The Prevalence of Substance Abuse Disorders

Many people have both a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness. The correlation between these two conditions is seen over and over again.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the prevalence of substance abuse in America is of epidemic proportions, impacting nearly 20 million Americans above the age of 18. Many of this population have both a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness. The correlation between these two conditions is seen over and over again.

Individuals with the condition of substance abuse often have other health-related problems, which makes the subsequent development of a mental health disorder even more problematic. Arguably the most damaging aspect of substance abuse is what it does to the brain, ranging from acute nerve damage to detrimental chemical disruptions leading to harmful consequences.

What follows will be a discussion surrounding substance abuse and substance abuse disorders, including the types and risk factors associated with such disorders.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse refers to anyone who consumes or takes too much of any legal or illegal substance, whether alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication. The prevalence of this condition in the adolescent population is a significant issue in our population.

The failure to address substance abuse promptly can result in severe and debilitating addiction and dependency issues, ultimately risking death.

Substances that are most commonly abused:

  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Xanax)
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Heroin
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP)
  • Opioids 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most abused substance for people over the age of 12.

The substances mentioned are so commonly abused because of the addictive chemicals in each substance. Although some substances may be harmless and potentially beneficial in small doses and infrequent consumption, most are quite dangerous when abused.

Other reasons for substance abuse can be related to associated mental illness, traumatic events, or environmental and sociocultural factors.

Addiction and dependency may become an issue depending on different individuals’ genetics, mental health status, and predisposition. However, no primary influence or determinant has a conclusive impact on the risk of substance abuse. Thus, individuals who have these risk factors should be encouraged to avoid these substances, if possible.

Causes and Risk Factors of Substance Abuse

Many different risk factors exist for the development of substance abuse. In addition, there is often a combination of factors that are involved in most cases.

Indications of potential substance abuse in individuals include persistent problems at school or work, aggressive changes in mood and behavior, general physical and mental health issues, financial complications, and neglectful actions in daily life.

Because substance abuse spans several types of drugs and toxins, the signs and symptoms that may be identified are also quite variable.

However, there are prevalent risk factors that have strong associations with substance abuse disorders and need to be taken into consideration when monitoring those at greatest risk.

The following are common causes and risk factors associated with substance abuse disorders:

  • Family History of Substance Abuse
  • Intrauterine exposure to substances
  • Tobacco Smoking
  • Personal History of Mental Health Problems
  • Peer Pressure
  • Family Dysfunctional Environment
  • Parental Disinterest
  • Moving To A New Location
  • Attending College
  • Availability of Substances

Treating a Substance Abuse Disorder

The treatment of substance abuse disorder depends not only on the substance being abused but also on the level of severity of the disorder. Factors that will be considered when determining an effective course of action include age, health, health history, and symptomatology. In addition, the willingness of the individual to actively participate in treatment is essential in achieving successful treatment.

Treatment will most definitely require prolonged outpatient individual and group therapy in many cases of substance abuse. In some cases, inpatient medical treatment at a rehabilitation center will also be required. 

The following are some examples of specific medications that can be used to treat certain types of substance abuse. In cases of alcohol withdrawal, medications such as Ativan and Librium can be utilized. In cases of opioid withdrawal, medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or clonidine can be considered. The specific use of these medications for any substance abuse disorder should be carried out under the care of a mental health professional.  

Many treatment centers and substance-abuse specific care facilities are located across the nation to help treat serious disorders and addictions.

The long-term goal of treatment for substance abuse is to make a full rehabilitation from addiction and abuse, learn management protocols going forward, and address any residual problems associated with substance abuse.

Final Thoughts

The fallout from substance abuse and substance abuse disorders is vast and can be quite severe and debilitating. Individuals who experience this disorder and don’t receive adequate treatment or support will likely develop worsening of the problem as consumption increases over time.

Yet, early intervention and active support can lead to positive results. Early treatment can also be helpful in dealing with the severity of withdrawal that prolonged addiction can cause. Intensive outpatient treatment with mental health professionals and familial support will lead to the best outcome.

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