What is drug abuse?

Drug abuse is the use of illegal drugs or the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications in ways other than recommended or intended. It also includes intentional inhalation of household or industrial chemicals for their mind-altering effects. Tobacco use and problem drinking are sometimes included in the definition of drug abuse. Chemical abuse and substance abuse are terms sometimes used interchangeably with the term drug abuse, or they may be used to refer to a combination of drug abuse and tobacco use or problem drinking.

Many drugs that are abused are also addictive; they cause cravings and a continued desire to use them despite negative consequences. Drug abuse can start in childhood and continue in adulthood. Studies of high school students indicate that approximately 42% drink alcohol, 21% use marijuana, and 3% use cocaine. Approximately 12% have used inhalants, and 20% have abused prescription drugs (Source: CDC).

People who abuse drugs may take them initially out of curiosity, to escape, to feel good, due to peer pressure, or for a variety of other reasons. Drugs can affect a number of different organs, and complications can result from damage to the brain or to other parts of the body. Other negative consequences often result from the effects drugs have on a person’s mind, as well as actions an individual may take while under their influence.

Treatment can be on an inpatient or outpatient basis, depending on the drug being abused, whether addiction is present, and whether there are coexisting health or psychological problems. Supervised withdrawal, also called detoxification (or detox), may be necessary if physical symptoms are common when the drug is stopped. Medications may be used to decrease cravings, counteract the effects of the drug, or to cause unpleasant reactions if the drug is used. Behavioral therapy is commonly an important part of treatment, providing skills, helping change attitudes and behaviors, and helping maintain recovery.

Drug abuse can have serious, even life-threatening, complications, such as drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, trauma, and suicidal or violent behavior. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, including threatening, irrational or suicidal behavior; serious injury; respiratory or breathing problems; rapid, slow or absent pulse; chest pain or tightness; persistent vomiting; cold, clammy, or hot, dry skin; severe abdominal pain; seizure; or confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment.

Seek prompt medical care if you think you might have a problem with drugs.


What are the symptoms of drug abuse?

Symptoms of drug abuse include those of intoxication and those related to unfulfilled responsibilities and the social consequences of drug use.

Common symptoms of drug abuse

Drug abuse can cause problems in interpersonal relationships, at home, on the job, and with the law. Symptoms of drug abuse related to these problems include:


What causes drug abuse?

The cause of drug abuse is not known, nor is it understood why some people can abuse drugs briefly and stop without difficulty, whereas others continue using drugs despite undesirable consequences. Biological factors, such as genetics and the presence of other psychiatric disorders, may play a role, as may environmental factors, such as peer pressure, history of abuse, and Read more about drug abusecauses


How is drug abuse treated?

The goals of drug abuse treatment are aimed at stopping drug-seeking and use, preventing complications of drug withdrawal, rehabilitation, maintaining abstinence, and preventing relapse. Treatment depends on the drug being abused, whether addiction is present, and whether there are coexisting health or psychological problems.

Common treatment of drug abuse

Treatment of ... Read more about drug abusetreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Substance Abuse

This Article is Filed Under: Substance Abuse, Mental Health and Behavior

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