Drug and alcohol abuse is a growing concern in the United States and around the world. It increases the risk of a number of physical and mental health problems and disproportionately affects underserved populations. Luckily, science has come a long way in helping us understand why people abuse drugs and how to help them break free from addiction.

Drug addiction is a disease, not a choice or moral failing. Many people use substances in an attempt to self-regulate, whether that’s using uppers to improve focus and energy or turning to downers for relaxation or relief from pain, physical or emotional.

Continue reading to learn more about substance abuse, how it affects people and how substance abuse treatment can set someone with addictive behaviors free. If you need help with drug and alcohol abuse, call Brookside Treatment today.

fentanyl drug abuse treatment - group therapy session

What Is a Drug?

A drug is any substance that has an effect on your physiology when it enters the body. Most drugs are invented to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent diseases. A psychoactive drug is a drug that affects the neurotransmitters that influence every function of the body, from movement to emotions.

Most illicit drugs started out as solutions to medical problems but became outlawed due to their potential for abuse. An example of this is heroin, called diacetylmorphine in medical settings. It was first sold and marketed as a wonder drug in 1898, with the importation of opium for heroin production prohibited by 1924 due to its devastating impact on public health. Likewise, cocaine was widely used as a local anesthetic (and still is in the form of lidocaine) for many years.

Some addictive drugs are still widely used in medicine due to their undeniable benefits for people who need them. Whether a substance is legal or illegal, compulsive, recurrent drug use can be extremely dangerous. At the very least, it prevents people from reaching their full potential and makes dysregulation worse, despite this often being its primary purpose. At worst, it can lead to impoverishment, social withdrawal and death.

drug abuse treatment and recovery - group of people in a therapy session

Illegal Drugs

An illicit drug is one that’s prohibited by law. Unfortunately, as the demand for illegal substances continues to grow, so does the underground market supply. Some media outlets have claimed that drugs are as easy to get as pizza. With dealers setting up shop on social media platforms, it seems like this is truer than ever.

Let’s look at some of the most frequently abused illicit substances.


Cocaine is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States, with a reported 1.9 million monthly users as of 2018. While the number of users has shown a steady increase, the rate of deaths has increased exponentially. In a country where heart disease is the biggest killer, this central nervous system stimulant is very dangerous. It causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and leads to inflammation of the heart muscle over time.

In addition to these physical risks, cocaine leads to huge releases of dopamine that deplete the body’s natural stores and promote mental illness. While some people see it as a harmless bit of fun and an easy way to carry on drinking for longer, the long-term health risks are very serious and shouldn’t be ignored. In recent years, dealers have been cutting cocaine with fentanyl, making it even more addictive and deadly.

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is the freebase form of cocaine, and it provides drug abusers with a short and intense high. It’s smoked through a glass pipe or aluminum can and has all the same risks as cocaine—and then some. The way it’s administered means there’s a higher risk of dental disease and tooth loss, and it’s significantly more addictive due to releasing even greater quantities of neurotransmitters than cocaine.


Fentanyl is one of the most powerful opiate synthetic drugs, with effects that are 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. A lethal dose of fentanyl is a tiny fraction of that of heroin, and many dealers are cutting other drugs with the substance to increase its addictiveness and increase margins. It’s believed to play a major role in the current opioid epidemic, which sees 128 people die every day from opiate-related causes.


Heroin is one of the most dangerous substance use disorders and a leading cause of drug deaths in the United States. It has a reputation that it’s no doubt earned by the terrible experiences people have after getting involved with it. Not only is it highly addictive due to its ability to mimic the chemicals in your body responsible for feelings of pain relief, pleasure, relaxation and euphoria, but the story surrounding heroin abuse is one of tragedy and destitution.

As such, it’s often difficult for someone who’s fallen into heroin abuse to see themselves as worthy of change. However, a substance use disorder isn’t something anyone would choose, and most people who use heroin have experienced extreme trauma or have underlying mental health conditions. It’s a medical disorder, and professional help is available if you’re struggling with it.

Drug and alcohol addiction therapy session


Crystal meth is one of the most addictive and potent stimulant drugs, leading to a huge influx of neurotransmitters that creates a long-lasting high of up to 16 hours. It stimulates the CNS and decreases the appetite, leading to long bouts of activity followed by an unbearable comedown. The comedown is the result of the depletion of chemicals in your brain that are essential for you to function.

When huge quantities of neurotransmitters are released at once, the body struggles to produce enough once the crystal meth wears off. This is one of the main reasons drug abusers are compelled to use again just to get relief from the awful sensation of withdrawals. Serious mental illness, tooth loss, risky sexual behavior, heart disease and lung disease are some common complications of meth abuse.

If you or someone you love is trying to cope with drug addiction alone, consider seeking professional help. Call today for advice on how to get started at rehab.

Prescription Drugs

Alcohol abuse is the most prevalent substance use disorder in the United States, with tobacco and marijuana taking second and third place. Prescription drug abuse is fourth, with 2.9 million people reported as abusing prescription medicines each month in 2018. Below is an explanation of the three most widely abused prescription medications in the United States.


