What is substance misuse?

tablets out of bottle

Misuse of substances like alcohol, prescription medicines, and illegal drugs can damage a person’s health and wellbeing and negatively impact their day-to-day life.

People may begin misusing substances for a variety of different reasons, it is a problem that can affect people from all different backgrounds and walks of life.

Here at Care Business Associate Training, we run a Self-Harm, Suicide, and Substance Misuse Masterclass training course that helps individuals to learn more about why people abuse substances and strategies that can be used to help them.

In this article, we will explain a little more about what substance misuse is, the problems it can cause, and why people start doing it.

What are substances?

In substance misuse, the word substance is usually used to refer to anything that you put into your body that alters the way that your brain functions, like alcohol and drugs.

Types of substances that are commonly misused include:

  • Alcohol
  • Over-the-counter medicines
  • Cigarettes and other nicotine products
  • Marijuana (including synthetic marijuana)
  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamines

Using these types of substances can affect the user’s mood, behaviour, thoughts, and perception.

What is substance misuse?

Substance misuse occurs when a person’s attitude towards the use of a substance changes. They may become addicted or develop a pattern of misusing the substance to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.

Both legal and illegal substances can be misused. Substance misuse can become a real problem if a person becomes dependent on the substance.

Why do people misuse substances?

Just like there are many different types of substances, there are also many different reasons why a person may start misusing them.

Many people who misuse substances begin doing so because taking the substance offers them an enjoyable feeling or experience. As time goes on, the reason for continuing to take the substance may become less about enjoyment and more about dependency or addiction.

People may begin to misuse substances for several different reasons including:

  • Curiosity/experimentation
  • Peer pressure
  • Pain relief
  • Enjoyment/recreational use
  • Self-medication for mental health problems

Many people begin to misuse substances during a difficult time in their lives, perhaps they are struggling with their mental health, having family problems, or going through grief. Using substances may help to take their mind off things, numb their pain, or provide some escapism.

What starts as occasional or recreational use can quickly turn into a harmful habit. Continued or excessive substance misuse can spiral out of control and become dangerous to both a person’s physical and mental health.

Genetics and substance abuse

Scientific research has found that there is also a link between genetics and a person’s susceptibility to substance abuse and drug addiction. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “at least half a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”

Of course, genetic predisposition to addiction by no means guarantees that a person will misuse substances, but it could be one of many different factors that influences a person’s decision to do so.

What problems can substance misuse cause?

Substance misuse can negatively impact every aspect of your life and the problems it causes tend to worsen over time if substance misuse continues.

Addiction – Occasional misuse of substances can turn into an addiction when the person becomes dependent on the substance. A person can be physically or psychologically addicted to a substance. They may need to consume more of the substance as time goes on as their body develops a tolerance to it and they may struggle to cut back on it or experience withdrawal symptoms without it.

Physical health – Misusing substances can be very dangerous to a person’s health and can cause many unpleasant physical symptoms. The symptoms experienced will vary depending on the frequency with which a person is misusing substances, whether they have developed an addiction and the type of substance they are using. Some common physical symptoms of substance abuse include problems with sleep, weight gain or loss, digestive problems, skin rashes, chronic fatigue, heart or circulation problems, and organ damage.

Mental health – It’s not just a person’s physical health that is affected by substance misuse, the problem can be just as damaging to their mental health. Common psychological symptoms of substance abuse include poor concentration, confusion, poor decision-making, memory loss, and intolerable cravings.

Social wellbeing – Finding out that someone you know is misusing substances can be upsetting and living with someone who has an addiction or trying to help someone who is misusing substances can be challenging. People who misuse substances may find that they have problems maintaining relationships or experience their relationships with friends and family members breaking down because of substance abuse.

Financial wellbeing – People who are misusing substances, particularly those who have developed an addiction, often prioritise the substance over their responsibilities and as a result may struggle to hold down a job. They may also get into financial trouble by spending large amounts of money buying alcohol, drugs, or other substances to feed their addiction.

Overdose – People who misuse substances are also at risk of overdosing and being hospitalised or even dying as a result of their substance abuse.

Helping someone who is misusing substances

One of the best things you can do to help someone who is misusing substances is to learn more about what they are going through and the tried and tested strategies that can be used to support someone who is misusing substances.

Here at CBAT, we run a popular Self Harm, Suicide and Substance Misuse Overview Masterclass suitable for both personal and professional situations.

The training includes information about the appropriate services and interventions that can be used to help someone struggling with substance misuse.

For more information or to book your place on the course, give our team a call on 01772 816 922.