Substance abuse is an increasing problem in the United States and worldwide. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), 37,309,000 people aged 12 and over currently use drugs in the US. This number only covers those using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. However, the substance abuse problem spans a much wider group of users. The umbrella of substance use disorder includes illegal drugs, legal prescription drugs, alcohol, and other substances, such as cleaners, glues, paints, and other chemicals.

What is substance use disorder

Defining substance abuse

When people ask, “What is substance abuse?” it is difficult to provide a short answer. Why? Substance abuse reaches into every aspect of an individual’s life. It can negatively affect your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

In simple terms, substance abuse is the use of a substance to elicit an altered state, either physically or emotionally. Drugs, alcohol, cleaners, chemicals, and other substances can produce these results. This is called substance or drug misuse, which means they’re used in a manner other than their recommended or intended purpose. Even non-addictive substances can be abused to the point that they cause harm.

Substance abuse occurs when a substance is regularly used and causes severe issues. For instance, taking more than a prescribed amount of a drug to deepen the effects or drinking to the point of impairment regularly may be signs of a developing substance use problem.

Common Substance Use Issues

  • Health problems
  • Inability to carry out daily functions and responsibilities
  • Emotional or mental instability
  • Sleep disruption
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired impulse control

If you think you or someone you care about may be experiencing substance misuse issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out to health care providers or addiction specialists such as our Delray Beach rehabilitation center. Our compassionate, caring professionals can help you determine the next steps in freeing yourself from substance abuse.

The most commonly abused substances

Here we will take a closer look at the types of substances that contribute to the overwhelming substance abuse problem here in the United States. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all abused substances, but it does paint a good picture of the most common substances used today.

What causes substance abuse


Alcohol is perhaps the most easily misused of the various substances that can cause substance use problems. Much of this is due to its legal status and easy accessibility. The “drinking culture” in the US and around the world normalizes alcohol abuse. In many ways, it even makes light of the impact it can have.

20.4% of alcohol consumers have an alcohol use disorder. That works out to about 28,320,000 individuals in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has even developed a self-assessment tool to help individuals determine if they drink too much, as it has become a normalized part of daily life.

Drinking alcohol to excess causes impaired judgment and reaction time. It can also lead to personality changes and reckless behavior. In some cases, alcohol poisoning can occur, which requires immediate medical intervention.

Tobacco and Nicotine

As another legal substance, tobacco (along with nicotine, such as that used in vapes) has a very high consumption rate that can lead to substance use disorder. An estimated 57,277,000 people in the US regularly use tobacco or nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive, and, unlike alcohol, users can quickly find themselves crossing the line from casual users to chronic abusers.

Tobacco and nicotine can be taken in several ways, including smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, kreteks, bidis, and hookahs), chewing (snuff, dip, chewing tobacco, and snus), and sniffing (a fine powder is used for this route).

Recurrent substance use leads to changes in the brain, forming a dependency that is difficult to break.


Many people use marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. For example, it has been shown to benefit those experiencing chronic pain and the nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy treatments. For the majority of users, however, it is a recreational drug and can easily be used to excess.

An increasing number of people have started regularly using marijuana as more states legalize cannabis products. However, it is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government. Unlike many illicit drugs, marijuana does not usually cause physical addiction; nonetheless, many people who use it regularly develop substance dependence and co occurring mental health disorders.

Recent statistics show that about 18% of all adult Americans use marijuana. Additionally, it is estimated that 3 out of every 10 users have a marijuana use disorder.

Illegal Drugs

Illegal drug use is rampant in the United States. Various illegal “street” or “recreational” drugs show a high level of abuse in the US. These include methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy/Molly, and hallucinogens such as LSD. You may know these by different names, such as smack, X, and crystal. All these drugs can severely impact a user’s well-being, whether they take them only occasionally or regularly.

In addition, all the drugs mentioned above can cause physical addiction, complicating the effects of substance abuse.

Methamphetamines (meth), cocaine, and ecstasy are stimulants that can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Meth, in particular, causes drastic changes in the metabolism and also suppresses appetite, which is why those addicted to meth are often very thin and seem nervous or paranoid.

Heroin has the opposite effect; it is a depressant derived from opium poppies and morphine. It slows respiration and heart rate. Heroin is particularly dangerous because the concentration of heroin compared to additives (it is often “cut” to increase profit for the dealer) can vary wildly, making accurate dosing impossible.

Several of these illicit drugs have started to be cut with other drugs, such as fentanyl, ketamine, synthetic cathinones (also known as bath salts), and miscellaneous over-the-counter drugs. This raises the risk, as the user is unaware of these additional substances.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse has become a growing concern in the US. Everything from opioids to sleep aids to anti-anxiety medications has been linked to substance abuse. These drugs are either prescribed to the user by their doctors or obtained on the street through dealers.

Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include benzodiazepines (Xanax and Klonopin), opioids: natural and synthetic drugs (oxycodone, morphine, tramadol, and fentanyl), and sleep aids (Ambien). Many of these drugs are habit-forming but, despite scientific evidence, are readily prescribed. Many people that use these substances find that they become dependent on them, even if a physical addiction hasn’t developed.

Other Substances

Almost any substance can be abused when used to excess. This goes for those we think less often about, such as caffeine and sugar. Energy drinks or products containing concentrated amounts of caffeine can cause heart palpitations, jitters, and sweating, mainly if consumed in excess.

While sugary foods don’t have quite the same impact as caffeine, they can still cause unhealthy blood sugar spikes and, with excessive consumption, can lead to insulin resistance.

Inhalants have also been a consistent problem for decades. Gasoline, certain glues, nitrous oxide, and household chemicals and cleaners produce fumes that, when inhaled, create a high. Brain and nerve damage has been linked to prolonged exposure to many of these substances.

The chemicals in the glue, including solvents, can burn mucous membranes and cause liver, heart, lung, and kidney damage. Sudden death (particularly in youth) has been seen in many instances where “glue sniffing” occurred. Strong links can be made between this behavior and “mortality and morbidity, including social, educational, and economic deprivation in adolescents and young adults,” according to a study conducted on glue sniffing.

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse treatment in Delray Beach, FL

Treatment for substance abuse has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. This is because of a better understanding of the underlying issues, along with focused research. In addition, specialized techniques, training, and integrative therapies have improved the outcomes for many people suffering from substance abuse issues.

If you or someone you love is ready to address a substance abuse issue and receive effective treatment, give Olympus Recovery a try. We are here to help!

Our addiction treatment in Delray Beach, FL starts with drug detox, which can help manage your withdrawal symptoms safely and effectively. Patients can then transition to a residential or outpatient program where in EMDR therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and others come into play. Joining support groups after rehab or having a relapse prevention plan is also highly recommended.

Start a new journey!

For immediate help call us confidentially at (866) 305-7134. Our admissions specialists can answer all your questions, and put you on the road to recovery.

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