Man setting up a line of cocaine

Drug Abuse: Causes, Signs & Treatment Options

There are countless reasons why people abuse drugs and alcohol. Sometimes substance abuse is a way to mask emotional pain or self-medicate a mental illness like depression. Other times, people abuse drugs to get high in an attempt to have fun with friends. No matter the reason behind it, drug abuse can cause lifelong consequences such as permanent organ damage, broken relationships and addiction.

What Is Drug Abuse?

Drug or alcohol abuse begins when the user takes a substance for its mood-altering effects. A drug needn’t be illegal to be abused — in fact, seven million people in the U.S. abuse prescription drugs by using them for non-medical reasons.

There is a difference between drug abuse and drug addiction, though the conditions can occur together. For example, say a man only drinks alcohol twice per year, but on those two occasions, he drinks to the point of blackout. On the other 363 days of the year, he does not crave alcohol. This man is showing signs of drug abuse, but he does not show signs of addiction.

On the other hand, say his brother regularly drinks to the point of blackout. When he is not drinking, he is thinking about drinking, and he experiences withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. On multiple occasions, he has told himself that he will stop, but he can’t seem to do so. This man engages in alcohol abuse but also shows signs of alcohol addiction. He may require medical attention to help him stop drinking — both his body and his mind have grown accustomed to alcohol overdoses.

Pills and alcohol on a tableEven outside of addiction and abuse, you can grow dependent upon a habit-forming drug. Say the men have a sister who spends several weeks in the hospital after a car accident. Her doctors give her regular doses of the prescription painkiller Vicodin right up until her discharge date. When she goes home, she stops taking Vicodin altogether and experiences withdrawal symptoms. She does not crave Vicodin, but her body has grown accustomed to having the drug. In this situation, the woman is neither addicted to nor abusing drugs. Rather, she is experiencing drug dependency at a physical level. However, this is how many prescription drug addictions begin.

What Are the Different Categories of Drugs?

There are several categories of drugs. Though each type of drug affects users differently, they have one thing in common: addictiveness. Some of the most commonly abused drugs are as follows.


Man rolling Marijuana to smokeCannabis (usually called marijuana) is the most commonly used drug in the U.S. — almost 8% of Americans use it. Though cannabis is now legal in several states, its risks have remained the same.

When abused, cannabis can cause:

  • Lowered immunity
  • Reduced sperm count in men
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional addiction


Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine temporarily improve alertness and energy, making them a temptation for people who wish to boost their performance at work or school. Some, like Adderall, are prescribed to people with the attention-related disorder ADHD. Out of the 7 million Americans who abuse prescription drugs, 1.1 million of them abuse prescription stimulants.

When abused, stimulants can cause:

  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Addiction


Depressants like alcohol slow the central nervous system. Alcohol is considered a drug because it alters a user’s brain function. Doctors indicate prescription depressants like Xanax and Valium to manage anxiety and insomnia, and 2.6 million Americans abuse prescription depressants.

When abused, depressants can cause:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired memory
  • Poor concentration
  • Increased risk of death when used alongside alcohol
  • Addiction


Woman struggling with heroin addictionOpioids range from illicit drugs like heroin to medically-approved drugs like morphine. Prescription drug abuse statistics show that opioids like OxyContin are the most frequently abused type of prescription drugs, with 5.1 million Americans abusing them. (The next two most commonly abused prescription drug types are stimulants and depressants). When it comes to addiction, it does not matter whether a substance is prescribed or purchased over-the-counter — both can be habit-forming.

When abused, opioids can cause:

  • Arrested breathing
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Addiction


Nail polish remover and glue are just two of over 1,400 household substances that are inhaled or “huffed” to prompt a brief euphoria. Inhalant users can die upon first use through a phenomenon called Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, which occurs when the heart receives an adrenaline flood that it cannot tolerate.

When abused, inhalants can cause:

  • Brain damage
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Sudden death
  • Addiction


Dissociatives like ketamine and PCP impair one’s sense of reality. A user may feel as if they are living outside of their body. Sometimes users believe they are invincible and end up engaging in unusually risky behavior.

When abused, dissociatives can cause:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Accidents due to risky behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Memory loss
  • Addiction


Hallucinogens like LSD cause the user to experience things that aren’t really there. For example, hallucinogen use might cause a person to see a wolf in front of them or hear a wolf howling when in reality, there is no wolf.

When abused, hallucinogens can cause:

  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction

Do You Need Substance Abuse Rehab?

If you are struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. It is time for you to get help for drug addiction or alcoholism, and we are here to help you through it.

Washington State is home to excellent substance abuse treatment programs, such as our holistic program at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. Our beautiful campus is tucked away into the Cascade Mountains — it’s quiet, soothing and private. We welcome you to tour our facility and get to know our team, whether you are local to the area or you come to us from out-of-state.

No matter how long you’ve suffered or the circumstances of your addiction disease, there is always hope for recovery. This is your moment — take the first step towards recovery. Just get in touch.

  1. “DrugFacts: Hallucinogens.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Jan. 2016, Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
  2. “Harmful Side Effects of Inhalants on the Body.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
  3. “Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Oct. 2016, Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
  4. Scuito, Laura. “Which Prescription Drugs Do Americans Abuse Most?” PBS NewsHour, PBS, 30 Apr. 2013,
  5. “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.” Council on Drug Abuse, Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.