Substance abuse is when you take drugs that are not legal. It’s also when you use alcohol, prescription medicine, and other legal substances too much or in the wrong way.
Substance abuse differs from addiction. Many people with substance abuse problems are able to quit or can change their unhealthy behavior. Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease. It means you can’t stop using even when your condition causes you harm.
Commonly Abused Drugs
Both legal and illegal drugs have chemicals that can change how your body and mind work. They can give you a pleasurable “high,” ease your stress, or help you avoid problems in your life.
Alcohol affects everyone differently. But if you drink too much and too often, your chance of an injury or accident goes up. Heavy drinking also can cause liver and other health problems or lead to a more serious alcohol disorder.
If you’re a man and you drink more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 in a week, you’re drinking too much. For women, heavy drinking means more than three drinks in one day or more than seven drinks a week.
One drink is:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, which has more alcohol than beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1 1/2 ounces of distilled spirits like vodka and whiskey
Prescription and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicine
These can be just as dangerous and addictive as illegal drugs. You can abuse medicine if you:
- Take medicine prescribed for someone else
- Take extra doses or use a drug other than the way it’s supposed to be taken
- Take the drug for a non-medical reason
Types of prescription drugs that are most often abused include:
- Opioid pain relievers
- Medicine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Anxiety medicine
The most commonly abused OTC drugs are cough and cold medicine that have dextromethorphan, which in high doses can make you feel drunk or intoxicated.
This illegal drug is the natural version of manmade prescription opioid narcotics. Heroin gives you a rush of good feelings at first. But when it wears off, everything slows down. You’ll move and think more slowly, and you may have chills, nausea, and nervousness. You may feel a strong need to take more heroin to feel better.