Substance misuse problems

If you or someone you care for have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you might have experienced how substance misuse can impact your life.

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Everybody's experience of substance misuse is different, and there are many substances that people misuse. The most common substances are cigarettes, alcohol, opiates, food and stimulants.

Taking certain substances can generate a feeling of short-lived wellbeing. This feeling can be pleasurable and make you feel like you can cope more easily with any problems or issues you're experiencing. The feelings of wellbeing can make you want to take more of the substance to sustain that feeling, leading to addiction.

Substance misuse can lead to addiction. The addiction can be psychological and/or physical. Psychological addiction is when your mind can't cope without the substance, physical addiction is when a substance has altered your body's chemistry so that you can't function without it.

What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse is a term used to describe a pattern of behaviour when you continuously take drugs or substances that change the way you feel and think. Alcohol, opiates, stimulants, food, and cigarettes are examples of regularly misused substances. Despite them causing difficulties in the way you behave, alter your mind and cause health problems in your body.

Taking substances can give you a feeling of contentment that can be enjoyable and help you deal with day-to-day problems, the flipside of this is that you can become reliant on them to stay feeling that way.

Using substances becomes a problem when they cause harm and when dependency begins. If you reach a point when you feel like you need to take a substance to function, feel happy, or feel good, you may become addicted.

If you are concerned for yourself or a family member, always speak to your GP first and seek some help.

Causes of substance abuse and addiction

There are many different causes of substance abuse and addiction. Cultural and societal factors determine acceptable or allowable forms of drug or alcohol use. Public laws specify what kind of drug use is legal or illegal. Which types of substance use are considered normal or acceptable remains controversial. Multiple factors cause substance abuse and dependence, including; genetic vulnerability, environmental stress, social pressure, individual personality characteristics, and psychiatric problems. But which of these factors has the most significant influence on any one person's experience cannot be determined in all cases.

What substances can people become addicted to?

There are many substances that people misuse or become addicted to; below is a list of some of the most common and well known:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription medicines, such as sleeping pills, painkillers and anxiety medication
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Opiates
  • Inhalants
  • Food
  • Heroin
  • Cigarettes

You will observe that not all addictive substances are illegal.

What are the signs of substance abuse?

Each person's behaviour can be very different, and behaviours are dependent on the substances they are using. Here are some things to be conscious of, and signs to look out for:

  • Drinking or using more for more extended periods
  • Continuous attempts to cut down or control drug use
  • Being under the influence or in recovery for a lot of the time
  • Having withdrawal symptoms
  • Risk-taking behaviour; such as driving while intoxicated
  • A strong desire/craving to use a particular substance with regularity
  • Regular, extreme bingeing
  • Developing a tolerance for drugs or alcohol and needing to take more
  • Continual use of substances despite the problems they are causing
  • Binge drinking

What are the effects of substance abuse?

The symptoms of substance abuse can be similar to other medical problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your GP for a diagnosis.

Mental symptoms

  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • disorientation /confusion
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Loss of memory
  • Intense cravings for the substance of choice

Physical Symptoms

  • Digestive system problems
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Organ failure or damage
  • Dental decay
  • Unplanned weight loss or gain
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Breakouts, rashes and skin complaints
  • Problems with sinus.'
  • Circulation and/or heart problems

When substance use becomes an obsession, everyday life and prioritising activities becomes difficult. Addiction can get in the way of work and studies, and it can prevent you from maintaining healthy relationships with the people you love. Addiction can also lead to legal and financial problems.

Getting help for substance misuse and addiction

The misuse of substances can have harmful effects on your mental and physical health, and it can often be challenging to separate the two. Substance misuse can also cause problems in your relationships and affect how you behave at work and in daily life.

If you are concerned about yourself or someone else's substance use, discussing problems with your GP are a great start. They may offer treatment or direct you to a local drug service. Alternatively, you can approach your local drug treatment service yourself. The FRANK website is excellent for advice and finding local support. They are also available on 0300 123 6600. Other Useful organisations are; Alcoholics Anonymous, MIND, NHS Choices and The Mental Health Foundation.

Treatment for addiction and drug misuse problems

Treatment for addiction and drug misuse problems depends on personal circumstances and which drug is involved. Treatment can include many strategies:

Detox (Detoxification)

Detoxification assists with withdrawal symptoms. This treatment may be necessary for people who want to come off drugs completely. Detoxing from an opiate like heroin requires assistance.

Talking Therapies

Therapies like Counselling or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may help understand the feelings and thoughts that affect behaviour that lead to drug misuse

Medicinal Solutions

Alternative 'legal' drugs may be introduced to replace harmful substances, such as methadone to replace an opioid.

Self-help groups and peer support

Alcoholics Anonymous, Over-eaters Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are groups you can join and attend for peer support. All of the above offer 12 steps to wellness.

Where to go for treatment for substance misuse

There are options via the NHS, and many private hospitals and providers offer support. If you or a loved one have a severe drug-related problem, you may need to consider residential rehabilitation.