What Is Substance Abuse? How To Recognize it

As a friend or family member of someone who might be struggling with substance use, it can feel daunting to look for the signs. You may not know exactly what it is that you are looking for, but even just the fact that you have an eye out means you care.

What’s important to note about substance abuse is that having someone in your corner who is looking out for you really can make a difference in the path to recovery.

To better recognize the signs of substance abuse, it is helpful to learn more about what substance use disorder and addiction are, how they can creep into someone’s life, and what the next steps should be for someone who is sturggling. For people who are dealing with addiction, it can feel nearly impossible to overcome substance abuse without help.

If you are worried about a loved one, getting them help can be life-changing and even life-saving. Keep reading to learn more about how to recognize when someone may be struggling with substance abuse.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

When someone has difficulties with a substance use disorder, it means that they are unable to control their use of a substance and their consequent actions. Substance use disorder affects a person’s brain, body, and behavior, and can ultimately make it difficult for them to control their behaviors and moods.

Substance use disorder can be debilitating, and without proper help, it can develop into a full-out addiction. Intervening as soon as possible can help limit the damage this disorder can have on people.

What Is Addiction?

Some people refer to addiction, substance use disorder, substance abuse, and dependencies as the same thing. But when we refer to addiction, we are referring to the worst end of substance use disorder.

Addiction happens as a result of repeated substance use that has severe effects on a person’s brain and body.

That said, we want to emphasize that no matter how far along your substance use or addiction is, you can always seek help.

These disorders are treatable as long as you are committed to your health, and it always helps to have plenty of support behind you in the recovery journey.

What Contributes to Substance Abuse?

No two people have the same history of substance abuse. Everyone has their own story and background that differs from others. There are many factors that can contribute to a person’s drug or alcohol use that you can sometimes attribute to their journey, such as:

  • Environmental factors: A person’s family and friend life can impact substance use behaviors. If a person is being mistreated and peer-pressured into using, they might not be able to say no. If they are being exposed to drugs and alcohol from an early age by their parents or older adults, these behaviors might become normal to them.
  • Biological factors: Genetics has a role in drug addiction and can be a risk factor for substance abuse problems. If a person comes from a long line of family members who struggled with addiction, they could likely fall into similar patterns. Understanding your family’s history can help you understand your risks.
  • Mental health: Those dealing with mental health problems might turn to substances like illicit drugs as a helpline for self-medication. People who deal with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other serious mental illnesses might turn to illegal drugs as a way to cope with unwanted symptoms.

How Can You Recognize Substance Abuse?

Recognizing substance abuse is not always easy or obvious. You can never truly know what a person is going through, no matter how well you think you know them. Of course, there can be obvious signs that you pick up on that ring alarm bells in your head. There are many different substances that your loved one could be struggling with, and the signs are not always the same.

If you are worried about someone and think they might be struggling with substance abuse, consider the following symptoms as signs of their abuse.

Alcohol Abuse

Due to the prevalence of alcohol in today’s society, it can be a little more difficult to notice if someone is struggling. Drinking has become so common that minor substance use issues go unnoticed. It’s not until you see someone drinking throughout the day, every day, to realize there might be an issue.

Other signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse are:

  • Frequent blacking out and memory loss
  • Lack of control of alcohol consumption
  • Drinking alone or at odd times of the day
  • Drinking to cope with problems
  • Depression and irritability
  • Stress on relationships

Marijuana / Cannabis Abuse

Similar to alcohol, marijuana use has become more common in today’s society. People might use marijuana to help with stress, chronic illness, mental health, or just for fun, which can make noticing someone’s struggles more difficult.

Signs that someone might be struggling with cannabis are:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Frequent cannabis use
  • Inability to eat or sleep without it
  • Paranoia

Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants are an upper drug that can make you feel like you’re going a mile a minute. When someone is using stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, you might notice these indications of substance use problems:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Aggression and hostility
  • Frequent behavior changes
  • Paranoia
  • Intense nasal congestion

Opioid Abuse

Opioids include prescription painkillers, like Vicodin and OxyContin, as well as heroin. These types of drugs slow down your body and brain. Thus, someone who is using opioids might experience these signs of drug misuse:

  • Sedation
  • Slow reaction times
  • Intense mood swings
  • Lethargy and confusion
  • Intestinal and digestive issues

