Work is still being done to determine the direct causes of substance abuse and mental health issues. While there is still much to be discovered, it is known that a number of factors play into the development of these disorders, and many of these factors are similar across both mental health and substance abuse issues.

Substance Abuse

For substance abuse, several factors contribute to the abuse of alcohol and drugs. These include:

  • Genetic predisposition to addiction or abuse
  • History of mental illness
  • Neglect or other childhood trauma
  • Poor social skills or lack of social support structure
  • Peer pressure or the belief that drug abuse is not a bad thing

Mental Health

Other mental health disorders are similarly influenced by a combination of physical, emotional, and environmental factors. Potential causes of mental illness include:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Experiencing a traumatic event, such as childhood trauma, early loss of a parent, or neglect
  • Brain injury or defects, or severe physical illness that affects the brain
  • Environmental toxins or poor nutrition that hinders brain development
  • Poor ability to relate to others
  • Cultural expectations or a desire to fit in
  • Substance abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse can affect the development of each another. Up to 75 percent of those with substance use disorders may also have some other form of mental health disorder.

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What Are the Symptoms or Effects of Substance Abuse?

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Substance abuse can have an effect on a person’s physical or mental health, as well as social relationships, family, and quality of life. The potential effects of substance abuse include:

  • Damage to organs, such as the heart, brain, and liver
  • Diseases, such as heart disease, HIV, and cancer
  • Development of other mental illnesses
  • Permanent changes to hormonal or nervous systems
  • Damage to social network or relationships
  • Loss of job or other financial issues
  • Legal troubles

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of General Drug Abuse?

When a person’s behavior changes, loved ones may immediately suspect that substance abuse of some kind is a factor. There are a number of signs that can be observed in a person who is abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol. It can be challenging to see outward signs of substance abuse; however, there are some behaviors that can indicate that drug abuse or addiction is occurring.

Generally, if a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, the following signs may be observed:

  • Decreased involvement in activities the person used to enjoy
  • Trouble managing responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Problems with relationships related to substance use
  • Increase in risk-taking behaviors
  • A lot of time spent seeking the substance, or dealing with its aftereffects (e.g., being hungover)
  • Inability to stop using the substance or change behavior, even when the problems above are present

In some cases, physical or psychological symptoms may be observed as well:

  • Slurring speech, clumsiness, and lack of balance
  • Inability to focus
  • Decreased or increased heart rate
  • Trembling or sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawal symptoms if the person stops taking the substance

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What Drugs Cause the Most Visible Signs of Addiction?

Various drugs have such a strong enough effect on the body that they can result in changes in a person’s appearance. One of the most well-known substances in this regard is methamphetamine, or crystal meth.

One of the side effects of taking meth is diminished blood flow, and this includes blood flow to the capillaries of the skin, which can result in a number of physical changes. As a result, damage to the skin can take longer to heal, resulting in sores and scarring on the face and body. In addition, the drug dries out the salivary glands and can cause compulsive tooth grinding, resulting in severe damage to teeth, a phenomenon known as meth mouth.

Other drugs that can cause major changes in physical appearance include heroin and cocaine. Any substance abuse can result in changes in appearance. The person may neglect personal hygiene, in addition to having bloodshot eyes, persistent dark circles under the eyes, bruises, and potent body odor.

Still, these signs are not necessarily a result of drug abuse. However, if they occur with some of the other signs and symptoms listed above, drug abuse may be a factor.

What Drugs Cause the Most Drastic Changes in a Person’s Behavior?

One of the most notable and disturbing changes in behavior that can occur in a person who is using drugs is sudden or extreme violence. This type of behavior is generally a result of stimulant abuse.

The most recent, well-known incidence of extreme behavior changes caused by this type of drug has been the behavior resulting from use of bath salts, a type of psychoactive stimulant drug that creates a high resembling the high from cocaine or meth. The behavioral effects of these types of drugs include paranoia, agitation, panic attacks, and hallucinations, among other symptoms, which can result in the person becoming highly violent. Other drugs that have a similar reaction include cocaine, meth, and even some prescription drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or Spice, can also have a profound effect on behavior and result in extremely violent outbursts.

What Additional Concerns Exist for Polydrug Abusers?

People who abuse more than one drug at a time are at particular risk for complications from substance abuse. This is because the effects of one drug can be compounded and multiplied by the effects of another drug. In fact, research has shown that polydrug abuse, particularly when at least two substances are taken together in a single event, can significantly raise the chances that people will experience negative effects or behaviors.

