What is Substance Abuse and Why is Substance Abuse a Problem?

What is substance abuse? The condition of uncontrolled use of harmful substances, despite the knowledge of their adverse effects and consequences, is called substance abuse or Substance Use Disorder (SUD), or addiction. It involves severe craving for the substances to the point of impairing daily activities. A person can be addicted to harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, and synthetic drugs. Some of these substances can lead to distorted functioning of the brain and body. Let’s know more.

What are the Causes of Substance Abuse?

The most common reasons for addiction according to National Institute on Drug Abuse are:
1. Peer pressure/ experiments
2. Achieving a feeling of euphoria, pleasure, or “high”
3. Getting rid of anxiety, stress, distress
4. Improving cognitive abilities, creativity, or performances
In most cases, the initial intention to consume drugs is voluntary, but with repeated consumption, the brain tends to challenge an individual’s self-control.


Why is Substance Abuse a Problem?

Long-term use of substances can affect an individual’s memory, decision-making capabilities, learning abilities, and judgment. It can also lead to stress and other neurological disorders.

Drugs activate the “Reward Circuit” of the brain by releasing a chemical neurotransmitter called Dopamine in a large amount. Dopamine is responsible for activating our sensation of pleasure. The reward circuit conditions our mind to repeat certain behavior that triggers the release of Dopamine. It is because of this reason, healthy individuals tend to repeat certain activities that make them happy. For instance, engaging in a particular hobby, being around their loved ones, or eating good food usually helps in releasing Dopamine. However, for a person who is addicted, the reward circuit conditions the mind to repeat drug consumption in order to release Dopamine – the happy hormone.

Substance abuse is not only harmful to the person who is consuming the addictive substances, but also to those around them. It affects social life, family life, and performance at work and school. Moreover, people who are dependent on substances are unable to curb their craving even if they want to. That is why experts always recommend a timely treatment.

Some Common Substance Abuse Treatments

Doctors can treat substance abuse and addictions. In most cases, a combination of medication and psychotherapy can support the process. Medication helps in controlling the craving, anxiety, preventing relapses etc. Likewise, psychotherapy helps in identifying the underlying causes of substance abuse and addressing them, by motivating and developing the self-esteem of the individual. It may also help in coping with stress and adjusting to the environment. Variables like causes, the intensity of addiction, and underlying health conditions determine which treatment strategy is suitable for an individual.

may also include these formal treatment strategies:
• Detoxification or residential treatment in rehabs
• Creating a controlled drug-free- environment for the individual in therapeutic communities or household
• Psychotherapy
• Interaction with mutual aid groups and self-help groups

A number of Substance Use Disorder patients pursue medically assisted detoxification as a method of treatment. This process can be part of the entire therapy or treatment, but it does not address the problems of long-term drug abuse.
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