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The term “substance abuse” describes a pattern of using drugs or alcohol that causes significant problems or distress for the individual who is using and for their loved ones. These problems may present themselves in a variety of ways depending on the individual. Recognizing the warning signs for when you or a loved one’s substance abuse is becoming a serious problem could save someone’s life. 

Even casual use of drugs or alcohol can lead to dependency and addiction, as well as cause damage to a person’s body and mind. Drugs and alcohol can be dangerous no matter the frequency of use. 

Substance Abuse vs. Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction refers to a genetic disease that causes the compulsive use of a substance despite its negative consequences. Attempting to stop the use of a substance that you are addicted to will result in withdrawal symptoms. 

Substance abuse refers to the frequency in which substances are consumed and the dangers associated with that consumption. Substance abuse may be occasional, whereas addiction refers to the regular misuse of drugs or alcohol that becomes nearly impossible to stop without professional help. 

If you or a loved one participate in the casual misuse or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol infrequently, this is identified as substance abuse. However, if you are unable to abstain from using drugs or alcohol and feel as though you cannot function without them, addiction has most likely begun. 

Substance abuse can quickly turn into substance dependency (be it physical or psychological) if significant problems related to an individual’s misuse of drugs are ignored. Both addiction and substance abuse can have adverse effects on a person’s life. Both can lead to isolation, skewed decision-making and judgment, overdose, organ damage, and poor coping mechanisms, and mental health issues. 

A Slippery Slope: Identifying When Substance Use Becomes More 

Being able to identify when substance use is becoming an addiction can be incredibly difficult, but could make the difference between life or death. Many times, people who abuse substances will be in denial and claim that their use has not turned into dependency or addiction. Because of this, talking to a loved one about your concerns around their substance use may cause them to become defensive or shut down the conversation, which can make it difficult to provide them with help. Looking out for signs that substance use is worsening into addiction can allow you or your loved ones to seek professional help and treatment sooner rather than later. 

Here are some signs that a person’s substance use may be leading to addiction:

  • They need more of a substance in order to achieve the same effects
  • They spend a good amount of the day using, thinking about using, or recovering from the effects of use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop or cut down the use
  • Continued use of substances even if it results in loss of employment, damaged relationships, or physical and mental issues
  • Stealing, lying, or manipulating in order to get substances
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as driving under the influences, having unprotected sex, fighting, or criminal activities
  • Loss of motivation, self-confidence, or interest in hobbies or activities
  • Spending a lot of time alone or with only a certain group of people

Individuals Most Susceptible to Substance Abuse

  • Those with a family history of substance abuse. Substance abuse can be seen more commonly among people who grew up in homes where they witnessed substance abuse from their parents or guardians. The impressions made on people from an early age can lead them to believe certain practices surrounding substance use are acceptable and can result in increased risks of using substances and developing an addiction.
  • Teens and young adults. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the majority of adults with substance use disorders began abusing drugs during their teen and young adult years. If a teen’s friends or parents abuse drugs or alcohol, they will be more likely to begin abusing them as well. Abusing substances from such a young age can sometimes cause irreparable damage to an individual’s brain function, making them more susceptible to addiction and can result in cognitive issues down the road.
  • Those with undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders. Oftentimes, people with mental health disorders may not fully understand how to deal with the intense thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. If they do not seek treatment for their mental health, this can lead them to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol to dull the symptoms. Although substance use may bring temporary relief for these symptoms,  this kind of self-medication can have adverse effects on a person’s physical and mental health that can worsen mental health disorders over time.
  • Trauma survivors. Along with mental illness, trauma can lead to abuse of drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with difficult symptoms if trauma is not addressed using healthy means, such as exercise, meditation, and forms of therapy. Abusing substances in this way is a quick-fix, but can have adverse effects on processing trauma because they are avoiding addressing it.
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Most Commonly Abused Substances 

Almost any substance can be abused, even asthma inhalers. But the term “substance abuse” usually refers to the misuse of drugs or alcohol. Some drugs are more commonly abused than others, just like there are drugs more addictive than others. Below is a list of commonly abused drugs and how the abuse can affect your mind, body, and spirit, even if you are not addicted to the substance. 

