Substance abuse is a common behavior that occurs in our society. A common misconception about substance abuse is that it only occurs with illegal drugs or alcohol. However, Substance abuse can take hold with legal drugs, and unhealthy behavior.

Substance abuse and addiction are not the same things. An individual with substance abuse is still able to quit or change their behaviors. Addiction refers to losing control over a behavior or substance, the person will continue using it even if it is harmful to them.

This shows that substance abuse, in the long run, may lead to addiction.

Commonly abused substances and behaviors:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Over the counter drugs
  • Opioids
  • Marijuana
  • Work
  • Internet
  • Sexual activity
  • Shopping
  • Gambling

These substances or behaviors lead one to experience enjoyable feelings of euphoria or “high”. While in isolation this may not present such a big issue, however, a person can develop a dependence on it. Dependence means an individual needs more substance to achieve the same level of “high” that they are seeking. This can get out of control because one will need more and more to satisfy a craving.

The effects of addiction are wide, and dependant on the behavior itself, some effects and their associated addictions are:

  • Physical Health problems
  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Overdose
  • Having problems maintaining performance at work
  • Mood swings
  • Relationship problems
  • Death

The reason people seek out substances is many. Both genetic and environmental factors interact together which leads to an increase or decrease in addiction risk. A common reason is using substances to block or as a way to deal with life and stress. However socioeconomic status and unemployment also play a big factor in addiction. On average, the lower an individual’s socioeconomic status, and lack of a career can play a massive role in addiction.

Worldwide, drug use is responsible for 11.8 million deaths each year. Substance abuse is more common in men than in women. More than 50% of people who die from an overdose are younger than 50 years old. As of 2019, around 25 million people worldwide suffer from drug use disorders, and only 1 in 7 people receive treatment. The WHO has reported that globally, 3.5% - 5.7% of 15-64 year olds use drugs, and around 10-15% of these people are estimated to develop substance abuse or dependence


The causes of depression are not known. Many factors come into play however which are:

  • Genes and vulnerabilities: it's possible that there are reasons connected to one’s biology that can have someone be vulnerable to substance abuse
  • Type and action of the drug, as each individual is different, and is shaped by many factors, the type of drug and how it works could determine what type of substance abuse one can be vulnerable too
  • Having another mental health disorder may contribute to substance abuse
  • Direct family member drug use
  • Peer pressure from friends or family
  • Emotional and environmental stress

Co-existing conditions common to Substance abuse are as follows:

  • Chronic pain
  • Tobacco use
  • Reduced management of other medical conditions (such as taking medication, following treatment plants)
  • Infectious diseases such as HIV
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
  • PTSD


Some symptoms of drug abuse may include:

  • Intense urges and craves for the substance
  • Feeling that one must use regularly
  • Needing more of a drug to get the same effect
  • Taking a larger amount over a longer period of time
  • Making certain the substance is available and in supply
  • Spending money on the drug even when one can’t afford it
  • Falling behind on social and professional obligations because of substance abuse
  • Failing in attempts to stop using it
  • Experiencing withdrawal when the drug is unavailable or if the person stops taking it
  • Physical health issues
  • Changes in behavior


  • Taking a comprehensive history of the problems associated with substance abuse. These can include family trouble, financial problems, legal consequences, and health consequences
  • Laboratory tests for substances can also be of benefit to the mental health care provider to understand the extent of the abuse
  • An understanding that the abuse has led to significant impairment or distress through one of the symptoms of substance abuse
  • The appearance of other mental health disorders that are associated with substance abuse
  • When the substance is given a higher priority than other activities in spite of its negative effects
  • Impaired or lack of control when it comes to limiting the amount and frequency of the substance use
  • A decreased response to the substance due to continued use, therefore needing a higher dosage
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the substance


Treatment is heavily dependent on what the substance or behavior is. Nevertheless, addiction recovery often involves both therapy and medication.

Some treatment methods involve:

Psychotherapy: There are many different approaches under psychotherapy that can help someone experiencing the effects of Substance Abuse. Different approaches are successful with different individuals therefore, the process of finding the right approach and therapist may be difficult at first. It can also lead to some people going for the wrong therapist or technique, and thereby leaving therapy altogether. However, people must keep in mind that therapy is not a “one size fits all” process, and sometimes a person may need to try different approaches in order to determine the best one for themselves using the help of a trained mental health professional. Some types of therapy include:

  • Behavior Therapy: The goal is to eliminate unwanted behaviors, and strengthen positive behaviors. This would be usually done in environments that are familiar to the individual, such as at home, school, workplace, and others.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): The goal of CBT treatment is to eliminate negative, and irrational patterns of thinking for other symptoms that come due to living with the condition. Some individuals may have unhealthy internal dialogues, and CBT helps to eliminate those thought patterns.
  • Hypnotherapy: This complimentary treatment method refers to the treatment of conditions or changing behavioral habits using Hypnosis. There are different types of hypnotherapy, and the method that is used for providing treatment depends on what the hypnotherapist and the client agree on.

Support Groups: A group of people with common mental health conditions who can provide comfort, and advice, knowing that they share similar experiences. These groups can be led with and without a mental health professional.

Research has shown that the group can provide a common purpose for its members which lead to many benefits such as:

  • Leaving the isolation of suffering from a mental health condition
  • Being able to talk openly and honestly
  • Gaining control over their emotions
  • Helping others with their experiences therefore also helping themselves

12-step programs: Are organizations with the purpose of overcoming and recovering from a type of substance abuse. It involves very specific 12 steps that an individual has to work on and apply it in their lives. 12-step programs can be applied to any behavior or substance that involves addiction and losing control.

These steps involve a number of themes which revolve around the following:

  1. Being powerless to a substance or behavior
  2. Turn themselves towards god and higher power
  3. Make amends with all the people one has hurt when possible
  4. Change one’s behavior and life towards a new set of behavior and beliefs to carry on in all of one’s affairs

12-step programs focus on a person’s life using a holistic method, to cover all of a person's experiences whether they be mental, physical, or spiritual. It is important to note the effectiveness of 12-step programs varies from one individual to another, therefore one must be attentive to what mode of therapy would be best for them. If a 12-step program should fail, they must still seek other forms of therapy


  • Opioid replacement therapy: In the case of heroin or other opiate dependence. A person can be given medications to address withdrawal symptoms of opiates. The withdrawal symptoms are severe in cases of opiate addiction, therefore people may need to gradually get off the drug in order to avoid severe side effects of withdrawal. This is done using a substitute medication that replaces the opiate, and when taken as prescribed they do not give the sensation of being “high” and are less addictive. They work by relieving the craving one has towards opiates, and prevent withdrawal symptoms. Although they still carry a potential for abuse, when taken appropriately they help those in therapy and push towards a more normal life.
  • Antidepressants: a type of medication that helps relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, as well as other conditions. The goal is to correct any chemical imbalances in the brain that are responsible for mood and mood regulation. Different classes of medications work differently in the brain, some work better than others depending on the individual, their age, their reaction to the medication, and what medications are available to them. As with all kinds of medications, side effects exist for all types of antidepressants and must be discussed with their mental health care provider in order to mitigate these side effects. Antidepressants also carry the risk of abuse and addiction if they are mishandled.

Healthy diet and lifestyle: Research suggests that developing a consistently healthy diet, adequate sleep, and exercise plan can play a big factor in mitigating symptoms and improving the quality of life

Self Help Techniques: There are plenty of self-help techniques available for any individual to try that may help them deal with their symptoms. Examples include volunteering, positive self-talk, breathing exercises, and meditation