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    Substance Abuse

    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

    Substance Abuse Treatment

    Medical Treatment

    Most substances abusers believe they can stop using drugs on their own, but a majority who try do not succeed. Research shows that long-term drug abuse alters brain function and strengthens compulsions to use drugs. This craving continues even after drug use stops.

    Because of these ongoing cravings, the most important component of treatment is preventing relapse. Treating substance abuse depends on both the person and the substance being used. Behavioral treatment provides you with strategies to cope with your drug cravings and ways to avoid relapse. Your doctor may prescribe medications, such as nicotine patches and methadone, naltrexone or Suboxone, to control withdrawal symptoms and certain drug cravings.

    Often, a drug user has an underlying mental disorder, one that increases risk for substance abuse. Such disorders must be treated medically and through counseling along with the drug abuse.

    Next Steps


    Substance abuse may start in childhood or adolescence. Abuse prevention efforts in schools and community settings now focus on school-age groups. Programs seek to increase communication between parents and their children, to teach resistance skills, and to correct children’s misperceptions about cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs and the consequences of their use. Most importantly, officials seek to develop, through education and the media, an environment of social disapproval from children’s peers and families.


    Costs to society

    In 2002, drug abuse in the U.S. cost around $180 billion in direct health costs, lost productivity, and law enforcement costs. Alcohol abuse in 2003 cost $223 billion in health care expenses, lost workplace productivity, and law enforcement costs.

    • Crime: More than half the economic cost of alcohol and drugs is due to crime. A substance abuser is 18 times more likely to be involved in criminal activity than someone in the general population. Many violent crimes have been linked to the mind-altering effects of drugs. Substance abusers often commit thefts to support their drug habits. Drugs and alcohol have been linked to domestic violence and sexual assault. At colleges, 75% of date rapes are alcohol-related. Among jailed sex offenders, 43% say they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their crime.
    • Disease: Most abused substances have harmful health effects. For some substances, such as tobacco, effects are caused by long-term use. For other drugs, a single use can cause significant disease.
    • Behavior: In addition to their direct effects on health, drugs produce other indirect effects. Many drugs lessen inhibitions and increase the likelihood that a person will participate in risky behavior. Studies show that the use of alcohol and drugs among teenagers increases chances for teen pregnancy and contracting HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. Any injected drug is associated with contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C.
    • Trauma: Up to 75% of injured people treated at emergency departments test positive for illicit or prescription drugs. Alcohol is strongly associated with both intentional and unintentional injury. Drug use also puts people at risk of violence. Nearly half of assault victims are cocaine users.

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