Causes & Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Since 1957, Azure Acres Treatment Center has given hope to individuals struggling with substance abuse and its lasting effects. Azure Acres provides residents high-quality alcohol and drug abuse treatment near Santa Rosa, California.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Learn about substance abuse

Substance abuse is a term used to describe the misuse of legal and illegal substances, including the abuse of prescription medications, the overuse of alcohol, and the consumption of illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin. This term can also refer to either a one-time event or continued abuse of a substance. Those who participate in substance abuse often find themselves dependent on the substances they have abused. As a result, substance use disorder can develop. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) described that substance use disorders are chronic patterns of behaviors that are connected to the abuse of one or more substances.

Substance abuse and substance use disorders have caused insurmountable damage to individuals, families, and communities throughout the country and worldwide. In addition to having a negative impact on the physical and psychological health of those who partake in this behavior, substance abuse is also linked to familial discord, financial damage, crime, and a number of other socioeconomic consequences.

When an individual develops a substance use disorder, he or she might not be able to defeat the desire to abuse a substance without the help of trained professionals. The good news, however, is that there are unique treatments designed to help men and women put an end to their dependency issues and begin living a lifestyle that encourages health, happiness, and recovery.


Substance abuse statistics

Data obtained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that between 80 and 90 percent of adults within the country have participated in substance abuse at least one time within their lives. In the United States, the three most commonly abused psychoactive substances include marijuana, alcohol, and prescription medications. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration currently states that over 20 million people within the country are battling against a substance use disorder. However less than 15 percent of these individuals will obtain the treatment they need for substance abuse.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for substance abuse

The possibility that an individual will partake in substance abuse or develop a substance use disorder can be impacted by a variety of factors, such as:

Genetic: Studies show that genetics play a significant role (as much as 60%) in the likelihood of an individual developing specific substance use disorders. Those with family who struggle with substance use disorder are at a higher risk for struggling with the same issues themselves, as those who have certain inheritable traits such as impulsivity and novelty seeking can be at greater risk for this type of diagnosis.

Environmental: Cultural approaches to the use and abuse of specific substances can be a significant environmental influence on the development of a substance use disorder. Other environmental influences can include high levels of stress, poverty, trauma, and spending time with individuals who partake in substance abuse themselves.

Risk Factors:

  • Associating with individuals who engage in substance abuse
  • Impulsivity
  • Novelty seeking
  • Prior substance abuse
  • History of abuse, neglect, or other trauma
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Age (early exposure to substance abuse significantly increases the likelihood of problems throughout one’s life)
  • Early aggressiveness
  • Access to substances of abuse
  • Low educational achievement
  • Poverty
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse

Those who engage in substance abuse or who have been diagnosed with substance use disorder might exhibit a number of symptoms depending on a number of factors. Some of the following symptoms might signal if an individual is abusing alcohol, drugs, or both:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Spending a great deal of time acquiring, using, or recovering from the use of a substance
  • Unexplained absences from work or other responsibilities
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Behaving in a hyperactive manner
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Deceptiveness about whereabouts, acquaintances, and actions
  • Using substances even when it is dangerous to do so, such as when driving a car
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or at home

Physical symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid, slowed, slurred, or otherwise abnormal speech patterns
  • Bloodshot and/or watery eyes
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Frequent headaches and nosebleeds
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Dramatic change in appetite
  • Sores, scabs, abscesses, and other skin problems
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Racing thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Poor judgment
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate or focus

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety


Effects of substance abuse

Substance abuse can impact an individual’s life in a number of destructive ways, such as:

  • Suicide attempts
  • Increased propensity for colds, flu, and similar problems
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Damage to virtually all major organs
  • Homelessness
  • Exposure to hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS
  • Development or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Increased risk of developing certain cancers
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Diminished performance at work
  • Financial problems
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Damaged or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Family discord, marital strife, separation, and divorce

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance abuse and co-occurring disorders

Those who have developed a substance use disorder are at greater risk for also struggling with a number of other mental health issues, including:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of withdrawal and overdose

Effects of substance abuse withdrawal: When an individual has found him or herself dependent on a substance and then attempts to stop his or her use abruptly, a number of painful withdrawal symptoms can develop. While symptoms will vary based on the substance that is being abused, some of the most common symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Strong cravings for the substance
  • Seizure
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Tics and tremors
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loss of appetite

Effects of substance abuse overdose: The signs that an individual will display when an overdose has occurred will depend on many things, including the type of substance that was being abused, the amount consumed, and the individual’s current tolerance for that substance. However, some of the most common signs of overdose can include:

  • Seizure
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bluish tinge near lips and fingernails
  • Profound confusion or disorientation
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Excessive drop or rise in blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow, or labored breathing

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I have been in and out of treatment for years and could not remain sober for more than a couple years sometimes no more than 60 days. I attended groups and one on one therapy with my counselor there and this time something magical happened for me there. Azure Acres saved my life -- check this place out if you are looking for treatment!

– Former Patient