Hallucinogenic Abuse

Depending on what kind of hallucinogen someone is using, their reactions might vary. Overall, someone who might be causing hallucinogens might:

  • Act erratically and impulsively
  • Claim to see and hear things that aren’t actually there
  • Experience nausea, tremors, and twitching
  • Endure a panic attack

Barbiturate and Benzodiazepine Abuse

While Barbiturates aren’t used as frequently anymore, they are sometimes used to treat seizures and during surgery. These carry a higher risk of overdose than benzodiazepines, like Valium or Xanax, which are prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. Signs that someone might be abusing these substances are:

  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Balance problems and loss of coordination
  • Blurred vision
  • Depression

How Can I Support Someone with Substance Abuse Problems?

If any of the signs and symptoms above seem to resonate with you or a loved one, it might be time to intervene. Now, no one expects you to solve your loved one’s problems single-handedly, but there are ways that you might be able to get involved.

The process of getting someone help can be long and difficult because when it comes down to it, the person dealing with the substance use must desire to get better. You cannot force anyone to do something they don’t want to.

That said, there are several different ways that you can support someone who is dealing with substance abuse. Here are just a few.

Check in Regularly

The first thing you can do is check in on your loved one to see how they are doing. Telling them that you have noticed problematic behavior is never easy, so prompting them to open up to you might be best. You don’t want them to feel like you are cornering and judging them, but you also don’t want to pretend that everything is alright.

Expressing your concern and worry for someone might not always come off as loving to someone struggling. They might get defensive and upset, but know you’ve opened up a line of communication for them they might not have seen before. When it is time for them to make the decision to get help, they will likely end up seeing you as a place of security.

Set Up a Support System

Having several people behind you supporting you through recovery is a game-changer. Knowing there are people to turn to makes a difference. People struggling with addiction often feel alone and isolated, but having a support system can help.

Write down phone numbers your loved one can call if they need help, set up weekly (or bi-weekly) hangouts so you can see how they are doing, and try to help with their accountability.

Go to Meetings With Them

Substance abuse is not something you can control, so getting help can be very difficult. It may be hard for your loved one to choose to go to AA meetings or behavioral therapy sessions, and a little support could go a long way.

Making a conscious decision to attend treatment is not always easy, so don’t be afraid to join your loved ones in AA meetings. Even just driving them to and from their health care appointments can help them to get up and actually go.

This level of support will mean a lot to someone struggling because it can be a very difficult thing to admit to yourself, let alone others.

Set Boundaries

When you are helping someone who is struggling with substance abuse, the lines can begin to blur when it comes to how much help you are offering. You don’t want to be running yourself dry in order to help your loved one. Instead, you need to set boundaries to maintain your own mental health.

Watching someone you love struggle can be very difficult, so knowing when to say “no” and support rather than enable is important.

Getting Help with Soba

When it comes to substance abuse treatment, Soba Recovery has got you covered.

With locations in both Mesa, Arizona, and San Antonio, Texas, you can find help whenever needed. We offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment services so that no matter your circumstance, you have the ability to receive help.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, finding professional help will change the trajectory of your recovery. With round-the-clock care and a community of like-minded individuals to support you, there is no better way to get treatment.

Call today and speak with a Soba representative if this is something that you think could benefit your journey with substance use.


Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders | NIMH

Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Trends in Substance Use Disorders Among Adults Aged 18 or Older | SAMHSA

Types of Withdrawal Symptoms To Look Out For

When someone uses illicit drugs for a long period of time and develops physiological dependencies on them, they put themselves at a variety of risks.

A person struggling with substance use may not be thinking about what it will feel like to experience withdrawal symptoms, but when the time comes, it can be very difficult.

If you or a loved one are dealing with substance use disorder or addiction, going through the drug withdrawal stage is necessary to recover. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.

Withdrawal can feel like you are dying, and without proper support or supervision, withdrawal can sometimes lead to fatal consequences.

This doesn’t mean that you should continue to use to subdue the withdrawal symptoms, but rather you should look for professional help to guide you through the process. This will ensure your safety and help you understand what is happening to your body.

Withdrawal can be terrifying, but it’s often the first step towards taking back ownership of your life and decisions. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of withdrawal. Understanding the symptoms may help you ease through the process and come out successful on the other side.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) occurs when someone has recurring use of any type of drug that causes disruption in their everyday life and that they lack control over.

