Substance use disorder is a health condition that involves the compulsive and almost uncontrollable urge to intake substances. Due to the obsessive aspect of substance abuse, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) described substance use disorder as a mental illness, a brain disease. It’s characterized by the repeated and continuous use of a substance despite its adverse effects. It develops as a result of excessive substance use, which affects the functionality of the affected being. It can occur with both prescribed or non-prescribed drugs. Previously, drug abuse was the term used to describe substance use disorder. Another accepted term is addiction. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, more than 70,000 people in the United States died from overdoses in 2017. And every year, around 88,000 people die from excessive alcohol use in the United States.

Substance misuse can lead to a handful of public health problems, such as; 

  • Drunk or impaired driving 
  • Familial stress
  • High potential for child neglect or abuse
  • Violence

Sharing and reusing syringe needles for intravenous drug use can also increase the risk of contracting and transmitting infectious diseases. 

Causes of substance abuse

The common cause of substance abuse is genetics. Genetics plays a key role in addiction. Research states that genetics is the cause of 40 to 60 percent of an individual’s likeliness to develop substance use disorder. Other possible causes of substance abuse include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Peer pressure from friends or family members dealing with substance use disorder
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Personality disorder 
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Access to addictive substances

Substance abuse is prevalent amongst adolescents. Adolescents are prone to experiment with substances. The causes of adolescents’ substance abuse may differ from the general causes. These causes include:

Peer pressure from friends or family who misuse substances

Childhood mistreatment; child abuse or neglect


Conditions like Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.

Note that these causes are mere risk factors and don’t necessarily cause substance abuse. The more the risk factors, the likeliness of the affected individual to progress with substance abuse. 

Easily abused substances 


Depressants refer to a group of substances that toggle with the activity of the central nervous system. Once ingested, they give this relaxed and drowsy feel. However, one must note that the effects of depressants vary with the amount taken or used. For instance, low doses or the normal dose of a depressant can have a stimulant effect and make the user feel euphoric. In contrast, larger doses could cause cognitive impairment or loss of coordination. 


Unlike other drinks, the body absorbs alcohol almost immediately from the stomach and small intestine and transfers it into the bloodstream. Alcohol can affect all organs in the body. In addition to this, it impairs brain functioning and motor skills. Besides that, it also affects the fetus once ingested by a pregnant female. One thing to note is that alcohol taken in moderation has no side effects; in fact, some add it to certain diets. However, heavy alcohol intake increases the risk of stroke, diabetes, liver disease, and cancer. 


Heroin belongs to a group of pain-relieving drugs (opioids) that work by interacting with certain receptors. Like morphine, heroin is made from the seeds of the poppy plant or opium. Heroin is also known as smack, junk, H, and ska. It’s typically snorted, smoked, or injected into the veins. The use of heroin can lead to miscarriages, overdose, heart conditions, and death. 


Stimulants increase the rate of activity of the central nervous system. They temporarily make you feel energized, alert, and/or confident. However, the misuse of stimulants can lead to insomnia, seizures, and cardiovascular problems.


One of the easily abused substances. Like heroin, it is snorted, smoked, or injected into the vein. It causes the user to feel energized and euphoric. Cocaine has  several names: coke, crack, snow, blow, flake, C, etc. Cocaine use causes increased heart rate, blood pressure, and high body temperature. Misuse of cocaine can lead to respiratory problems, heart conditions, seizures, strokes, and death. 


Methamphetamine is used for long-term wakefulness. Like cocaine and heroin, it can be snorted, smoked, or injected into the vein. It also increases the body’s activity, causing increased heart rate, high body temperature, and high blood pressure. In cases of prolonged use, it causes violent behaviors, mood disorder, confusion, insomnia, anxiety, and dental problems.


Marijuana refers to a dried mix of different parts of the cannabis plant. These parts include flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves. Once ingested, it causes feelings of euphoria, distorted perceptions, and trouble solving problems. 

Several other abused compounds don’t fall into the above category. These include the likes of 


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