Drug abuse is any use of an illegal drug or any use of a prescription drug that is outside the scope of the prescription. For a prescription drug, this could mean taking the medication more frequently or at a higher dosage level than prescription, or taking the drug in any amount if it was not prescribed. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug abuse is a rampant problem in the US, costing society more than $600 billion on a yearly basis.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

A person struggling with drug abuse will not always exhibit signs that would normally prompt worry or concern. It is possible that a person will not show any signs of drug use until addiction forms. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the signs of drug abuse include:

  • Health changes
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Being frequently tired
  • Signs of possible depression
  • Decline in personal hygiene or overall appearance
  • Changes in behavior
  • Becoming more secretive
  • Desiring to be left alone
  • Not allowing others into one’s personal space
  • Excessive, unexplainable financial spending
  • Problems at school and/or work

drug treatment for different types of drugs

It is important for those around potential users to be watchful of these signs and carefully express any concern when appropriate. Take care to make the person feel comfortable, loved, and safe. A supportive environment is more likely to result in a positive result, ideally with the person seeking help if needed.

It is equally important for the loved ones around the individual to provide as much support as possible while dealing with abuse, and hopefully to assist in preventing a drug addiction.

Symptoms of drug abuse can vary depending on the type of substance being abused. Because drugs have different active ingredients, they cause different reactions. Drugs of abuse fall into three main categories: depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Common use symptoms for each category are outlined below.


  • Disorganized speech
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inability to stay focused
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Problems with memory
  • Uncontrollable eye movement

  • Physically overactive
  • Trouble with self-control
  • Inability to stay focused
  • Feelings of delusion
  • Increased energy
  • Paranoia
  • Speaking faster than normal
  • Hallucination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Chills and shaking
  • Impaired judgement
  • Feeling depressed once the high wears off

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Believing oneself to have unnatural human abilities (e.g., the ability to fly)
  • Inability to identify what reality is
  • Flashbacks
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

Though these symptoms are relatively common, other factors will contribute to the effect on each user individually. Some of the factors that affect the level of intoxication from a drug include a person’s genetic makeup, the physiological and physical state the person is in, strength and quality of the substance consumed, the person’s overall health, and the method used to consume the substance.

Drug Abuse vs. Drug Addiction

While related, there are distinct differences between drug abuse and addiction. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, drug abuse is the reoccurring use of an illegal drug or the misuse of a prescription or over-the-counter medication, which produce negative results. While drug abuse may not completely disrupt or consume a person’s life, it generally will have some negative effects. Abuse does not always lead to addiction, though it has the potential to do so. As a result, it is wise for those struggling with drug abuse to get help before addiction takes hold.

Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is represented by the continual desire to use, and the ongoing use of drugs despite negative consequences of such use. Addiction taps into the communication system of the brain, interrupting the way messages are sent and received, and telling the person the drug is needed. Once this is communicated, the need for the drug becomes one of the main focal points in the person’s life. It’s impossible to determine how many times a person must use a drug to become addicted; for some people, it takes years of abuse, while for others, addiction can take hold even with first use.

The Negative Effects of Drug Abuse

The Negative Effects of Drug Abuse

As mentioned, drug abuse can lead to drug addiction. Having an addiction to any substance that has the ability to impact or alter a person’s physical or mental state can cause extreme negative effects and lead to permanent medical complications or even death. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, more than 200,000 people die every year due to drug abuse.

Some drugs will cause long-lasting medical issues even once the drug use has ceased. Drugs can affect the immune system, weaken the heart’s functions, and lead to brain damage, some of which may be permanent. Drug use can also cause seizures, strokes, liver damage, behavioral issues, problems in the digestive system, and a variety of other health effects.

The effects of drug abuse reach beyond the medical realm, reaching into virtually every aspect of a person’s life. Individuals who suffer from drug abuse are more inclined to be involved in domestic violence, other instances of physical abuse, and accidents, resulting in unintended injuries. In addition, drug abuse often leads to issues with work and academic performance. People who abuse drugs are more likely to miss school or work, and perform at subpar levels. This inevitably leads to advancement and financial issues over time.

Relationships also suffer due to ongoing drug abuse. As drug use becomes the focus of
life, users have difficulty prioritizing other people and responsibilities, and relationships
inevitably suffer as a result.

Treatment for Drug Abuse

drug treatment actually works
According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, it is important to understand the effects drugs have on the life of a user. Drug abuse can cause the user’s brain to begin to function differently, making the part of the brain that senses pleasure react differently to things that would typically bring the user joy. As addiction takes hold, people lose control over their ability to control drug use. It isn’t a matter of choice anymore.

As a chronic disease, addiction can never be cured, but it can be effectively managed. Drug abuse is treated in a similar manner to addiction. Ideally, people can get comprehensive care to address their drug abuse issues before addiction takes hold.

While addiction treatment generally entails medical detox and therapy, detox may not be needed in cases of drug abuse. Upon admission to a drug treatment program, intake professionals will assess individual clients to determine whether detox is necessary. In cases of ongoing drug abuse, particularly to substances that cause extreme physical dependency, such as benzodiazepines, opiates, and alcohol, medical detox may be recommended.

The bulk of drug abuse treatment consists of therapy, and this therapy comes in many formats. Per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, these formats include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Medication therapy that is supervised by medical professionals
  • Peer support or 12-Step groups
  • Alternative therapies, such as art therapy, adventure therapy, and drama therapy

Drug abuse treatment does not come in a one-size-fits-all format. Each treatment plan must be customized to meet the specific needs of each client. It is important to determine what treatment is appropriate and whether multiple approaches are necessary for ultimate recovery. In addition, the overall treatment plan should be reassessed throughout the recovery process and retooled based on the person’s progress.

In therapy, clients will uncover the root causes that led to drug abuse, with the help of treatment professionals. Clients will identify triggers that have led to drug abuse in the past, such as stress or familial issues, and learn ways to avoid or manage these triggers so they don’t turn to drug use in the future.

The goal of drug abuse treatment is to address the whole person, not just the behavior of substance abuse. As a result, the person emerges from treatment healthier and happier, with a firm foundation in recovery.