  • Alcohol. Because alcohol is legal for people over 21 years of age to consume, alcohol addiction is one of the most prevalent addictions in the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019, 25.8 percent of people ages 18 and older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Being under the influence of alcohol can cause people to behave in ways that may result in lasting damage in every area of a person’s life, even if they are not addicted. Alcohol poisoning, which is caused by excessive drinking, can be incredibly harmful to a person’s health and can even be deadly.
  • Prescription Drugs. According to SAMHSA, the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States is prescription drug abuse. Oftentimes, people believe that because prescription drugs are made in a lab or prescribed by a doctor, that prescription medications are safer to use than illicit drugs. This is not true. The abuse of prescription drugs can have various harmful effects. Some effects of prescription opioids, stimulants, and sedatives include slowed breathing, slurred speech, decreased heart rate, and problems with memory. Because these drugs can legally be prescribed by a doctor, they can be abused by any and all age groups.
  • Cocaine. Due to this drug’s intense first high, cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs. Many users report that they continue to abuse cocaine in hopes of reaching the high they felt when they first used it. This can cause recreational cocaine use to quickly develop into an addiction. Cocaine use is also harmful to your body because it can lead to disturbances in heartbeats, strokes, respiratory failure, and increased blood pressure and temperature. Excessive cocaine use can cause even the happiest person to become hostile and erratic, as it often causes irritability and anxiety.
  • Methamphetamine. When under the influence of meth, a user’s dopamine circuit is working overtime. This means that the reward circuit of their brain is being activated and it can cause a user to feel invincible. This can result in erratic and oftentimes bizarre behavior that can be traumatizing to a user and their loved ones. Because meth is an injectable drug, abusing it even one time leads to the risk of Hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV, if needles are shared or as a result of engaging in risky sexual behaviors are conducted, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Whether an individual is addicted or not, being under the influence of meth can cause altered judgment and inhibition leading to poor, impulsive, life-impacting decisions.
  • Marijuana. As many states legalize recreational marijuana use for people over 21 years old, the rate of addictions is sure to rise as a result. Because it is more socially acceptable than other drugs, marijuana use is more likely to lead to addiction as people may not show as much as much concern regarding its use because it is now legal in many places. Marijuana addiction and abuse can lead to loss of productivity at work, mood swings, and poor coping mechanisms. The increased amounts of THC in marijuana throughout the years have caused the drug to become much more potent, which also means its negative effects are more intense.

Let Us Help

As stated above, any substance can be abused. At Crescent Moon Recovery, we will meet you where you are, even if your drug or alcohol use has not fully turned into an addiction. Our professionals and therapists are trained to treat addiction to and abuse of many different drugs such as alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, ketamine, MDMA, opioids, and more. 

Just like how these substances can affect your health and livelihood in different ways, there are different therapeutic approaches that are used to treat various substance use disorders. We incorporate many different modalities in our treatment programs to ensure that our patients receive the help they need to address and conquer their addiction with our team by their side. 

Crescent Moon Recovery understands that addiction affects every area of a person’s life–physically, mentally, and spiritually. That is why it is important to address potential substance use issues and any co-occurring disorders with the help of professionals before the situation gets worse.  We are aware that family dynamics and upbringing can play a large role in a participant abusing substances. That’s why we offer family therapy to better understand the underlying causes surrounding a person’s substance use and addiction. We know that co-occurring disorders can heavily affect a person’s ability to stay sober following treatment. We have licensed professionals who can assess and treat dual diagnoses–such as substance use disorder (SUD) and any co-occurring mental health disorders–to help you better manage your symptoms without the use of substances that can lead to abuse and addiction.

Located in Fountain Valley, California, the national hub for a fantastic recovery community, Crescent Moon Recovery includes evidence-based and holistic treatment approaches that will work to rebuild the social, spiritual, and physical factors of your life following addiction. Not only is our location perfect for outdoor excursions like hiking, biking, surfing, and swimming, but it also is a great place to make lasting progress with our welcoming, supportive, community and evidence-based treatment therapies.

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Substance abuse can lead to poor, life-altering, decision-making that can lead to addiction and cause damage to a person’s mind and body. Getting ahead of addiction is ideal, so if you are concerned that you or a loved one is abusing substances, call Crescent Moon Recovery today at (714) 464-8474. We have many different treatment approaches that can be customized to a participant’s unique needs to achieve our number one goal: getting you to lasting recovery.

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