Substance Abuse Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides drug addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug and substance abuse

The term substance abuse refers to the misuse of legal and illegal drugs, including, but not limited to, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and prescription medications. Usually done either in an attempt to self-medicate or for recreational purposes, substance abuse can have a profoundly negative impact on an individual, both from a one-time experience and as the result of chronic behavior. Though people can engage in substance abuse without becoming addicted, the development of chemical dependency is a common occurrence among individuals who regularly abuse alcohol or other drugs.

The development of an addiction or a substance use disorder occurs when a person’s behavior meets a set of criteria that includes feeling compelled to abuse the drug, needing to use increasingly larger amounts of the drug, continuing to abuse the drug even after experiencing negative results, and being incapable of stopping or controlling one’s use of the drug. When substance abuse progresses to addiction, professional help is often the only means through which a person can regain control over his or her behavior and learn how to live a drug-free life.


Drug addiction statistics

According to data that was collected as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH), more than 85 percent of adults in the United States have abused at least one drug at some point in their lives, and more than 70 percent have done so in the previous 12 months. Alcohol is the most commonly abused mind-altering substance in the U.S., followed by marijuana and prescription medications.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that more than 23 million Americans need treatment for a problem with substance abuse or addiction, yet only about 2.5 million of these people actually receive the treatment that they need.

During the first 12 years of the 21st century, overdose deaths associated with certain commonly abused drugs increased dramatically. For example, prescription drug overdose deaths increased by 250% between 2001 and 2013, while deaths associated with heroin overdose increased by more than 500%.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that substance abuse in the United States costs the nation more than $700 billion because of lost productivity, health care, and crime.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

A person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder can be influenced by several genetic and environmental factors, including the following:

Genetic: People whose parents or siblings have struggled with substance abuse are at an increased risk for having similar problems, themselves. Experts estimate that as much as 40 to 60 percent of the variance of the risk in developing certain substance use disorders is due to genetic factors. This genetic connection to substance abuse and substance use disorders is supported by studies involving twins who were raised separately as well as by adopted children whose biological parents had substance use disorders but whose adoptive parents did not.

Environmental: Cultural attitudes toward the abuse of certain substances can influence whether or not a person will abuse and potentially become addicted to those substances. Other environmental influences can include growing up in a household where substance abuse was common, living in an environment where substances of abuse were available and affordable, associating with peers who engage in substance abuse, and being exposed to stresses and pressures that exceed one’s ability to cope.

Risk Factors: 

  • Family history of mental health issues or substance abuse
  • Personal history of trauma, mental illness, or prior substance abuse
  • Age (early exposure to substance abuse significantly increases the likelihood of problems throughout one’s life)
  • Being male
  • Displaying aggression at a young age
  • High levels of impulsivity
  • Low educational achievement
  • Poverty

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

The appearance of substance abuse can vary widely depending upon a number of factors involving both the individual and the substance that he or she is abusing. The following are among the more common signs and symptoms that may indicate that a person is engaging in substance abuse:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Deceptiveness about whereabouts, acquaintances, and actions
  • Doctor shopping – visiting several doctors in order to get multiple prescriptions
  • Loss of interest in significant activities
  • Unexplained absences from work, school, or other responsibilities
  • Unexplained failures at work or in school
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Dangerous, risky, and otherwise reckless behavior
  • Hyperactivity
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

Physical symptoms:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Significant change in weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Sores, scabs and/or other skin problems
  • Excessive sweatiness
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Restlessness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Problems focusing
  • Impaired decision-making skills
  • Racing thoughts
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Depression


Effects of drug abuse

Substance abuse can negatively impact a person’s life in myriad ways, including the following:

  • Significant health damage
  • Diminished performance at work or in school
  • Job loss
  • Unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Social withdrawal
  • Financial problems
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Anxiety, panic, and depression
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

The following are among common co-occurring disorders that affect individuals who are engaging in substance abuse or who have developed a substance use disorder:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal & overdose

Effects of substance abuse withdrawal: Though the exact symptoms will vary, the following experiences are common among individuals who attempt to cease or reduce their substance abuse after they have become dependent upon a substance or substances:

  • Powerful drug cravings
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Depression
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Heavy sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Tics and tremors
  • Seizure

Effects of substance abuse overdose: Depending upon the type of drug that a person has ingested, overdose can result in a variety of painful, dangerous, and potentially lethal symptoms, including the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Bluish tint to lips and fingernails
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory distress
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Drastic change in blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
Marks of Quality Care
These accreditations are an official recognition of our dedication to providing treatment that exceeds the standards and best practices of quality care.
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Department of Health Care Services

Licensed by the State Department of Health Care Services