Drug Misuse and Abuse

In general, a drug is any substance that can be taken into the body and, once taken, alters or affect some processes within the human body. Pharmacology defines a drug as a chemical substance used in the treatment, cure, prevention, or diagnosis of disease or used to otherwise enhance physical or mental well-being.  As well as any substance that affects the processes of the mind or body. Psychoactive drugs are chemical substances that affect the brain functioning, causing changes in behavior, perception, mood and consciousness. Most illegal and illicit drugs have psychoactive effects.

What is drug misuse or abuse?

There are at least three general categories that may be applied to the use of legal or prescription drugs:

    This implies that there are no specific directions for frequency and quantity of use. One generally learns the boundaries of use that generally does not lead to undesirable consequences.
    This usually means that there are specific directions on use frequency and quantity.  
    Refers to drugs that require a physician’s approval that describes the safe frequency and quantity of use.  

If a drug is used inappropriately (too often and/or at too high a quantity), not as directed, or not as prescribed, the drug is being misused/abused. 

What is addiction or a substance-use disorder?

In the medical model, the word “addiction” has been replaced with the terms substance abuse and dependency to help professional distinguish the severity of an individual’s use patterns.  More recently, the term Substance-Use Disorder has been chosen for diagnostic purposes. To classify an individual as having a Substance-Use Disorder, he/she would need to manifest at least two or more of the maladaptive patterns of substance use listed below, leading to clinical impairment or distress occurring within a 12 month period.

The evaluation criteria below are taken from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders or DSM IV published by American Psychiatric Association:

  • Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home. (e.g. repeated absences or poor performance at work, suspensions or expulsion from school, neglect of children).
  • Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous. (e.g. driving, operating machines).
  • Continued substance use despite having negative or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused by the effects of use. (e.g. arguments with partner, physical fights)
  • Tolerance as defined by the following:
    • A need for markedly increased amounts to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
    • Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
    • The characteristic withdrawal  syndrome for the substance.
    • The same ( or closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance or recover from the substance.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the substance use.
  • The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  • Craving or a strong desire or urge to use a specific substance.                                                                  

What are the terms used to refer to drugs that might be misused?

Drugs of misuse are those likely to cause negative consequences if used too often or at too high a quantity. These drugs tend to cross the blood-brain barrier and, in some way, achieve alterations in arousal, affect (feelings or emotions), or sensory perception and cognition experience. These drugs are referred to by one or more names and are classified by the substance they came from, such as: opiates or by their effects on the human nervous system, such as stimulants, hallucinogenic or psychotropic drugs.  

What are street drugs?

There are several classes of drugs referred to as illicit or street drugs. Most often this refers to drugs which are sold illegally, taken recreationally, and/ or manufactured unprofessionally. Designer drugs are synthetic drugs which are equal to an existing drug but with minor modification. It is suggested that these drugs were created in an attempt to bypass the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. These drugs and subsequent forms were made illegal in 1986. The term club drug is a generic term for drugs used in clubs, bars or “rave” parties.

How many times do you have to use a legal or illicit drug before it can harm you or your body?

Some drugs can harm you with just one use. However, whether or not a drug harms you and how much harm is caused depends on many factors. Some of these factors include allergic reactions, the dosage (how much of the drug you take), over what period of time it was taken, whether or not you are taking any other drugs, the body’s hormone levels (menstrual cycle), genetic factors, changes in drug metabolism due to disease, and how the drug is taken (i.e. injected, eaten, etc).   

How long can a drug stay in the body?

Drugs are absorbed into the blood stream and therefore the length of time they stay in your system depends on how fast the body can metabolize them. The length of time it takes to metabolize a drug depends on a number of different factors. These factors include type of drug, age, frequency of use, body mass index (BMI), and gender. Some drugs can remain and be detected in the body even after the effects have stopped. Marijuana for example can be found in the body up to 4 weeks after a single use.

What are some of the most commonly used and abused drugs?

Prescription Drugs

Illicit/Illegal Drugs

Additional Resources