Finding Freedom from Substance Use, Abuse, and Chemical Dependency

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By Alis Behavioral Health Staff

April 4, 2024

Understanding Substance Use and Abuse

Substance use and abuse are critical issues that have a significant impact on individuals, both mentally and physically. It is important to grasp the definition and impact of substance use, as well as the prevalence of substance abuse.

Definition and Impact of Substance Use

Substance use refers to the consumption of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and drugs, for various purposes such as recreational, medicinal, or ritualistic. While some individuals may use substances in a controlled and responsible manner, others may develop substance use disorders that lead to substance abuse.

Substance abuse occurs when the frequent use of substances leads to negative consequences in various areas of life, including physical health, mental well-being, relationships, and overall functioning. Substance abuse can significantly impair an individual's ability to fulfill responsibilities, maintain healthy relationships, and lead a fulfilling life.

The impact of substance use and abuse can extend beyond the individual, affecting families, communities, and society as a whole. It is crucial to address substance abuse from a holistic perspective, considering both the individual's well-being and the broader social implications.

Prevalence of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a global issue that affects individuals across different age groups and demographics. In 2016, approximately 5.6% of individuals between the ages of 15 and 64 worldwide reported substance abuse at least once in their lifetime. The prevalence of substance abuse has been particularly high among adolescents and young adults, especially among men aged 15-30 years.

The availability of certain over-the-counter drugs and the presence of substance use disorder contribute to the prevalence of substance abuse. It is essential to address the underlying factors that contribute to substance abuse, including genetic, environmental, and social influences, in order to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies.

To combat substance abuse and its associated consequences, it is vital to raise awareness, provide education, and promote access to appropriate treatment and support services. By understanding the definition, impact, and prevalence of substance abuse, we can work towards creating a society that supports individuals in overcoming substance use disorders and finding a path to recovery.

Commonly Abused Substances

Substance abuse is a complex issue that encompasses a range of substances with varying effects on the mind and body. Understanding the commonly abused substances is crucial in addressing the challenges associated with substance use, abuse, and chemical dependency. Here, we will explore some of the substances that are frequently abused:


Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that cause profound distortions in a person's perceptions of reality. Some commonly known hallucinogens include:

  • DMT (Dimethyltryptamine): A hallucinogenic compound found in a tea made from the Psychotria viridis plant, combined with Banisteriopsis caapi vine. This combination has been historically used in Amazonian religious and healing rituals.
  • Ketamine, LSD, Mescaline (Peyote), PCP, Psilocybin, Salvia, and Ayahuasca: These substances also fall under the category of hallucinogens. Each of them can induce powerful alterations in perception and consciousness, impacting an individual's sensory experiences and cognitive processes.


Marijuana, derived from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, is a commonly used psychoactive substance. The primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This substance can produce a range of effects, including relaxation, altered perception, and increased appetite.


Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It is known for its powerful stimulating effects on the central nervous system. Cocaine abuse can lead to various health issues and has a significant potential for addiction.

Other Hallucinogens

In addition to DMT and the previously mentioned hallucinogens, there are other substances with hallucinogenic properties. These include:

  • Ketamine: Originally developed as an anesthetic, ketamine can induce hallucinations and dissociative effects when abused.
  • LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide): A potent hallucinogen that alters perception, thoughts, and emotions.
  • Mescaline (Peyote): Derived from the peyote cactus, mescaline is used in some Native American religious ceremonies.
  • PCP (Phencyclidine): Originally developed as an anesthetic, PCP can cause hallucinations, delusions, and dissociative effects.
  • Psilocybin: Found in certain species of mushrooms, psilocybin is known for its hallucinogenic properties.
  • Salvia: Salvia divinorum, a plant native to Mexico, contains salvinorin A, which can produce hallucinogenic effects when consumed.
  • Ayahuasca: A tea made from a combination of plants containing DMT and an MAO inhibitor. Ayahuasca has been traditionally used in Amazonian rituals for its hallucinogenic properties.


Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine, which is extracted from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants. It is highly addictive and can have devastating effects on individuals and their communities. Heroin use can lead to serious health complications and has a high risk of overdose.

Understanding the substances commonly abused is an essential step in addressing substance use disorders and promoting overall well-being. It is important to seek professional help and support to address substance abuse and dependency effectively.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can have severe consequences on both physical and mental health. The link between substance abuse and mental health is well-established, as drug addiction can cause changes in the body and brain, leading to psychological effects. Let's explore the physical and mental health consequences of substance abuse, as well as its impact on overall quality of life.

