Substance Abuse Signs & Symptoms

Substance abuse, which is a broad category that includes the misuse of alcohol and other drugs, is a serious issue that often requires professional intervention to defeat. Without treatment, a variety of health risks can develop including physical damage, psychological impairments, and overdose. In addition, other areas of an individual’s life can also be negatively impacted by substance abuse. People who engage in chronic substance abuse may no longer be able to achieve in an academic setting, hold a job, or follow through with important relationships. When individuals are also dealing with eating disorders at the same time as substance abuse, the impacts to their health and overall wellbeing can be highly damaging.

Thankfully, a variety of treatment options are available that can help individuals defeat their substance abuse problems, as well as their compulsion to engage in disordered eating. For example, individuals who are grappling with the abuse of alcohol, marijuana, heroin, meth, cocaine, or prescription drugs can get treatment to help them develop the appropriate coping skills required to handle the symptoms of their addiction, while also receiving professional help to address their eating disorders, or other mental health disorders. With comprehensive care that address all of these issues, individuals can overcome these self-defeating behaviors, avoid future damage, and once again live a healthy life, free from both substance abuse and disordered eating.

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Statistics

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), about 50% of individuals who have anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or another eating disorder also abuse alcohol or other drugs. The prevalence of substance abuse among individuals who have eating disorders may be as much as five times greater than among the general population.

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

There are a variety of different factors to consider when looking into why some people develop substance abuse problems and others do not. Specialists in the field of addiction have deduced that it is imperative to consider genetics, environmental influences, and additional factors when looking to understand one’s causes for substance abuse. Consider the following:

Genetic: Research conducted on addiction has shown that individuals can have a genetic predisposition to developing this disease if a family history of substance abuse, addiction, or dependence exists. For those who have a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a substance abuse problem, their chances of struggling with similar issues is greater than in those people who do not share this genetic predisposition.

Environmental: Mental health experts believe that a number of environmental factors can play into an individual’s chances of abusing substances. Factors including exposure to substance abuse in childhood, exposure to stressful life events, being the victim of crime, abuse, or neglect, and experiencing trauma can all cause an individual to turn to substance abuse as a means of coping.

Risk Factors:

  • Experiencing trauma
  • Lack of caregiver involvement / poor parenting during formative years
  • Lack of healthy, effective coping skills
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of crime, abuse, or neglect
  • Having easy access to substances
  • Lack of employment
  • Difficulty achieving academically
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer pressure
  • Exposure to chaos
  • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The textbook signs and symptoms of substance abuse can vary based on the type of substance that one is abusing, and the amount of time he or she has been engaging in abusing that substance. If you think that you or someone you care for is struggling with a substance abuse problem, take note of the following symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased conflict with others
  • Missing school or work
  • Not fulfilling roles or responsibilities
  • Unwarranted outbursts of varying emotions
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Poor coordination
  • Declining participation in things that were once enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Change in peer group
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lethargy

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Presence of injection sites
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Detachment from reality
  • Psychosis
  • Delayed thinking
  • Inability to reason
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Hindered decision-making capabilities
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Changes in temperament

Effects of Substance Abuse

There are many effects that can develop in the face of substance abuse. If an individual does not obtain treatment for his or her drug and/or alcohol abuse, the following effects can develop:

  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Overdose
  • Coma
  • Heart failure
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Stroke
  • Compromise immune system
  • Possibility of exposure to viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Damage to the heart
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Financial strife
  • Homelessness
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Malnutrition
  • Discord among friends and loved ones
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Development of a mental health condition
  • Exacerbation of symptoms associated with a mental health condition
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Co-Occurring Disorders

The presence of a substance abuse problem often comes along with one or more additional mental health issues. For many, the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol serves as a means of coping with symptoms of a mental health condition. The effects that come from being under the influence can cover up symptoms and provide an individual with an inaccurate sense of relief from his or her distress. Eating disorders, for instance, often co-occur with substance use disorders, as some find relief in the numbing effects that some substances can bring about. In addition to eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and bine-eating disorder, some other mental health conditions that can develop alongside of substance use disorders can include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of withdrawal: Continued abuse of drugs and/or alcohol can cause one’s body chemistry to change and lead to physical dependence. When this occurs, and an individual stops his or her substance abuse, withdrawal can develop. Depending on the substance that is being abuse, the severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Paranoia
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Intense cravings
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Profuse sweating

Effects of overdose: One of the most dangerous effects of substance abuse is the always-present risk of overdose. When an individual consumes more of a substance than his or her body can handle, an overdose can occur. Overdosing should be treated as a medical emergency and treatment should be obtained immediately. Some of the signs that someone has overdosed include:

  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Labored breathing
  • Heart failure
  • Disorientation
  • Severe confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Passing out
  • Dizziness
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