Substance abuse is a pattern of harmful use of any drug or medicine for mood-altering purposes. Here, the term “substances” refers to a variety of both legal drugs – like alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine – as well as illegal ones – like cocaine, heroin, and psychedelic compounds. It is generally believed that the use of substances ranges from total abstinence to complete dependence and that the progression from experimentation with drugs to abuse to dependency is tied to behaviors and motivation.
The line between social use and experimentation and substance abuse is typically defined by the effects of the use on daily functioning. Individuals who exhibit substance abuse tend to display negative effects of the substance use on their health (weight gain/loss, impaired sleep), failure to meet responsibilities (unexcused absences from work and school), impaired control, risky patterns of use (driving while intoxicated), and social consequences (loss of friendships/marriages).
What’s interesting is that when many people refer to “substance abuse,” they are talking about illegal drugs. However, it is worth noting that the vast majority of problems tied to substance abuse are related to the use of perfectly legal drugs like alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine. Every year, the use of these legal drugs costs the United States billions and billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity costs. It is estimated that one out of every eighteen people in the United States falls into the category of “substance abusers,” yet only about fifteen percent ever seek professional help for their problems.
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