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What Is Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. Medline's medical encyclopedia defines drug abuse as "the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are indicated or in a manner or in quantities other than directed."

But the broad range of substance abuse is not that simple.  There are substances that can be abused for their mood-altering effects that are not drugs at all -- inhalants and solvents -- and there are drugs that can be abused that have no mood-altering or intoxication properties, such as anabolic steroids.

Generally, when most people talk about substance abuse, they are referring to the use of illegal drugs. Most professionals in the field of drug abuse prevention argue that any use of illegal drugs is by definition abuse. Those drugs got to be illegal in the first place because they are potentially addictive or can cause severe negative health effects; therefore, any use of illegal substances is dangerous and abusive.

Others argue that casual, recreational use of some drugs is not harmful and is merely use, not abuse. The most vocal of the proponents of recreational drug use are those who smoke marijuana. They argue that marijuana is not addictive and has many beneficial qualities, unlike the "harder" drugs.

But recent research has shown that even marijuana may have more harmful physical, mental, and psychomotor effects than first believed, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana users can become psychologically dependent, and therefore addicted.

Illegal drugs are not the only substances that can be abused.

Alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medications, inhalants and solvents, and even coffee and cigarettes, can all be used to harmful excess. Theoretically, almost any substance can be abused.

For many substances, the line between use and abuse is not clear. Is having a couple of drinks every day after work to unwind use or abuse? Is drinking two pots of coffee in the morning to get your day started use or abuse? Generally in these situations, only the individual himself can determine where use ends and abuse begins.

When it comes to illegal substances, society has determined that their use is harmful, and has placed legal prohibitions on their use in order to protect the individual and to protect society from the costs involved with healthcare resources, lost productivity, the spread of diseases, crime and homelessness.

Understanding Drugs and Drug Dependence

Drugs, legal and illegal, are consumed across cultures, and are used for a wide variety of reasons, including, in the case of prescription drugs, to promote health.  However, illegal drugs play a very different role in our society and the effect they have those who use them.


Besides alcohol, some of the most commonly abused drugs include: marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamine, barbiturates, cocaine, ecstasy, heroione, anabolic steroids and a host of legal prescription drugs.


Regrettably, for millions of individuals and family members, drugs have become a source of devastating pain and loss.  Many drugs are addictive and the state of addiction to drugs is known as drug dependence.


As a result of drung abuse many societies face major problems including crime, drugged driving and drugs in the workplace. 



An illegal drug is any drug controlled by the government and are illegal in the country. Some controlled drugs are allowed if you have a "prescription from a doctor.   Other drugs are illegal - meaning you are never allowed to have them.

The law is different in each country. A drug can be legal in one country and illegal in another. In Ecuador, cannabis is legal to have, but ihere in Barbados it is illegal.  If a person is caught by the police with controlled drugs they may be arrested and face charges for possession of an illegal substance.

There are many illegal drugs that are being abused by our society today and so it is important for parents to raise their level of awareness in order to reduce the risk of drug use by their children.

Illegal drugs come in different shapes, sizes, and types. Each particular drug produces unique effects on the user.   This is why you may have heard the term "drug of choice". This means, the drug that the user prefers.

People use illegal drugs for many reasons such as to ‘fit in’ or just to experiment and this can be the beginning of drug use or drug abuse. They begin to abuse drugs when they repeatedly take them to solve their problems or to make them feel "normal".

Drugs can have many different effects on a person's health. Some drugs such as alcohol, directly cause hundreds of thousands of people to die every year around the world.  However, even if a drug doesn't cause any deaths directly, there are several other health effects to be aware of which can also result in death.

Someone who has taken a drug and is experiencing it's effects is said to be "intoxicated".  People who are intoxicated may do things they otherwise would not do, and they may be unable to safely drive or operate machinery.  If an intoxicated person drives a car/vehicle or operates machinery it may cause accidents, depending on how much of the drug they have had and how affected they are.

Overdosing is when a person takes too much of a drug at once and it becomes very dangerous for their health - they might even die.  Many drugs can cause long term health effects separate from just their short term effects, for instance smoking tobacco and cannabis can cause cancer, and abusing alcohol can cause liver damage.

Addiction is when a person takes a drug constantly because they think they need it and find it very hard to stop. Dependence is when a person's body adapts to a drug and starts craving the drug all the time - if a dependent person stops taking that drug, they may feel very sick and might need medical help. 

Addiction and dependence can sometimes make it very hard for a person to live a normal life, depending on the situation they are in. Some drugs are known to be very addictive

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