People with substance use disorder rarely have control over their actions and their substance use, making it very difficult for them to get better. Substance use can range from mild to severe, and no two people experience the same journey.

Many factors can lead to substance use disorder and drug addiction, including environmental impacts, societal pressures, and genetics. People who are struggling might have been predisposed to SUD, but without environmental and societal factors, they might not have developed the substance use disorder.

Peer pressure, being exposed to substances at a young age, and mental health all impact your choices with substances.

What Is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs when you stop or limit your substance use. Withdrawal symptoms can vary across the different substances, but the symptoms can be debilitating. Without proper support, you could suffer intensely throughout the withdrawal process.

Withdrawal includes the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that you go through when you stop using a substance. For each individual, the withdrawal process could be unique; with different substances, you have different reactions. The symptoms of withdrawal during alcohol dependence can differ from the symptoms of withdrawal for a person with a different drug dependence.

When you use a substance daily, your body can develop a physical dependence on the drug. That means when you want to stop, your body has to reverie back to its old ways, which isn’t a smooth process, but a necessary one.

Why Does Withdrawal Occur?

Withdrawal occurs when your body goes from using a substance every day to not at all. Your body is not used to living life without the substance, so your body reacts negatively and angrily when you don’t use it. When you are regularly using, your brain and body adjust and over time and accept these feelings as normal.

The symptoms you will experience can vary greatly depending on what substance you used, for how long, and what other factors may be playing a role. If you are using substances frequently and in large quantities, you should expect withdrawal symptoms to occur if you are planning to quit.

What Are Common Symptoms of Withdrawal?

Depending on what substance you were abusing and for how long, your withdrawal symptoms will vary. Everyone experiences drug use differently, and because of this, the way they experience withdrawals is very similar. It can be difficult to know what to expect when it comes to withdrawal, but there are a few common symptoms that might come to light.

Knowing what to look out for can help you manage withdrawal symptoms in the safest way possible. Be sure to look out for some common signs of withdrawal:

  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in appetite and hunger
  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Sweating profusely
  • Irritability and fatigue
  • Muscle pains
  • Difficulties with sleep

These symptoms listed above are only general signs to look out for, but each substance has its own symptoms of withdrawal.

Are There Different Types of Withdrawal?

Every substance you put into your body will have a different and varying effect on you.

Therefore you can assume that the withdrawal symptoms for different substances will also be different, like symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal versus opiate withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on your usage and how long you have been dependent on the substance.

Withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and painful, which is why it can be difficult to get through the process — especially in cases of severe withdrawal. Many people will fall back and use the substance to get over the withdrawal symptoms, knowing that it’s just what they need to feel no longer ill. Because of this, getting professional treatment and having solid support systems can ensure that you stay safe and successful during your detox.

The following sections highlight the symptoms of withdrawal from different substances so that you can have a better understanding of what to expect.


Withdrawing from alcohol can have a very serious and severe effect on a person.

Withdrawal symptoms may begin between 6 and 24 hours of heavy and prolonged drinking, and they come on strong. For several days after the start of symptoms, it’s likely these effects will get worse before getting better. It can be extremely painful and uncomfortable to go through detox during this time. Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Intense sweating and hot flashes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

Long-term effects of excessive alcohol can be very damaging to your body and even fatal. Heart disease, liver disease, depression, and cancer have all been associated with long-term drinking, so intervening as early as possible is essential.


Benzodiazepines are used to depress the central nervous system and are frequently prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders, as well as certain seizure disorders. Mixing these drugs with alcohol or opioids has the potential to lead to fatal overdoses.

The withdrawal effects from Benzodiazepines can appear anywhere from hours to days after stopping the use of short-acting benzodiazepines like Ativan. For long-acting benzodiazepines like Valium, withdrawal effects can appear several days to a week after stopping use.

Symptoms of withdrawal caused by short-acting benzodiazepines usually resolve within four to five days. However, with long-acting ones, the withdrawal symptoms might peak in the second week and resolve in the third or fourth week.

Others experience lingering effects of the withdrawal for up to eight weeks, making it a very difficult drug to quit using.

Symptoms you might experience are:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hallucinations and delirium
  • Rapid pulse and sweating
  • Loss of concentration and memory
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Anxiety and insomnia
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells

Though the recovery is long and hard, it’s well worth it when you come out in control of yourself once again.


