Chemical Dependency /Substance Abuse

What do the terms chemical dependency and substance abuse mean?

Substance abuse is a medical term used to describe a pattern of using something, either illegal or legal that causes significant problems or distress.

It can refer to the abuse of illegal substances, such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Or it may be the abuse of legal substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription medicines. Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse.

What is substance (drug) dependence?
Substance dependence is a medical term. It is used to describe the abuse of drugs or alcohol that continues even when serious problems related to their use have developed. Signs of dependence include:

  • Tolerance to or need for increased amounts of the substance to get an effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms that happen if you decrease or stop using the substance
  • Spending a lot of time to get, use, and recover from the effects of using substances
  • Withdrawal from social and recreational activities
  • Continued use of the substance even though you are aware of the physical, psychological, and family or social problems that are caused by your continued use

What substances are most often abused?
The most frequently abused substances include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription medicines, such as pain pills, stimulants, or anxiety pills
  • Methamphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants

What are the symptoms of substance abuse or dependence?

The following are the most common behaviors that indicate a person is having a problem with drug or alcohol abuse. But each person may have slightly different symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Using or drinking larger amounts or over longer periods of time than planned.
  • Constantly wanting, or unsuccessfully trying, to cut down or control use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Craving, or a strong desire to use drugs or alcohol.
    Ongoing drug or alcohol use that interferes with work, school, or home duties.
  • Using drugs or alcohol even with continued relationship problems caused by use.
  • Giving up or reducing activities because of drug or alcohol use
    Taking risks, such as sexual risks or driving under the influence.
  • Continually using drugs or alcohol even though it is causing or adding to physical or psychological problems.
  • Developing tolerance or the need to use more drugs or alcohol to get the same effect. Or using the same amount of drugs or alcohol, but without the same effect.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms if not using drugs or alcohol. Or using alcohol or another drug to avoid such symptoms.

The symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse may resemble other medical problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is drug abuse or dependence diagnosed?
A family doctor, psychiatrist, or qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses substance abuse. Clinical findings often depend on the substance abused, the frequency of use, and the length of time since last used, and may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Constant fatigue
  • Red eyes
  • Little concern for hygiene
  • Lab abnormalities
  • Unexpected abnormalities in heart rate or blood pressure
  • Depression, anxiety, or sleep problems

Treatment for substance abuse or dependence:

Specific treatment for substance abuse or dependence will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and health history
  • Extent of the symptoms
  • Extent of the dependence
  • Type of substance abused
  • Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

A variety of treatment (or recovery) programs for substance abuse are available on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Programs considered are usually based on the type of substance abused.

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