Substance Misuse: Signs and Risks

Substance Misuse: Signs and Risks

Substance Misuse: Signs and Risks

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Since 2020, more than 37 million people in the U.S. have struggled with drug use. Of the nearly 140 million people 12 and older who use alcohol, 20% of them suffer from misuse and addiction.

The misuse of drugs and alcohol can trigger a long list of serious health problems. Cancer, stroke, and diseases of the heart, lungs and liver are a few. Anxiety, depression and schizophrenia are among the mental health conditions linked to substance misuse.

How do you know if drugs or alcohol are a problem for you or someone you love?

Here are some warning signs:

  • Not being able to stop using drugs or alcohol
  • Needing to use more to get the same high feeling
  • Having problems at school or work due to drugs or alcohol
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms like shaking, nausea, cramps, sweating, slurred speech or seizures when you try to stop

Anyone can be at risk for addiction, but some people have a higher risk. People with a family history of addiction are more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol. Substance misuse has a genetic link.

People with mental health disorders like anxiety or depression also have a greater risk. Many use drugs to cope.

Certain situations can also play a role in driving drug and alcohol use, including:  

  • Peer pressure. Many people, especially young people, can be pressured by friends or family members to use drugs.
  • Lack of family ties. Poor relationships with parents can make young people feel lonely and trigger drug misuse.
  • Early use. Using drugs at an early age can change the brain. These changes can make some individuals more likely to keep using drugs.
  • Taking highly addictive drugs. Some painkillers like opioids leaving site icon and stimulants can contribute to the misuse of drugs.
Getting Help

What should you do if you think you may have a problem? Talk with your primary care doctor or a mental health professional. There are doctors who work in addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry. There are also licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

If you need help finding a health care provider, call the number on your member ID card. We are here to help.

In case of emergency (overdose, trouble breathing, seizures or any other bad reaction from drug use), go to the nearest ER or call 911.

Sources: USA Addiction Statistics, leaving site icon Addiction Guide, 2022; SAMHSA Releases 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, leaving site icon Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2021; What Are the Other Consequences of Drug Addiction?, leaving site icon National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2020; Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, leaving site icon National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020; Opioid Addiction, leaving site icon Family Doctor, 2021

Originally published 1/2/2019; Revised 2022, 2023