One common polydrug abuse combination is opiate drugs (such as heroin or prescription pain killers) and benzodiazepines (benzos, or anti-anxiety medications). Use of these drugs alone can be incredibly risky; together, they can severely depress the respiratory system, quickly resulting in loss of consciousness or death.

Polydrug abuse can also be a major issue when it comes to treating substance use disorders. Managing detox and withdrawal from multiple substances can be challenging for treatment professionals and can complicate the symptoms of withdrawal.

What’s the Most Common Cause of Drug Addiction and Abuse?

When looking directly at the primary reasons that people begin abusing drugs or alcohol, the most common cause of abuse and addiction is a belief that using the drugs will make something better. Whether it’s a need to feel accepted that results in responding to peer pressure, a desire for excitement that drives experimentation, or some form of suffering that a person wants to cover up or medicate, people turn to drugs or alcohol because they feel that using these substances will help them deal with their problems.

One version of this cause is often referred to as self-medication. Self-medication as a major cause of substance use disorders is one of the primary theories being studied and discussed by addiction researchers and experts.

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When It’s More Than Substance Abuse

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Wental health disorders have many of the same signs and symptoms as substance use disorders, and in a large percentage of cases, these disorders co-occur. Being able to tell the difference between mental health problems and substance use disorders can be challenging, and even if a person suspects drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness should not be ruled out.

One way to verify that there is a separate mental health problem occurring along with a substance use disorder is to figure out when the symptoms began to occur. If there were symptoms before the drug use began to be a problem, it is more likely that there is an underlying mental health disorder. This is most easily diagnosed by a mental health professional.

How Does Self-Medicating Play into Mental Health Disorders?

Often, people who have mental health issues may try to manage them by self-medicating – using drugs or alcohol without a doctor’s guidance to manage the discomfort or suffering caused by the mental health disorder. A well-known example of this is the use of alcohol to manage depression or anxiety.

While mental health problems do not always lead to substance abuse, and substance abuse problems are not always resolved with mental health care, the correlation is strong enough that substance abuse issues can potentially be prevented or lessened if mental health issues are managed adequately. In fact, research has shown that between 50 and 75 percent of people who are in treatment for substance abuse also have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Because of this, early diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders is important, especially in those who have a family history of substance abuse or mental illness.

What Mental Illnesses Are Diagnosed the Most?

Anxiety disorders and mood disorders, particularly depression, are the most common mental health disorders diagnosed in the US. In particular, anxiety disorders and depression often occur together.

Depression and anxiety also have a high correlation with substance abuse, and this could be a result of self-medication. Studies have shown that people with mood disorders who use drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop substance use disorders at the same time. Also, people who have co-occurring disorders report higher degrees of symptoms and illness than those who have the mood disorder alone.

How Predisposed Is Someone to Having a Mental Health Disorder?

There are certain factors that make a person more likely to develop a mental health disorder. These include family history, personal history, and biological and environmental factors, such as:

  • Family members who have had a mental illness
  • Personal history of mental health problems
  • Experience of childhood or other trauma, including violence, neglect, or abuse
  • Brain injury or damage
  • Exposure to toxins, including substance abuse

These predispositions do not necessarily mean that a person will develop a mental health disorder, but they can increase the likelihood that one will. Because certain substance use disorders sometimes associate with specific mental health disorders, there may also be a direct correlation between having a particular mental health disorder and developing an addiction to a particular type of drug, and vice versa. This may be a factor in the correlation of alcohol with depression or of stimulants with psychotic disorders.

What Can Happen if a Mental Health Problem Is Not Addressed?

If there is a mental health problem that has not been addressed, there are several potential outcomes.

First, left untreated, mental health issues can worsen, deteriorating the person’s quality of life and having a negative effect on loved ones and on the person’s responsibilities. In some cases, this can lead to other societal issues, such as homelessness, legal troubles, violence, and victimization.

Also, the person may choose to self-medicate, as discussed above. In this case, the person may develop the additional challenge of a substance use disorder or addiction. If this occurs, the substance may adversely affect the mental illness in a way that is unexpected, causing a spiraling effect that makes both disorders worse, resulting in issues that are more complicated and time-consuming to treat. Without treating all aspects of co-occurring disorders, the individual disorders are more likely to recur, and the person is more likely to relapse into both the mental illness and the substance abuse.


Frequently Asked Questions

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What drugs are abused the most in New Jersey?

The highest illicit drug use in New Jersey involves marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. In 2011, about 45 percent of all admissions to treatment facilities in the state involved heroin. However, in illicit drug use in the state, marijuana is overwhelmingly the most popular substance of abuse. The state has also had one of the highest rates of reported past cocaine use by people 12 and older.