Opiates are derived from the opium poppy and have potent pain-killing properties. The United States has declared an epidemic of opiate abuse, largely due to irresponsible advice from pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s. By 2017, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had announced a public health emergency surrounding the crisis and created steps to combat it. Some of the most popular opioids include:

  • Hydromorphone
  • Vicodin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine sulphate


Amphetamines can be legal or illegal. They’re prescribed for ADHD and extreme cases of obesity and speed up the connections in your brain by stimulating the CNS. They can improve focus, confidence and sociability and increase energy. Some commonly abused amphetamines include:

  • Adderall
  • Ritalin
  • Focalin
  • Concerta


Benzodiazepines are prescribed as sleeping aids and medication for anxiety disorders for short-term use only. While they’re highly effective as medications for these outcomes, recurrent substance abuse is highly likely. This is because the body quickly builds a tolerance to them, meaning you need to take more. And if you stop taking them, your brain is no longer used to producing the chemicals that induce sleep and ease anxiety by itself. As such, getting to sleep and self-soothing after feelings of anxiety becomes more difficult, so continued substance abuse can seem like a viable solution to many people.

Some examples of benzodiazepines include:

  • Diazepam
  • Alprazolam
  • Clonazepam
  • Lorazepam

Millions of people in America are addicted to prescription drugs. You’re not alone, and help is available. Call today to book your place at rehab.

Overdose deaths - figure one of the wood and the syringe are connected by a chain

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Generally speaking, there are two types of psychoactive substances: those that depress the CNS and those that stimulate it. The central nervous system connects the brain to the body, governing mood, movement, wakefulness and sleep. Drugs have different effects on the body depending on how they impact the CNS.

Let’s look at the different signs and symptoms of drug abuse in the two types of chemical substances.


Depressants slow down functions of the CNS, leading to relaxation and sleep. Alcohol, opioids, benzos and other sedatives, tranquilizers and hypnotics are in this category. People use these substances to help themselves get to sleep, feel calm and counteract the effects of CNS stimulants. Some signs and symptoms of depressant drug abuse include:

  • Inattentiveness
  • Low breathing rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Slow movements
  • Poor judgment
  • Irritability
  • Blue fingertips or lips
  • Cold, clammy skin


On the other side of the coin, stimulants speed up the CNS, leading to excitement, loss of appetite and increased confidence. There are many more illegal stimulant drugs than there are depressants, although depressants account for three of the top four most widely abused substances in the United States.

Recreationally, people often use these drugs to induce euphoria and intensify or prolong the effects of alcohol while socializing. People also use these substances to improve sporting performance, induce weight loss, pass exams or improve output at work. Some signs and symptoms of addiction to stimulants include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Hyperactivity
  • Appetite loss
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Jitteriness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Racing thoughts

Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the main reasons people get caught up in the cycle of addiction is the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. The body is extremely adaptable, and once it gets used to having a chemical, it needs time to readjust. Drugs take a huge toll on the CNS, and the more you use, the harder it is for the body to get back to its desired state. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Cravings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Extreme irritation
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Mood swings

One of the biggest reasons drug rehab is so effective is that it provides a safe, comfortable place to go through withdrawal. Staff take steps to minimize discomfort and promote health, making it a completely different experience than going it alone.

Man suffering from withdrawal from drugs and alcohol

Risk Factors for Drug Abuse and Addiction

People who struggle with drug addiction have the perfect storm of genetic, social and psychological factors that lead to the onset of the condition:

  • Genetic: There are thought to be more than 50 genes responsible for addiction, which is highly heritable. Temperament is thought to play a role, along with a propensity for sensation-seeking and greater difficulty self-regulating. When you’re born, your genes act as a recipe for who you become, with your environment influencing which genes are expressed and which ones aren’t.
  • Environmental: Environment is crucial to the onset of addiction and explains why not every person who has an addicted family member goes on to develop the disease themselves. Factors such as lack of childhood supervision, early use of addictive substances and peer pressure are thought to be powerfully associated with addiction.
  • Mental Illness, trauma and addiction: While having a family member who abuses substances is a major risk factor, mental illness and trauma also play a pivotal role. People with mental health issues, individuals who didn’t receive correct emotional support as children and people who’ve experienced trauma and abuse are significantly more likely to develop a drug problem.

How Are Drug and Alcohol Dependence Treated?

While addiction can feel like a never-ending cycle of failure and regret, there are evidence-based treatments grounded in science to help you heal. Five core concepts are involved in addiction recovery:

  1. Getting into a healthy routine: Lifestyle and our daily habits play a major role in our overall health. By shifting your daily routine to one that’s conducive to recovery, you put yourself in the best position to get better.
  2. Individual counseling: Counseling with a professional therapist helps you get to the bottom of why you abuse drugs so you can take steps to implement changes that promote recovery.
  3. Group therapy: Group sessions are some of the most valuable tools in addiction recovery, providing an array of perspectives and promoting talking, listening and empathy.
  4. Family therapy: Addiction rarely only affects the individual and can have far-reaching consequences for loved ones as a result of the behavioral patterns of many addicts. Family therapy helps you heal connections with family while teaching how to create a home environment with healthy boundaries and communication.
  5. Ongoing maintenance: Drug addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or hypertension. That means treatment isn’t a cure but a means of giving you the tools you need to recover and maintain recovery by yourself for the long term.
lying hand with syringe - fentanyl overdose deaths in Kentucky

Reclaim Your Future With Brookside Treatment

Drug addiction can hold you back from living the life you want to and has a serious impact on your health and well-being. Call Brookside Treatment at 606-342-7089 to get professional help for drug dependence today.