Drug Addiction Causes & Effects

Learn About Drug Abuse

Learn About Drug Abuse & Treatment at Life Healing Center

The term substance abuse, which is also commonly referred to as drug abuse, describes a broad category of behaviors that involve the misuse of psychoactive chemicals, such as alcohol and other drugs.

Substance abuse can involve both legal and illegal drugs. For example, drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication and using prescription medications in a manner other than directed by one’s physician are examples of substance abuse involving legal drugs. Using heroin and cocaine for recreational purposes are examples of substance abuse involving illegal drugs.

In many but not all cases, substance abuse can lead to both tolerance and dependence. Tolerance occurs when a person needs to take increasingly larger or more potent doses of a drug in order to experience the same effect that previously occurred by ingesting smaller amounts. Dependence (also often used as a synonym for addiction) occurs when a person develops physical and/or psychological compulsions to continue abusing a substance, even after having experienced negative repercussions as a result of prior use.

Substance abuse is associated with a wide range of damage to individuals, families, and communities throughout the United States and across the globe. On a personal level, individuals who engage in substance abuse put themselves in danger of destroying their physical, mental, emotional, and socioeconomic well-being. When substance abuse turns into addiction, the problems can become exponentially more difficult.

The good news is that substance abuse and addiction are treatable conditions. Professional help has enabled tens of thousands of formerly addicted individuals to overcome their compulsions, regain control of their lives, and achieve long-term sobriety.


Drug Abuse Statistics

It is difficult to overestimate the degree to which substance abuse permeates modern American culture and it is almost impossible to calculate the damage that it has caused.

Data collected for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) reveals that nearly 9 percent of the U.S. population has abused an illicit substance in the past 30 days and that substance abuse is a contributing factor in more than two million emergency room visits every year. NS-DUH data also reveals that more than 17 million Americans abused alcohol in the past year and that that just fewer than seven million people abused an illicit substance over the same time period.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances costs the U.S. more than $700 billion every year due to crime, healthcare expenses, and lost productivity.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Drug Abuse

Several factors can contribute to or increase a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder. Both internal/genetic and external/environmental influences can determine a person’s susceptibility to these potentially debilitating conditions. In most cases, a sole definite cause is difficult or impossible to conclusively determine, but decades of research has identified the following as among the more common elements that contribute to substance abuse:

Genetic: Information provided by NIDA indicates that genetics have significant influence on whether or not a person will develop an addiction to substances that he or she has been abusing. NIDA researchers have identified both individual genes and gene clusters that appear to be involved in determining a person’s vulnerability to chemical dependence. In addition to specific genetic markers, family history can also increase or decrease a person’s addiction risk. For example, people who have first-degree relatives who have had addiction problems are at increased risk for having similar problems. Also, people who have a family history of mental illness may also have a stronger likelihood of experiencing addiction.

Environmental: External factors are also highly influential on substance abuse and addiction. For example, people who have experienced trauma (which can include abuse, neglect, harassment, serious illnesses or accidents, military combat, or the loss of a loved one) may become involved in substance abuse in an attempt to deal with the lingering physical or psychological pain. Substance abuse and addiction are also common in cases where trauma leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Non-traumatic environmental influences on substance abuse and addiction can include work-related stresses and pressures, living in a neighborhood or community where drug use is prevalent, and associating with family members or friends who commonly abuse drugs.

Risk Factors:

  • Gender (substance abuse is more common among men than among women)
  • Personality (individuals who have problems with aggression or self-control are more likely to struggle with substance abuse)
  • Socioeconomic status (poverty is associated with increased risk for substance abuse)
  • Poor parental supervision early in life, resulting in early experimentation with substances
  • Availability of drugs
  • Family history of mental health issues
  • Family history of substance use disorder(s)
  • Personal history of abuse, assault, and other forms of trauma
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Given the broad spectrum of behaviors that can fall into the category of substance abuse, it is impossible to identify one or more symptoms that will definitively indicate that a person is using drugs. Signs and symptoms of substance abuse will vary depending upon several factors, including the drug or drugs being abused, the age and gender of the individual, the severity and duration of the drug abuse, and the presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders or other problems.

That said, individuals who demonstrate several of the following signs and symptoms are more likely to be abusing drugs than are people who have none of the following indicators:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Secretiveness about whereabouts, acquaintances, and actions
  • Loss of interest in topics, people, and/or activities that were previously of great importance
  • Unexplained absences from work or other responsibilities
  • Unexplained pattern of failure at work
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia

Physical symptoms:

  • Change in appearance (especially due to apparent lack of attention to grooming or hygiene)
  • Watery and/or bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Sores, scabs, and other skin problems
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Disrupted sleep patterns (either hypersomnia or insomnia)

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Trouble staying focused on tasks at hand
  • Obsession with unpleasant thoughts, including suicide
  • Difficulty solving problems or making decisions
  • Difficulty following conversations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings, including outbursts of unprovoked anger or agitation
  • Unexplainable feelings of panic, paranoia, and/or fear
  • Problems maintaining personal relationships
  • Apparent lack of motivation toward work, school, and other responsibilities


Effects of Drug Abuse

Substance abuse and addiction can have a profoundly negative impact on virtually all aspects of a person’s life. The following are among the more common ways that substance abuse can undermine a person’s efforts to live a productive and satisfying life:

  • Strained or destroyed personal relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Job loss
  • Relationship problems, including separation and divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Heart problems
  • Damage to liver, kidneys, and other organs
  • Injuries due to slips, falls, and driving while intoxicated
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Brain damage
  • Seizures, coma, and death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people who struggle with substance abuse are also dealing with additional mental health issues. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is closely associated with the development of substance abuse problems. People who have suffered trauma during childhood (for example, those who were abused, assaulted, or severely neglected) may turn to drugs either immediately or years later as a means of dealing with the lasting psychological pain. Individuals who experience trauma during adulthood (which can include military combat, physical attacks, accidents, serious illnesses, or the loss of a loved one) may also find themselves dependent upon drugs via either intentional or subconscious efforts to self-medicate symptoms that result from the trauma. In addition to PTSD, the following are among the diseases and disorders that commonly occur alongside a substance use disorder or addiction:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Social phobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Learning disorders
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Drug Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of withdrawal: One of the more distressing personal aspects of addiction is the onset of withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop using or is unable to acquire the drug or drugs that he or she has been abusing. Though the exact type, severity, duration, and danger of symptoms will depend upon the nature and severity of the addiction, the following are common among individuals who are going through withdrawal:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Tics, tremors, and seizures
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle pain
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Hypersomnia
  • Insomnia

Effects of overdose: As is the case with withdrawal, the effects of an overdose will depend upon several factors, including the drug being abused, the person’s tolerance for that drug, and the presence of other drugs in the person’s system at the time of overdose. The following are examples of the spectrum of effects that can occur when a person ingests drugs to a degree that exceeds his or her body’s ability to safely metabolize:

  • Breathing problems (shallow or constricted respiration)
  • Severely constricted or dilated pupils
  • Excessively slow heartbeat
  • Excessively rapid heartbeat
  • Excessively low blood pressure
  • Excessively high blood pressure
  • Clammy skin
  • Bluish lips and fingernails
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations and/or delusions
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

Life Healing Center Home

For years I was addicted to multiple substances as a way to escape my inner demons. After getting treated at Life Healing Center, I am now 5 years sober and a much better person!

– Anna C.