Meth and heroin are considered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to be the drugs with the highest level of threat for the area.

As with much of the rest of the country, alcohol and prescription anxiety medications and painkillers make up other common substances of abuse in New Jersey.

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How can I get the heroin overdose drug?

In New Jersey, naloxone can be prescribed by a doctor to someone who is deemed to be in a position to help someone at risk for opiate overdose. The person who prescribes the drug must make sure that the person receiving the prescription understands how to prevent overdose, how to recognize overdose, the importance of calling 911, and how to care for the person who has overdosed. If these conditions are met, the person who uses naloxone is subject to certain levels of legal immunity. Doctors must also undergo training in order to prescribe the drug.

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Is drug trafficking a major problem in New Jersey?

New Jersey does have major drug trafficking problems. Even just recently, the FBI reported that a major drug trafficking organization was planning to sell heroin in New Jersey. Columbian drug trafficking organizations are the dominant distributors, bringing heroin, marijuana, and cocaine into the region. Dominican, Mexican, Asian, and Jamaican DTOs also pose a risk to the area, among other smaller groups. The region around New Jersey and New York is considered to be a major national distribution center for drug trafficking groups.

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What health complications can arise from prolonged cocaine use?

Used over a long period of time, cocaine can lead to a variety of mental and physical health complications.

Physical issues can depend on the mode of intake, and include:

  • Nosebleeds and problems with sense of smell
  • Problems with the throat or hoarseness
  • Reduced blood flow to the bowels resulting in gangrene
  • Digestion and nutrition issues
  • Convulsions

Mental complications include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Violent behaviors

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How close is New Jersey to legalizing marijuana?

The state of New Jersey already has a medical marijuana program and passed a law requiring schools to develop marijuana administration policies. Even though marijuana is one of the most highly available illicit substances in the state, it is not considered to be a major drug threat by the local DEA agency.

Based on reports, a New Jersey senator has brought forth a proposal to legalize marijuana in the state. However, Governor Chris Christie has said he will veto any such bill that comes across his desk. Regardless, it is possible that the state could legalize recreational marijuana in the next year.

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Why are some synthetic drugs illegal while others are not?

Oftentimes, drug manufacturers alter the composition of synthetic drugs in an effort to stay ahead of legislation efforts. Once a particular synthetic drug becomes outlawed, manufacturers change the makeup somewhat so the new drug is “technically” legal. With new synthetic drugs popping up all the time, lawmakers have trouble keeping up with legislation against these new drugs.

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Why do some people become addicted to their prescription medications?

Prescription medications, such as opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines used for anxiety disorders, are highly addictive substances that can change brain chemistry over time to create an addiction if the drugs are misused. Generally, if the drugs are used as prescribed, people who use them do not become addicted.

However, even low-dose benzos used over long periods of time can cause changes in the brain that result in addiction. In addition, using these types of medicines inappropriately, such as using them more often than directed or at higher doses than prescribed can result in tolerance, or a need to continue increasing the dose to get the same level of effect.

Because of the changes in the brain that occur, these drugs require managed detox in order to make sure that severe withdrawal problems do not occur. If an addiction to benzos is suspected, medical support for detox is necessary.

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How difficult is it to avoid relapse?

Addiction is considered to be a chronic, recurring mental health disorder. As such, relapse is as common as it is for many chronic disorders, including diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure.

Because of the physical, psychological, and environmental causes of addiction, relapse is very hard to avoid. For this reason, treatment is designed to provide tools that the person can use to manage physical, psychological, and environmental triggers and cravings. These tools take time to learn and require practice, and they help individuals to avoid relapse. For this reason, residential rehab is considered by experts to be the method most likely to result in recovery from and maintenance of addiction.

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Who is most at risk to become addicted to drugs or alcohol?

Those who are most at risk of developing addiction include people who have:

  • A genetic predisposition to addiction
  • Previous addiction problems
  • Mental health disorders
  • Early experimentation with drugs or alcohol (in childhood)
  • Regular use or misuse of highly addictive substances

These risks can be minimized by avoiding use or misuse of drugs or alcohol.

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Are benzodiazepines as addictive as opiates?

Benzos and opiates are both highly addictive substances when misused, and both are some of the most often abused drugs in the world. As stated above, even low-dose benzos taken for too long can cause changes in the brain that result in addiction.

Opiates and benzos generally act on the same areas of the nervous and hormonal systems in the body. They cause a relaxing effect that is potentially soothing for those with anxiety. An even higher risk occurs if the two are taken together, because they can both cause an extreme slowing of breathing and result in loss of consciousness and death.

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