Substance Abuse

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    The abuse of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs is a problematic issue that has impacted our nation in pandemic proportions for a variety of reasons. From alcoholic drinks to prescription medication to recreational substances and everything in between, more individuals are impacted by the consequences of substance abuse.

    Substance abuse is costly in many forms as it impacts families, physical and mental health, relationships, and more. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that substance abuse has cost our nation over $700 billion annually in expenses related to lost work productivity, crime, and health care [1]

    There are a multitude of factors that influence substance abuse, at Aloria we approach these factors as well as the symptoms and behaviors. Understanding the risks and signs involved with substance abuse can assist with early intervention and the prevention of worsening situations.

    Understanding Substance Abuse

    Substance abuse can be defined as a harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, or any type of substance that activates the central nervous system and affects cognitive and mental processes [2]. The experience of substance abuse is highly individual and may include a combination of different drugs, prescriptions, and alcohol.

    There is a common misconception that a substance cannot be harmful or abused if it is legal, but this is simply not the case. A variety of substances, both legal and illegal, can be abused, including over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, alcoholic beverages, and recreational drugs that have been legalized.

    If the use of an intoxicating substance becomes problematic and leads to significant distress or impairment, it can be classified as a substance use disorder. It may not always be easy to detect substance abuse, as many individuals struggling can appear to be living their lives normally. Some of the signs that may indicate an intoxicating substance has been abused include, but are not limited to the following behaviors, occurring within a 12-month period [3]:

    • Strong cravings and/or desires to use a particular substance
    • Taking a substance in larger quantities or for a longer period of time than was originally intended
    • Unsuccessful efforts to cut down on or discontinue use of a substance
    • Recurring use of a substance which may result in an inability to fulfill normal responsibilities and obligations at work, home or school.
    • Activities that were previously enjoyed are reduced or given up due to continued use of a substance
    • Interpersonal, social or relationship conflicts that may be caused or exacerbated by substance use
    • Persistent use of harmful substances despite physical or psychological consequences that may have resulted from substance use
    • Need for increasing amounts of a substance in order to achieve desired effect
    • Using a substance to relieve or avoid physical or psychological symptoms of withdrawal

    These behaviors are problematic and should not be ignored, overlooked, and forgotten.

    Effects of Substance Abuse

    There are several different reasons why a person may abuse harmful substances, even in the face of damaging consequences. An individual may turn to substances as a means of alleviating stress, adjusting to social and economic situations, relationship dynamics, avoiding pain, or in attempt to induce a more tolerable or pleasurable state of being.

    Substance abuse can create alternations in the brain, which can influence behavioral changes, cognitive distortions, and inhibit mental capacity. A person struggling with substance abuse may be compromised in other aspects of their lives, including their ability to make rational decisions, connecting to others, behavioral control, learning, and memory abilities.

    Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

    Substance abuse disorders and eating disorders often overlap and in some instances, can develop together. It is estimated that up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders have abused illicit drugs or alcohol, which is a rate that is 5 times higher than that of the general population [4]. On the flip side, individuals who struggle with substance abuse are more inclined to have an eating disorder compared to someone who has not abused drugs or alcohol.

    There are similar characteristics between substance abuse disorders and eating disorders, including compulsive behavior, lack of effective coping mechanisms, mood disorders, such as depression, secretiveness and social isolation. There are also shared risk factors between substance abuse and eating disorders, including family history, genetics, history of trauma, mood disorders, low self-esteem, and increased social pressures [5].

    Eating disorder behaviors can also overlap with substance abuse. For example, a person struggling with bulimia may abuse laxatives as a compensatory purging behavior. Alcohol or certain medications can be used in attempt to suppress appetite and alter weight and/or body size. Co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders are complex conditions that warrant professional assistance and care. Aloria has skilled clinicians within its multi-disciplinary care teams that specialize in the intersection of substance abuse and eating disorders. Aloria approaches its care of both concurrently so that the reduction of one behavior does not spike the use of another without the understanding of complexity, engaging conversations, providing clinical attention, and challenging the relationship of the comorbidity.



    [1]: National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Trends and Statistics”, Accessed 5 July 2018.

    [2]: World Health Organization, “Psychoactive Substances”, Accessed 5 July 2018.

    [3]: National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics”, Accessed 6 July 2018.

    [4]: National Eating Disorder Association, “Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders”, Accessed 6 July 2018.


    [5]: Ressler, Adrienne, “Insatiable Hungers: Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse”, Social Work Today, Vol. 8 No. 4 P. 30.