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Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. Substance use can make daily activities difficult and impair a person’s ability to work, interact with family, and fulfill other major life functions.

  • “Addiction” is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.
  • “Dependence” is a condition characterized by withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped.
  • "Abuse" can result because you are using a substance in a way that is not intended or recommended, or because you are using more than prescribed.
  • “Misuse” is the problematic use of legal drugs or prescription medications.

"Substances" can include alcohol and other drugs (illegal or not) as well as some substances that are not drugs at all.

Commonly Abused Drug Charts

There are different drug types:

  • Stimulants: These drugs increase the user’s level of alertness, pumping up heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and blood glucose levels.
  • Depressants: These drugs often offer a sedative experience to users, making them a tempting choice for teens who wish to escape everyday stresses.
  • Hallucinogens: Users report intense, rapidly shifting emotions and perceptions of things that aren’t really there.
  • Dissociatives: These drugs distort the user’s perception of reality, and cause users to “dissociate,” or feel as if they are watching themselves from outside their own bodies.
  • Opioids: These are powerful painkillers that produce a sense of euphoria in users.
  • Inhalants: Mostly made up of everyday household items, these drugs cause brief feelings of euphoria.
  • Cannabis: Most commonly recognized as marijuana, cannabis acts like a hallucinogen, but also produces depressant-like effects. It is a Schedule I drug (i.e. it has a high potential for addiction) but has increasing medicinal uses in the United States. Still, marijuana is often abused by those who do not medically require it.

If you take opioids for pain management, talk with your doctor about all your pain treatment options, including whether taking an opioid medication is right for you. You might be able to take other medications or do other things to help manage your pain with less risk. What works best is different for each patient. Treatment decisions to start, stop or reduce prescription opioids are individualized and should be made by you and your doctor.

Drug and alcohol use can lead to other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and death.

Overdose Death Rates


No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs. A combination of factors influences risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:

  • Genes
  • Other mental disorders
  • Environmental factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, family influence

Help Children and Teens Stay Drug-free


People with drug problems might not act like they used to.

If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem

Common signs and symptoms of a drug overdose can include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Unsteady walking
  • Chest pain
  • Severe difficulty breathing, shallow breathing, or complete cessation of breath
  • Gurgling sounds that indicate the person’s airway is blocked
  • Blue lips or fingers
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abnormally high body temperature
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Convulsions or tremors

If you believe someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately.


If your doctor suspects that you are misusing alcohol or medications, he or she will first confirm that you are dependent on a harmful substance by:

  • asking you questions
  • reviewing your prescriptions for commonly abused drugs or medicines
  • doing a physical exam
  • ordering blood and urine tests

Substance Abuse Screening


Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.

Treatment approaches tailored to each patient’s drug use patterns and any other medical, mental, and social problems can lead to continued recovery. Treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

Beacon Health Options works with GlobalHealth to manage all the behavioral health aspects of your healthcare. Beacon provides care management programs, 24-hour clinical support services, valuable resources and the access to high-quality care that you need.

Beacon connects people to treatment that works. By improving access to care, Beacon helps to deliver the right care at the right time to cover the full range of behavioral needs. The comprehensive, and personalized treatment plans offered by licensed clinicians allows beacon to achieve a high percentage of successful treatment.

For questions about individual behavioral health providers (psychiatrists/therapists), or for information about behavioral health programs & facilities-please call the number on the back of your insurance card.

How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Treated?

Managing Your Condition

Lifestyle and social changes are as important as your treatment plan, including:

  • The way you deal with stress – do things that challenge your creativity and spark your imagination.
  • Who you allow in your life – stay away from friends who use.
  • What you do in your free time – avoid bars and clubs.
  • How you think about yourself – ask trusted friends, people in your support network and/or a therapist or counselor to give you honest feedback about what they see in you, and any areas that you might want to improve.
  • The prescription and over-the-counter medications you take – tell your doctors or dentists so they can work with you in prescribing alternatives or the absolute minimum medication necessary.

Additional resources