Physical and Mental Health Consequences

Chronic substance use can lead to various health consequences beyond the psychological effects of addiction. Substance abuse affects the brain's reward system through neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, altering their normal functioning. The physical health consequences of substance abuse may include:

  • Organ damage: Prolonged substance abuse can damage vital organs such as the liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs. For example, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver cirrhosis, while cocaine use can cause cardiovascular problems.
  • Weakened immune system: Substance abuse weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Respiratory issues: Inhalation of certain substances, such as tobacco or illicit drugs, can lead to respiratory problems and chronic lung diseases.
  • Malnutrition: Substance abuse can disrupt normal eating patterns, leading to malnutrition and deficiencies in essential nutrients.

In addition to physical health consequences, substance abuse also has significant mental health implications. Drug addiction can cause or worsen mental health conditions due to changes in brain chemistry. Common mental health consequences of substance abuse include:

  • Depression and anxiety: Substance abuse can trigger or exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Psychosis: Certain substances, such as hallucinogens or long-term stimulant use, can induce psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions.
  • Cognitive impairment: Prolonged substance abuse can lead to cognitive impairments, affecting memory, attention, and overall cognitive functioning.
  • Increased risk of suicide: Substance abuse is associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health

The connection between substance abuse and mental health is complex. Excessive alcohol and drug use can lead to rewiring of the brain, causing inflammation and mental illness. The psychological effects of addiction can cause changes in priorities and increased preoccupation with procuring and using substances, resulting in a shift away from important life activities [6]. Individuals suffering from addiction often experience a vicious cycle of guilt, emotional pain, and short-term relief from substances, ultimately contributing to mental health issues.

Impact on Quality of Life

Substance abuse significantly impacts an individual's quality of life. Substance abusers often experience psychological, physical, social, educational, and functional impairments, leading to a lower quality of life compared to non-abusers. Polysubstance abuse, particularly among adolescents and young adults, can have serious consequences that affect their future.

The effects of substance abuse on an individual's life vary depending on factors such as the type and duration of substance use, the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders, and the availability of support systems. It is crucial to seek appropriate treatment and support services to address both the physical and mental health consequences of substance abuse and improve overall quality of life.

Factors Influencing Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a complex issue that can be influenced by various factors, including genetic and environmental factors. Understanding these factors is crucial in comprehending the development and progression of substance use disorders.

Genetic Factors

Genetic variables play a significant role in addiction, and there is a strong link between genetic polymorphism and substance abuse. Multiple genes, such as OPRM1 and BDNF, have been found to be associated with drug addiction. The presence of certain genetic variations can make some individuals more susceptible to the effects of drugs and increase their risk of developing a substance use disorder.

It's important to note that while genetics can influence the predisposition to substance abuse, it does not determine an individual's destiny. Environmental factors and personal choices also play a crucial role in the development of addiction.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors also play a significant role in substance abuse. These factors include social, cultural, and economic influences that can shape an individual's behavior and choices regarding substance use.

  • Peer Pressure: The influence of friends, peers, and social circles can greatly impact an individual's substance use patterns. Peer pressure can lead to experimentation and the normalization of substance use, increasing the risk of developing an addiction.
  • Family Dynamics: Family environment and upbringing can have a profound influence on substance abuse. Children growing up in households where substance use is prevalent may be more likely to develop addictive behaviors themselves. Additionally, adverse childhood experiences, such as trauma or neglect, can contribute to the development of substance use disorders.
  • Availability and Accessibility: The availability and accessibility of substances can significantly impact substance abuse rates. Easy access to drugs and alcohol can increase the likelihood of experimentation and regular use.
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and unemployment, can contribute to substance abuse. Individuals facing financial hardships or limited opportunities may turn to substances as a means of coping with stress or escaping their circumstances.

It's important to recognize that the interaction between genetic and environmental factors is complex. Genetic predisposition can increase an individual's vulnerability to substance abuse, and environmental factors can trigger and perpetuate addictive behaviors. Substance abuse often stems from a combination of these factors, emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive approach to prevention and treatment.

Understanding the influence of genetic and environmental factors can help inform strategies for prevention, early intervention, and effective treatment of substance use disorders. By addressing these factors and providing support at both individual and societal levels, we can strive to reduce the impact of substance abuse and promote healthier lifestyles.

Treating Substance Use Disorder

When it comes to addressing substance use disorder, it is important to have effective treatment options in place. Treatment for substance use disorder can take place in different settings, such as inpatient or outpatient, and at varying degrees of intensity. The treatment plan is designed to address not only the individual's substance use but also their physical, psychological, emotional, and social issues.