Regardless of if you use medical marijuana or recreational marijuana, if you stop using after heavy, prolonged usage, you will experience withdrawal symptoms for several weeks. Marijuana is a drug that many people use frequently, so if you quit cold turkey, there will be side effects as your body gets used to sobriety.

Symptoms that you might experience are:

  • Nervousness and restlessness
  • Anger and irritability
  • Loss of appetite and abdominal pain
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Tremors and overall shakiness
  • Nausea and headaches
  • Depression and anxiety

People going through marijuana withdrawal will also experience intense cravings for marijuana, making it very difficult to stay sober.


Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be very difficult to go through, and though not always life-threatening, being assisted through them can make it easier to cope. Opioids include illicit drugs like heroin and prescription opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

Symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal are:

  • Dysphoria
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Fever and sweating

Because you can be prescribed a certain kind of opioid, it makes it easier to misuse them. If you are having a hard time dealing with substance use, you can talk with your doctor about alternatives to opioid prescriptions for pain.


Stimulants are “upper” drugs that affect the central nervous system and can be prescribed to people with certain conditiions. Adderall and Ritalin are two examples of stimulants that are prescribed to those with conditions like ADHD, but these medications are still susceptible to misuse. Illicit stimulants like cocaine and crystal methamphetamine are also highly addictive when used.

Symptoms of stimulant withdrawal are:

  • Depression and dysphoria
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Aching muscles

People who are experiencing stimulant withdrawal are likely to feel intense cravings after stopping heavy usage pretty soon after. They might also experience suicidal thoughts and intense depressive states, so monitoring someone in this state is helpful to keep a close eye on their behaviors.

What Are Treatment Options for Withdrawal?

If you are looking to get yourself or a loved one into treatment for their substance use, you or your loved one will, unfortunately, need to go through the withdrawal process.

When you are going through a detoxification program, you are monitored throughout your detox so that you can be as comfortable as possible. The professionals a part of these programs are focused on keeping you safe and helping you get better.

During a detoxification process, you are equipped with both psychiatric and medical support to get you through the withdrawal. If you are eligible, you will be treated through a medically assisted treatment (MAT) program, during which doctors can administer Methadone or Buprenex to you. With a monitored detoxification process, you have access to medical professionals who can assist you when you need it.

What Are Tips To Cope With Withdrawal?

If you are experiencing withdrawal, being in a facility is your best option, but there are ways to help cope with the symptoms of withdrawal. Of course, asking for help can be difficult but it’s necessary. Other ways to cope with withdrawal include:

  • Drinking plenty of water. Many symptoms of withdrawal can lead to dehydration. It’s important that you are drinking water throughout the withdrawal period to try to reduce some of the symptoms like headaches and fatigue.
  • Eat nutritious meals. It might be difficult, but focusing on what you are eating can help to improve your mood. You might be irritable and tired, so eating fatty and sugary foods will only bring you down. Instead eat plenty of vegetables and fruits to keep your energy and water-take up.
  • Try to get out and exercise. Depending on how bad your symptoms are, you can try to get up and exercise a bit. Even if you are just stretching and doing some yoga, your body will thank you. If you can go out and walk around, that might be even better.
  • Don’t fight your sleep. You will likely be experiencing fatigue, so catching up on sleep can only help. Don’t feel bad about lounging around and just getting through it.
  • Spend time with people who care. Let people who love you watch over you. If you aren’t in a treatment facility, you can look for help from your friends. Asking for some accountability to be made can be difficult but well worth it.

Working on managing your stress and cravings is not an easy task. You can try different self-care acts like meditation, journaling, art, or reading to take your mind off of the withdrawal symptoms as well. Anything to get you focused on improving your life and avoiding substances!

Getting Help With Soba

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder and are seeking help, reach out to a representative at Soba Recovery Centers.

With two locations, one in Mesa, Arizona, and San Antonio, Texas, you can receive professional treatment whenever you need it. Having 24-hour professional monitoring can ensure that you recover as easily as possible.

Going through the withdrawal process on your own can be dangerous and very difficult. When you receive treatment at Soba, you don’t have to worry about going through withdrawal alone. Our detoxification process is fully monitored so that you can access assistance at any point. We understand the difficulties that surround withdrawal and don’t believe that you should be alone through the process.

