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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Causes

Use and abuse of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs may begin in childhood or the teen years. Certain risk factors may increase someone's likelihood to abuse substances.

  • Factors within a family that influence a child's early development have been shown to be related to increased risk of drug abuse.
  • Chaotic home environment
  • Genetic risks (drug or alcohol abuse sometimes can run in families)
  • Lack of nurturing and parental attachment
  • Factors related to a child’s socialization outside the family may also increase risk of drug abuse.
  • Inappropriately aggressive or shy behavior in the classroom
  • Poor social coping skills
  • Poor school performance
  • Association with a deviant peer group
  • Perception of approval of drug use behavior

Substance Abuse Symptoms

Friends and family may be among the first to recognize the signs of substance abuse. Early recognition increases chances for successful treatment. Signs to watch for include the following:

  • Giving up past activities such as sports, homework, or hanging out with new friends
  • Declining grades
  • Aggressiveness and irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disappearing money or valuables
  • Feeling rundown, hopeless, depressed, or even suicidal
  • Sounding selfish and not caring about others
  • Use of room deodorizers and incense
  • Paraphernalia such as baggies, small boxes, pipes, and rolling paper
  • Getting drunk or high on drugs on a regular basis
  • Lying, particularly about how much alcohol or other drugs he or she is using
  • Avoiding friends or family in order to get drunk or high
  • Planning drinking in advance, hiding alcohol, drinking or using other drugs alone
  • Having to drink more to get the same high
  • Believing that in order to have fun you need to drink or use other drugs
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Pressuring others to drink or use other drugs
  • Taking risks, including sexual risks
  • Having "blackouts"-forgetting what he or she did the night before
  • Constantly talking about drinking or using other drugs
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Drinking and driving
  • Suspension from school or work for an alcohol or drug-related incident

When to Seek Medical Care

If you recognize you have a substance abuse problem and want to quit, a doctor can refer you to community resources. A doctor also may prescribe medications to control cravings and withdrawal or help manage medical complications resulting from substance abuse. Let your doctor know what drugs you use and how you take them. Call your doctor if you recognize any of the following symptoms:

  • Mild tremors or an alcohol withdrawal seizure not accompanied by hallucinations or confusion
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Increasing abdominal girth
  • Leg swelling
  • Cough that won't go away
  • Continuing feelings of sadness or depression
  • Pain at an injection site
  • Fever

When to Go to the Hospital

If any of the following occur, call 911 or go to a hospital's emergency department immediately:

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or lightheadedness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Confusion or ongoing hallucinations
  • Severe tremors or recurrent seizures
  • Difficulty speaking, numbness, weakness, severe headache, visual changes, or trouble keeping balance
  • Severe pain at an injection site (may be accompanied by redness, swelling, discharge, and fever)
  • Dark, cola-colored urine
  • Any suspicion that you were sexually assaulted while under the influence

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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