chronic, relapsing illness. Learn More ›

Stages of Substance Abuse

  • Chronic use of alcohol or other drugs that leads to failure to fulfill major responsibilities related to work, family or school

  • Repeatedly drinking or using drugs in situations that are hazardous, such as driving

  • Development of increased tolerance to use, meaning more of the drug or alcohol is needed to have the same effect

  • Withdrawal symptoms if a person cuts back on use

Learn more about the stages of Substance Abuse

Women and Substance Abuse

All kinds of American women abuse drugs and alcohol. They may be rich or poor, young or old, urban or rural, professional or homemaker.

Addiction-related diseases kill four times as many American women as breast cancer, but it’s a health problem that rarely receives enough attention. This is critical, considering the impact it has on the woman and those around her.

“The truth is, when a woman has a substance-abuse problem, her whole family is affected because she’s often the key to family stability,” says Brenda J. Iliff. Iliff is director of clinical services at Hazelden’s Women’s Recovery Center in Center City, Minn.

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How to Spot Drug Use in Kids

Most adolescents who use drugs do not become drug abusers or drug addicts in adulthood. But drug use in adolescence can put their mental, emotional, and physical health at risk. And it can put a few vulnerable kids at risk for ongoing drug abuse and addiction problems into their future.

Drug abuse means that someone uses a drug for pleasure or to get high. Drug addiction means that a person has become dependent on the drug and has no control over whether, how, or when to use it, or how much to use. Drug addiction can be physical, psychological, or both.

Learn more about Drug Use in kids

Helping a Friend With an Addiction

When a friend shows signs of abusing alcohol or other drugs, it's hard to know what to do or say.

What's scary is that drug abuse can lead to addiction. Drug abuse refers to a conscious decision to use an illegal drug or a medication in an unsafe way. Addiction means having no control over whether you are going to use the drug.

Although addiction begins with drug abuse, it doesn't mean just using a lot of drugs. Researchers have found that drugs not only interfere with normal brain functioning, but they also have a long-term effect on brain metabolism and activity. At some point, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction.

Learn more about addictions

Substance Abuse

The main words used medically to describe substance abuse or addiction include the following:

  • Substance (drug) abuse (alcohol or other drugs). Substance abuse is the medical term used to describe a pattern of substance (drug) use that causes significant problems or distress, such as failure to attend work or school, substance use in dangerous situations (driving a car), substance-related legal problems, or continued substance use that interferes with friendships and/or family relationships. Substance abuse, as a recognized medical brain disorder, refers to the abuse of illegal (such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine)or legal substances (such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs). Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse.

  • Substance (drug) dependence. Substance dependence is the medical term used to describe abuse of drugs or alcohol that continues, even when significant problems related to their use have developed. Signs of dependence include:

    • Tolerance to or need for increased amounts of the drug to get an effect

    • Withdrawal symptoms that happen if you decrease or stop using the drug that you find difficult to cut down or quit

    • Spending a lot of time to obtain, use, and recover from the effects of using drugs

    • Withdrawal from social and recreational activities

    • Continued use of the drug even though you are aware of the physical, psychological, and family or social problems that are caused by your ongoing drug abuse

    Learn more about Substance Abuse

Your Guide to Substance Abuse

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