Causes & Effects of Substance Abuse

Understanding Substance Abuse

Learn about Substance Abuse & Drug Addiction

Substance abuse is the chronic and excessive consumption of substances such as drugs and/or alcohol. Those who find that they are abusing substances might begin to notice that all areas of their lives become more challenging, and that their ability to function begins to decline. When substance abuse is occurring, the user is likely to struggle with ending his or her use independently, which can lead to the onset of negative effects on his or her home, work, and social life.

Thankfully, substance abuse is highly treatable by engaging in appropriate programming.


Statistics about Substance Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 80%-90% of adults ages 18 and older have used one or more substances at some point in their lives. The following are statistics regarding substance abuse:

  • The most commonly abused substances include alcohol, prescription drugs, and marijuana.

Over 20 million people abuse substances; however, only 15% obtain treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

There are many different causes and risk factors for substance abuse, including the following:

  • Having blood relatives who abuse substances, specifically first-degree relatives
  • Poor socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Being exposed to violence and crime
  • Associating with others who abuse substances
  • Neglect, trauma, and mental illness
  • Impulsive and novelty-seeking behavior
  • Poverty

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse are going to vary from person to person, based on what kind of substance they are abusing, how long they have been abusing it for, and what their personal background is. However, some of the most commonly noted signs and symptoms of substance abuse include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Using substances even when it is hazardous to do so (such as while operating a vehicle)
  • Frequent absenteeism from one’s place of employment
  • Frequent absenteeism from school
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Inability to stop using one’s substance of choice, despite having the desire to do so
  • No longer engaging in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Using substances more excessively or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities at home or within relationships

Physical symptoms:

  • Presence of abscesses, scars, or track marks if a substance is being consumed intravenously
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Frequent headaches
  • Periods of excessive hyperactivity or excessive lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia)
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Hindered decision-making capabilities
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to reason
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • No longer demonstrating an interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Changes in overall temperament
  • Irritability
  • Dramatic mood swings

Lasting Effects

Effects of Substance Abuse

When substance abuse is occurring, an individual is likely to experience several different effects of their use, including the following:

  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Job loss
  • Academic failure
  • Malnutrition
  • Overdose and the complications that arise as the result of an overdose
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Financial strife
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of friendships
  • Compromised immune system
  • Loss of memory
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Coma
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Seizures
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Exposure to viruses like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse with Mental Health Issues

Many individuals who grapple with symptoms of substance abuse are also experiencing one or more primary mental illnesses at the same time, known as having a co-occurring disorder. The most common mental illnesses that might present themselves in someone with a substance abuse problem can include the following:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

When someone begins to withdraw from one or more substances, he or she can experience a number of painful effects. These effects can include:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Elevated feelings of anxiety
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Powerful cravings
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia

While withdrawal can be tricky, overdosing on one or more dangerous substances can be deadly. If any of the following symptoms develop after an individual has been abusing substances, an overdose might be occurring and immediate medical attention needs to be obtained:

  • Heart failure
  • Psychosis
  • Losing consciousness
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Labored breathing
  • Severe confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Chest pains
  • Changes in the color of one’s skin tone
  • Dizziness


Our Joint Commission accreditation shows our focus on quality care.