Substance or drug abuse is harmful

By Malek Arol Dhieu

Drug abuse also known as substance abuse is a patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others, and is a form of substance-related disorder. Widely differing definitions of drug abuse are in public health, medical and criminal justice contexts. In some cases, criminal or anti-social behavior occurs when the person is under the influence of a drug, and a long term personality changes in individuals may occur as well. In addition to possible physical, social, and psychological harm, use of some drugs may also lead to criminal penalties, although these vary widely depending on the local jurisdiction. Drug most often associated with this term include, alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, methaqualone, opioids, and substituted amphetamines. The exact cause of substance abuse is not clear, with theories including one of two; either a genetic disposition which is learnt from others, or a habit which if addiction develops; it manifests itself as a chronic debilitating disease.

Signs and symptoms

The following are some obvious signs that a person may be smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or using other substance. Let’s get to know details about each drug or substance.


A distinctive smell on the breath and clothing

Cigarettes and lighter in his or her possession

Cigarette butts outside a bedroom, window in other odd pieces around the house.


Alcoholic beverages missing from the house storage cabinet

Alcohol or mouthwash or hangover symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headache if recently used.


Sweet smell on clothing or bloodshot eyes, if recently used and frequent use of eye drops to reduce the redness.

Drug paraphernalia (pipes) in his or her possession

Carelessness in grooming, increased fatigue, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns, if using regularly


Chemical breath, red eyes or stains on clothing or face

Soaked rags or empty aerosol containers in the trash

Club drugs

Skin rash similar to acne

Small bottle with liquid or powder in his or her possession


Persistent runny nose and nosebleeds, injection marks on arms and other parts of the body, or long period of time without sleep

Possession of drug paraphernalia such as syringes, spoons with smoke stains, small pieces of glass and razor blades.


Very small pupils and a drowsy or relaxed look, if recently used

Possession of injecting supplies called an outfit or rig that may consist of a spoon or bottle cap, syringe, tourniquet, cotton and matches.

Anabolic steroid

An unpleasant breath odor

Mood changes including increased aggression

Changes in physical appearance that can be attributed to expected patterns of growth and development

Possession of medicines or syringes

Other general signs

Changes in sleeping patterns

Changes in appetite or weight loss

Changes in dress

Loss of interest and motivation

Hoarseness, wheezing or persistent coughs


Genetics as a cause of drug abuse

While many people use drugs, only small percentage abuse drugs but it has been noted that drug abuse often runs in families, suggesting genetics as one of the causes of drug abuse. While having parents that abuse drugs puts a child at risk, it is possible for the child to grow up without drug abuse problems. It is also possible to abuse drugs without having any other drug abuser in the family. It is clear genetics alone is not the cause of drug abuse.

Co-occurring conditions as a cause of drug abuse

Drug abuse often occurs alongside other conditions like mental illness. While mental illness itself is not thought to cause drug abuse, one condition may indicate, and be complicated by the other. One of the causes of drug abuse may be the attempt to manage the symptoms of the underlying mental illness. For example, a person with depression may repeatedly use a drug to ‘get high’ as an escape from their depressive mood.

Environmental causes of drug abuse

Parental abuse and neglect are commonly seen as part of the causes of drug abuse. An adolescent or pre-adolescent may be trying to gain attention from an inattentive parent or escape an abusive one by using drugs. Prolonged attempts through drug use can be a cause of drug abuse. The presence of drugs in the house can also be a major cause of drug abuse.


Diagnosingdrug addictionalso called substance use disorder requires a thorough evaluation and often includes an assessment by a Psychiatrist, a psychologist or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Blood urine or other tests are used to assess drug use, but are not a diagnostic test for addiction. These tests may be used for monitoring treatment and recovery. For diagnose of drug abuse, most mental health professionals use criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by American Psychiatric Association to diagnose mental conditions.

Complications of drug abuse

Drug use can have significant and damaging short-term and long term effects.

Opiates and cocaine are highly addictive and cause multiple health consequences including psychotic behavior and seizures or death due to overdose, Rohypnol may cause sedation, confusion and memory loss, ecstasy or molly can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Other complications include getting a communicable disease, accidents, suicide, family problems, work issues, legal issues, problems at school, and financial problems among others.


Treatment programs usually offer:

Individual, group or family therapy sessions

A focus on understanding the nature of addiction and preventing relapse.

Other ways of treating drug abuse include;


Also called detox or withdrawal therapy is to enable you stop taking the addicting drugs as quickly and safely as possible. It may involve gradually reducing the dose of the drug or temporarily substituting other substances.


As part of drug treatment program, counseling also called talk therapy or psychotherapy can be done by a psychiatrist, psychologist or a license alcohol and drug counsellor with an individual, family or a group. The counsellor can help you develop ways to cope with your drug cravings.


The best way to prevent an addiction to an illegal drug is not to take the drug at all. Use care when taking an addictive prescription drug. Doctors prescribe these medications at safer doses and monitor the use so that you are not given too great a dose or for too long a time. If you feel you need to take more than the prescribed dose of a medication, talk to your doctor.

The author is a medical student, University of Juba. He can be reached at ourbankiscow@yahoo.com or +211922332811.

error: Content is protected !!