Treatment Settings and Approaches

Treatment for substance use disorder can be provided in different settings, depending on the individual's needs and the severity of their condition. Inpatient treatment involves residing at a treatment facility for a specific period, allowing for round-the-clock care and support. Outpatient treatment, on the other hand, allows individuals to receive treatment while living at home and continuing with their daily responsibilities. The intensity of treatment can range from regular counseling sessions to more comprehensive programs that include a combination of counseling, support groups, and educational services.

Medications for Addiction Treatment

For individuals with a physical dependency on certain substances, medications can play a crucial role in their treatment journey. Medications can be helpful in combination with counseling and other treatment services for individuals with a physical dependency on substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and opioids. These medications are designed to aid in reducing cravings, managing withdrawal symptoms, and preventing relapse.

Counseling and Support Services

Counseling and support services are fundamental components of substance use disorder treatment. Individual counseling provides a safe and confidential space for individuals to explore the underlying factors contributing to their substance use and develop coping strategies to address these issues. Group counseling allows individuals to connect with others who are on a similar journey, providing a sense of support, understanding, and shared experiences. Educational services, vocational services, and life skills programs are also essential components of treatment, helping individuals develop the necessary tools to rebuild their lives and pursue a healthier future.

Importance of Family Involvement

Family involvement is a crucial element in the treatment of substance use disorder, particularly for teens and young adults. It helps family members understand addiction as a chronic illness and enables them to set realistic expectations and goals for treatment. Family involvement also plays a vital role in improving communication and overall family functioning. By involving the family, treatment providers can create a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages the individual's recovery journey.

By combining treatment settings, medications, counseling, and support services, along with family involvement, individuals with substance use disorder can receive comprehensive care that addresses their physical, psychological, and social needs. It is important to remember that treatment approaches may vary depending on the individual, and a personalized treatment plan should be developed in collaboration with healthcare professionals to ensure the most effective and successful recovery journey.

Health Consequences of Long-Term Drug Use

Long-term drug use can have severe consequences on an individual's physical and mental health. It's important to understand the potential risks associated with prolonged substance use. In this section, we will explore the physical health issues, infectious diseases, and co-occurring mental disorders that can arise from long-term drug use.

Physical Health Issues

Engaging in long-term drug use can result in various physical health problems. Substance abuse can lead to lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other serious medical conditions. The specific health issues can vary depending on the type of drug used. For example:

These are just a few examples, and the impact on physical health can be far-reaching and detrimental. The long-term effects of drug use on the body should not be underestimated.

Infectious Diseases

Drug use can also increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases, primarily through unsafe practices such as sharing injection equipment or engaging in unprotected sex. Some of the infectious diseases associated with drug use include:

  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis B
  • Sexually transmitted infections

These infections can have long-lasting consequences and may require ongoing medical treatment. It is crucial to prioritize safe practices and seek appropriate healthcare to mitigate the risk of infectious diseases.

Co-Occurring Mental Disorders

The co-occurrence of drug use and mental disorders is common. Individuals may experience conditions such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia, which may predate the addiction. On the other hand, drug use can also trigger or worsen mental health conditions, especially in individuals with specific vulnerabilities. The relationship between substance use and mental health is complex and multifaceted.

It is important to recognize the intertwined nature of mental health and substance use disorders. Treating both conditions simultaneously is crucial for achieving positive outcomes and improving overall well-being.

Long-term drug use can have devastating effects on an individual's physical and mental health. From physical health issues to the increased risk of infectious diseases and co-occurring mental disorders, the consequences of substance abuse can be far-reaching. Seeking appropriate treatment and support is essential for individuals struggling with substance use disorders, as it can help mitigate the long-term health consequences and pave the way towards recovery.

Impact of Substance Use on Others

Substance use not only affects the individual with addiction, but it can also have significant consequences for others. Two key areas of impact are the transmission of infections and secondary health consequences.

Transmission of Infections

Drug use can increase the risk of contracting infections like HIV and hepatitis C, primarily through sharing injection equipment or engaging in unsafe practices such as unprotected sex. When individuals share needles or other drug paraphernalia, they put themselves and others at risk of bloodborne diseases. These infections can have long-lasting and severe consequences for both the individual and those they come into contact with.

Secondary Health Consequences

The impact of substance use extends beyond the immediate physical and mental health of the individual using drugs. Others who are close to the person with addiction may experience secondary health consequences. For example, family members may face significant stress, anxiety, and financial burdens as they try to support their loved one through their addiction journey.

Furthermore, substance use can contribute to the breakdown of relationships, leading to social isolation and a lack of emotional support. This can have detrimental effects on the mental well-being of family members and friends.

It is crucial to recognize that substance use is not an isolated issue; it has a ripple effect on the lives of those surrounding the individual. Understanding these secondary impacts can help create a more comprehensive approach to addressing substance use and supporting both the individual with addiction and their loved ones.


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