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If you're not sure what the problem might be, review our list of common symptoms to see if any of them sound like you or your loved one.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism

Alcohol abuse is a disease that involves desire for alcohol and continuing to drink even when faced with alcohol-related job, legal, social, health, or family problems. Alcohol abuse can progress to alcoholism. Alcoholism is a condition in which the individual is physically dependent on the effects of alcohol to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.

Several factors contribute to alcohol abuse, including:

  • Genes
  • Brain chemicals that may be different than normal
  • Social pressure
  • Emotional stress
  • Pain
  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • Problem drinking behaviors learned from family or friends

Risk factors include:

  • Sex: male
  • Alcohol use
  • Family members who abuse alcohol (especially men whose fathers or brothers are alcoholic)
  • Using illicit drugs
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy access to alcoholic beverages
  • Psychiatric disorders, such as depression or anxiety
  • Smoking

Drug abuse and addiction

Drug abuse is a disease characterized by continued misuse of drugs even when faced with drug-related job, legal, health, or family difficulties. Problems associated with drug abuse must have existed a minimum of 12 months to meet the diagnosis.

Drug dependence refers to long-term, compulsive drug use, perhaps with attempts to stop but repeatedly returning to drugs. Drug dependence also means that your body has begun to require the drug in higher and higher doses in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Drug abuse and drug dependence are not terms that should be used to describe people who are taking appropriate dosages of prescribed drugs (pain medication, for example) and who have become physically dependent on them. Diagnosis of both drug abuse and drug dependence requires the presence of behavioral symptoms.

Some of the most commonly abused substances include:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • LSD
  • Marijuana
  • Sedatives
  • Speed
  • PCP
  • Ecstasy
  • Legal drugs that are used improperly or without a prescription, such as:
    • Narcotic painkillers
    • Amphetamines
    • Drugs for treating anxiety
    • Sleeping pills

Problems associated with drug abuse must have existed a minimum of 12 months to meet the diagnosis.

Drug dependence refers to long-term, compulsive drug use, perhaps with attempts to stop but repeatedly returning to drugs. Drug dependence also means that your body has begun to require the drug in higher and higher doses in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Drug abuse and drug dependence are not terms that should be used to describe people who are taking appropriate dosages of prescribed drugs (pain medication, for example) and who have become physically dependent on them. Diagnosis of both drug abuse and drug dependence requires the presence of behavioral symptoms.

The cause of drug abuse and dependence is unknown, although there are a variety of theories. One theory holds that there may be a genetic component that predisposes a person toward using and abusing drugs. Another theory is that drug abuse is a learned behavior and that people begin to use drugs by copying the behavior of those around them. Medical professionals have not been able to target a specific cause.

Brain chemicals may alter the user's perception of the drug's effects. Long-term drug use changes brain function and may reinforce the desire to keep using drugs regardless of the consequences.

Risk factors include:

  • Family members with substance abuse problems
  • Drug use
  • Age: youth
  • Social and peer pressure
  • Stress
  • Associating with people who abuse drugs
  • Sex: male
  • Easy access to drugs
  • Depression
  • Panic disorders