Substance abuse is characterized by the use or misuse of psychoactive substances. It can involve alcohol, illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana, or prescription opioids like OxyContin, Xanax and Valium. It often involves the co-occurring abuse of alcohol with at least one other substance, and in some cases, a co-existing mental health disorder. Substance abuse can lead to dependence and tolerance, as well as uncontrollable cravings and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.
In the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the terms substance abuse and substance dependence have been replaced by substance use disorders. Substance use disorders occur when repeated use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment. Gambling disorder is the only behavioral disorder officially classified with substance use disorders in DSM-5, although addiction experts believe compulsive sex, heavy Internet use and shopping behaviors are closely related. Commonalities of all these disorders include health problems, failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home, decreased control, social impairment, risky use and pharmacological effects on the brain (even in gambling disorder).
Whether you are personally struggling with substance abuse or have stood by a loved one through addiction and recovery, you know drugs and alcohol have a powerful pull. Understanding the causes of addiction helps provide a good foundation for addressing and overcoming the challenges on the long path of recovery. We have encountered substance abuse questions spanning a wide range of topics — such as how drugs and alcohol impact the brain, what to expect during rehab and ways to help support an addicted loved one, to name a few. To answer those queries, we have compiled substance abuse facts with accurate, well-researched information to help dispel myths and address commonly encountered concerns. Knowledge is empowering and can even help prevent the all-too-common tragic consequences of substance abuse.