23 Substance Abuse

Juliana Black; Ashley Regan; and Jianing Zhang


Substance abuse is a complex disease that heavily impacts a large variety of people. It can simply be stated as excessive use of psychoactive substances, which include alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. The dependency can lead to a variety of consequences, but the most concerning side effect is the potential for emotional, physical, and social harm. If you are suffering from substance abuse, please seek help immediately. You are not alone, it can and will get better. Addiction is a lifelong disease that requires active, committed treatment.


What is substance abuse? What does it look like? Who does it affect?

Substance abuse impacts everyone- age, race, and status simply play no factor in this heavy dependency. The typical age range for substance use is 15- 65 years old. There are several factors that can determine one’s resilience for turning directly to a substance when hardship presents itself. College students tend to use stimulants and depressants, such as alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, and caffeine. Internal and external stressors can increase the likeliness of a true dependency resulting from frequent use. Students, young and vulnerable adults, turn to easily accessible substances that offer no judgment to cope with the extreme stress new experiences can bring on. This can ultimately lead to physical and psychological pain- deteriorating the mind and body of the user. Any recreational drug use has detrimental effects. The brain of a college student which is not nearly fully developed faces permanent damages.

A syringe, four small glass bottles with clear liquid, and pills are scattered on a ground
A syringe, four small glass bottles with clear liquid, and pills are scattered on a ground

Drugs & Effects

Drug Class: Opiates

  • Examples-Heroin, Morphine, Fentanyl, Opium, Oxycodone, Vicodin, and certain prescription pain relievers
  • Physical Effects-Decreases pain, pupil dilation, gut motility, and respiratory function
  • Psychological Effects- Doses can cause: pain relief, euphoria, and sleepiness
  • High doses can result in death due to decreased respiratory function
  • Addictive in certain cases

Drug Class: Stimulates

  • Examples- Cocaine, Adderall, MDMA (such as molly), Methamphetamines, Amphetamines, Caffeine
  • Physical Effects- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temp.
  • Psychological Effects- High doses can: increase agitation, paranoia, anxiety & may cause hallucinations and seizures & Low doses can: increase alertness, cause mild sensation of euphoria, decrease appetite
  • If a user takes a high dose of MDMA brain toxicity and death can occur
  • Addictive in certain cases

Drug Class: Depressants 

  • Examples- Alcohol, Benzodiazepines (such as xanax),  Barbiturates
  • Physical Effects- Decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory functions
  • Psychological Effects- High doses can: Induce sleep, cause disturbance of motor functions, and memory loss  & Low doses can: Increase relaxation & decrease inhibitions
  • High doses can cause death
  • Addictive in certain cases

Drug Class: Hallucinogens 

  • Examples- LSD, DMT, Peyote, dissociative anesthetics ( such as PSP & ketamine), marijuana
  • Physical Effects- Increased heart rate and blood pressure that can dissipate over time
  • Psychological Effects- Doses can cause: Mild to extreme perceptual changes
  • Variability in effects is based on drug strain, the method of ingestion, and individual differences
  • Addictive in certain cases


Side Effects of Substance Abuse

Drugs can cause large amounts of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps people regulate mood, motivation, and a sense of pleasure. Drugs can change the way the brain works and interfere with people’s ability to choose, leading to a strong desire for drugs. Over time, this behavior may turn into substance dependence or drug addiction. Addiction can impair cognitive control and inhibitory control of behavior. Substance abuse can lead to numerous physical, social, and emotional harms. The long-term effects of substance abuse will vary depending on the drug being abused. Common effects of drug abuse include liver disease, hepatitis, HIV, trauma, cancer, heart attack, seizures, and even death. Drug use can also lead to unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse, and bad relationships with loved ones. For students who use drugs, this may result in lower grades, lower attendance, and lower academic performance.

Two hands float in a black background and hover over the sides of a pill bottle. Pills are scattered in front of the bottle.
Two hands float in a black background and hover over the sides of a pill bottle. Pills are scattered in front of the bottle.

The Psychology Behind Addiction

If an addictive drug is used repeatedly, the user may develop a codependent relationship with the effects that the substance can elicit. Certain substances evoke the dopamine transmitters in the brain which then stimulates its “reward systems”. This process can lead to a build-up of tolerance and dependence on a particular drug. Once dependent on a drug, repeated use is most likely to occur because of the user’s desire to achieve the pleasurable “high” of the drug and get away from the “lows” of withdrawal symptoms. However, if the subject removes the withdrawal symptoms there is still no guarantee a relapse won’t happen. A theory suggests that relapse occurs because it is the brain’s conditioned response to craving the drug.


What kind of treatment is available to those suffering from substance abuse?

Treatment for such a disease is such an incredibly difficult piece to ask for. Taking responsibility for what you have been suffering from is the first step to recovery. Acceptance that there is a problem. Recovery takes a physical and mental toll on the body. You are going through intense, dangerous detox, slowly straying away from the constant use. Withdrawal symptoms must be closely monitored to ensure the safety of your body so you can proceed with healing. Rehab centers are an excellent choice.

Step two is more therapeutic. The gathering of a dependable support system is essential, including outside sources (therapy, narcotics anonymous, alcoholics anonymous, al-anon/ Alateen) and close family/ friends necessary for emotional support and stability. The total cost you can expect will vary. Medical rehab centers are equipped to treat the harsh side effects of withdrawal and can provide a safety net for patients. Therapy is also effective in actively fighting the urge to revert to old addiction habits. Communicating openly with a stranger about issues that may be faced is how you continuously choose to fight your sickness. For many college students, high costs can be detrimental to the future they are working so hard to build. Expensive treatment may not be the most practical resources for students. However, there are local resources that are open to helping those that need it. Paradise Valley Community College deeply cares for the well-being of all students. They have several resources you can easily access by reaching out to the staff such as social workers and more than qualified therapists. The community is here for you. 

Medical equipment surround a paper on a clip board titled "substance abuse"
Medical equipment surround a paper on a clipboard titled “substance abuse”


Substance abuse is a complex illness that users choose to fight on a daily basis. Individuals make the choice to actively fight the urge to use. Utilizing the community or personal resources that are available, and properly educating yourself about substance abuse is crucial to recovery. Though it is a long, continuous road, it is possible to heal from addiction and lead an ordinary life.


Helpful local resources:

  • PVCC Counseling: The counselors can help you make correct and positive decisions and resolve all questions and challenges to prevent crises including drug dependence. The service is free, voluntary, and confidential.
  • Arizona Behavioral Counseling and Education Inc.: This Company offers a variety of drug abuse recovery programs. The duration and intensity of these procedures range from 18 hours to 90 hours.
  • TERROS Substance Abuse Prevention: TERROS is a community-based behavioral health organization that can help people recover from drug abuse, mental illness, and other behavioral health problems. Drug abuse prevention education for teenagers and families.
  • Family Service Agency: Family service agencies provide home treatment, relapse prevention, medication, and psychiatric evaluation. They provide individual, group, and intensive drug abuse treatments.
  • The Haven : The Haven provides women (and their families) with gender-specific substance use services in a safe, supportive environment without judgment and stigma.



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Good Health and Well-Being Copyright © 2020 by Juliana Black; Ashley Regan; and Jianing Zhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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