Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is the use of a drug or other substance for a non-medical purpose, to produce a mind altering stated in the user. Substance abuse refers to the abuse of illegally produced substances, as well as the use of legal medications for a different purpose to the one the medication is meant for. In most cases, the substance in question is used in excessive quantities.

Addiction is a state of physical and/or psychological dependence on a substance. Physical addiction causes tolerance to the substance. This means that larger quantities of the drug or medication need to be used to achieve the same affect. As a result of addiction and tolerance, withdrawal symptoms emerge when the user stops taking the drug. These symptoms disappear when the user resumes taking the drug or the amount is increased.

Substance abuse in teenagers and young adults

Drug and alcohol abuse is very common in young people, and can have serious consequences. A large proportion of deaths in youngsters between the ages of 15 and 24, due to accidents, homicide or suicide are often a direct result of alcohol or drug abuse. Substance abuse also can contribute to violent crimes, such as assault or rape.

A teenager with a family history of alcohol or drug abuse, and a lack of social skills can move rapidly from experimentation to patterns of serious abuse or dependency. However, adolescents with no family history are also at risk. Teenagers with a family history of alcohol or drug abuse should be advised to refrain from taking drugs and not to experiment. No one can predict who will abuse or become dependent on drugs. Only the non-user will ever do so.

Warning signs of teenage drug or alcohol abuse include:

  • a drop in school performance,

  • a change in groups of friends,

  • delinquent behaviour,

  • deteriorating family relationships.

  • Physical signs may also be present. 

    These include:  Alcohol or drug dependency may include blackouts, withdrawal symptoms, and more severe problems at home, school, or work.

Treating abuse and addiction

The first step in treatment is recognition by the individual that there is a problem. Also exclude underlying mental diseases. The family doctor or general practitioner will be able to advice on treatment for drug addiction. He or she may suggest a specialist doctor or healthcare professional.

Treatment should be suited to the needs of the individual. No one treatment fits all. The choice of treatment will depend on the drug that is being abused as well as the person who is suffering from addiction. Treatments include psychological therapies, such as behaviour therapy, and medication to help the individual with withdrawal symptoms. 

Areas that are focussed on during treatment include:

Detoxification (the process of stopping the drug while coping with physical addiction), preventing relapse,