Identifying the warning signs – Substance Abuse Disorders


Substance Abuse Disorder can be defined as a person’s use of alcohol or another substance (drugs) which leads to health issues or problems at work, school or home.

The exact cause of substance use disorder is not known.  A person’s genes, the action of the drug, peer pressure, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and environmental stress can all be factors contributing to this disorder.

The risk of addiction and how fast you become addicted varies by the substance.  Some drugs such as opioid painkillers, have a higher risk and causes addiction far quicker than others.  As time passes, you may need larger quantities/doses of the substance to get a “high”.  Soon you may need the substance just to feel good. You may find it increasingly difficult to go without the substance/drug, and attempts to stop the substance abuse may cause intense cravings and make you feel physically ill (also known as withdrawal symptoms).


Commonly used substances include but are not limited to:

  • Opiates and other narcotics are powerful painkillers that can cause drowsiness, and sometimes intense feelings of well-being, elation, happiness, excitement, and joy. These include heroin, opium, codeine, and narcotic pain medicines that may be prescribed by a doctor or bought illegally.
  • Stimulants are drugs that stimulate the brain and nervous system. They include cocaine and amphetamines, such as drugs used to treat ADHD (methylphenidate, or Ritalin). A person can start needing higher amounts of these drugs over time to feel the same effect.
  • Depressants cause drowsiness and reduce anxiety. They include alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Xanax), chloral hydrate, and paraldehyde. Using these substances can lead to addiction.
  • LSD, mescaline, psilocybin (“mushrooms”), and phencyclidine (PCP, or “angel dust”) can cause a person to see things that are not there (hallucinations) and can lead to psychological addiction.
  • Marijuana (cannabis, or hashish).


Symptoms of substance abuse disorder, that you can identify yourself:

  • Having extreme urges for the substance, blocking out any other thoughts.
  • Feeling that you have to use the substance regularly — daily or multiple times a day.
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of the substance abuse.
  • Doing things to get the substance that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing or begging.
  • Over time, requiring more of the substance to get the identical effect.
  • Taking larger amounts of the substance over a longer period of time than you intended.
  • Making sure that you maintain a supply of the substance, readily available.
  • Even when you can’t afford it, you’re spending money on your substance.
  • Continuing to use the substance, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm.
  • Doing things to get the substance that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing or begging.
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the substance.
  • Spending a good deal of time getting the substance, using the substance or recovering from the effects of the substances.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the substance


Warning signs that a family member may have a substance abuse disorder:

  • Physical Health Issues – Lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, or continuous red eyes.
  • Changes in Behaviour – exaggerated efforts to block family members from entering his/her room, or being secretive about where he/she goes with friends; or drastic changes in behaviour towards family and friends.
  • Issues at Work/School – continuously absent/missing from work or school.  A sudden disinterest in work or school activities.  A dop in work performance or school grades.
  • Money Issues – requests for money, without a reasonable explanation; or discovering money missing or stolen from your wallet.
  • Missing Items – discovering that items have disappeared in your home/workplace, indicating that these items may have possibly been sold to support a substance abuse disorder.
  • Neglected Appearance – lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks – the individual is starting to look like they don’t care about how they present themselves.
  • Sacrificing Hobbies/Activities –  giving up on some activities that previously brought them joy.
  • Denial – the person may be aware of the physical dependence on a substance but refuses to accept the need to seek help, believing they can quit “anytime” they want to.

How can you help?

It’s important to seek help for your friend or family member and to get them on a treatment plan as soon as possible. You can also seek help from your doctor, local treatment centre, or support group. Addictions often affect many areas of a person’s life. The most effective treatments are comprehensive.

They often have several steps that vary from person to person. These steps can include detoxification, behavioural counselling, and long-term follow-up.

Some ways you can support a friend or family member’s recovery process:

  • Learn more about the substance or behavior dependency and the treatment.
  • Stay involved, like offering to go to meetings with them.
  • Provide a sober and trigger-free setting.
  • Speak up and express concern when there is a relapse.

While you can treat addiction, in most cases, someone with addiction must want to change for recovery to be successful.


I am ending this blog off differently today….I would like to share a stunning poem that I came across (I did not write this poem), that explains a family battling with a member suffering with substance abuse.

The Year Of The Dragon 1976

by Cheryl Chartier

Published: February 2006



Beautiful and bright was the Young Dragon.

Capable and caring,
Sensitive but strong,
The life of the Young Dragon
Couldn’t go wrong.

Upright and steadfast,
Courageous with might,
Who knew the Dragon
Would get lost in the night.

For the Dragon met Tiger,
Who lured him away,
Into the jungle
Of life’s tumultuous way.

Down the path of
Destruction, sorrow and woes,
Down the path of
Seduction, deceit and morose.

The Tiger made promises
Which led Dragon astray,
Away from his mother, siblings and wife,
Away from the people who’d given him life.

Deep into the jungle
Dragon followed Tiger.
Farther off the path of the good life
Deeper on the road of sorrow and strife.

And when the Dragon was
Broken, desolate and alone,
Looking through bars
At the life that he’d known,

Tiger smiled and nodded his head,
For the beautiful Dragon
Was standing alone
Far from his life, his family and home.

But Tiger underestimated
The Spirit of love,
Looking out for Dragon
From high up above.

Spirit opened doors
By providing the keys,
All Dragon had to do
Was reach for these.

Be strong, Young Dragon,
Do what you must,
Before vicious Tiger
Turns you to dust.

Reject all he offers,
Come back to the way.
We’re waiting, Dear Dragon,
Please join us today.

Come back from the jungle,
The Tiger and harm.
We’re waiting, Dear Dragon,
With wide-open arms.

The path will be twisted,
And hardships abound,
With determination as your companion,
You’ll gain the high ground.

Your new life awaits you,
Grab on and demand
That the Tiger who holds you,
Desist and disband.

Shuck off your demons,
Dig deep down inside,
And know that the Spirit
Has nothing but pride.

Pride for the Dragon
Who was led astray,
Because Dragon has the courage
To keep Tiger at bay.

M. A. D.
(mother against drugs)
Cheryl Chartier
Mother’s Day
May 9, 2004



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