Get help today and access a better future for yourself tomorrow.


Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA

Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & Treatment | DrugAbuse.com

Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn The Facts | CDC

What Happens In Drug Rehab?

If you or a loved one are wondering about entering a drug rehab program, you likely are interested in how they function.

What do you do all day? What kind of programs are you able to participate in? Understanding your options can make the process less stressful and more impactful.

Getting help for a substance use disorder in a treatment facility means you receive around-the-clock addiction treatment and care from medically trained professionals. This kind of treatment is recommended for people who have been struggling with drug addiction long-term and can’t seem to get out of their substance abuse on their own.

When you get into drug rehab, they don’t just help you stop using drugs; they also help you understand why you might be turning to drugs and what you can do to overcome your substance use. Drug rehab facilities incorporate a variety of therapies to get down to the bottom of your addiction and help you make changes for the better.

What Is the Process of Drug Rehab?

Getting into a drug rehab process will look very similar regardless of what facility you are at. You’ll want to reach out to a representative and discuss their substance abuse treatment options before signing up. Finding a treatment center that will work with you to get you help is the ultimate goal.

Intake Form

When you first get to a drug or alcohol rehab center, you will go through an intake process.

During this process, the rehab center will be able to get an overall idea of your substance use, medical history, family history, and social background. This information gives the facility a better understanding of you as a person and what kind of treatment program you are looking for.


Once you have undergone the intake process, your doctors and nurses at the facility will decide what treatment methods are best for you. Likely, they will want you to go through the detoxification process.

If you are using substances actively, the detoxification process will clean out the substances from your body. Unfortunately, this detoxification process brings along withdrawal symptoms and cravings that can be very uncomfortable.

When you go through the detoxification process in drug rehab, you are able to stay monitored and have continuing healthcare for your safety. Having 24-hour monitoring means you can get help when you need it. There is always a doctor or nurse on call who can assist you at any time, and they want to!

Treatment: Inpatient or Outpatient

Once you have finished the detoxification process, which could be anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, the staff at the drug rehab will work with you to make a treatment plan. Depending on the severity of your substance use, your doctors might recommend inpatient or outpatient programs.

Inpatient programs will keep you on 24-hour monitoring. If you are able to take time off to go into inpatient treatment, it can be very helpful in recovery. Inpatient programs involve healthcare experts who will work with you on a strict timeline to get you back on track and focused on recovery.

Outpatient rehab programs require you to come to the treatment facility but allow you to go home afterward. This is great for people who can’t take time off of work, who have families that they need to be there for, or who who simply may not need an inpatient program to overcome their struggles. Outpatient rehab allows you to have a space for a community outside of your family with people who are going through similar struggles while still allowing you to follow your normal routines to an extent.

What Is a Typical Day in Inpatient Rehab?

When you are in an inpatient program, you will have a strict schedule to follow. The day might look like this:

7:00 AM: Wake up, have breakfast, and take any medication needed

8:00 AM: Take showers, get ready for the day

9:00 AM: Morning group therapy session

10:30 AM: Personal time

11:00 AM: Individual therapy session

12:00 AM: Lunchtime

1:00 PM: Afternoon activities – exercise, art, games

3:00 PM: Afternoon group therapy session

4:30 PM: Personal time

5:00 PM: Dinner

7:00 PM: 12-step meetings

8:00 PM: Evening group therapy session

9:00 PM: Personal time

11:00 PM: Bedtime

While in inpatient care, you will go through several different therapy sessions, both group and individual. This will allow you to get to the bottom of your own issues one-on-one with a therapist, as well as gain a sense of community with other individuals who are struggling with similar issues.

Inpatient therapy is a great time for you to focus on yourself with no guilt. This is a time for you to get better, so make the most of it!

The amount of time you spend inpatient will vary depending on the severity of your substance use. You and your providers will know when it’s time for you to transfer to outpatient treatment.

What Is a Typical Day in Outpatient Rehab?

When you are a part of an outpatient program, you have a bit more freedom to come and go, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a schedule you need to follow. Outpatient programs can vary in their start times, but mid-morning will likely be your first group therapy session.

A day in outpatient might look something like this:

10:00 AM: You arrive to the facility for your group therapy session

12:00 PM: You break for lunch

2:00 PM: Individual therapy sessions

And then you are sent off for the day! Outpatient programs might not take up as much of your day, but they can take a bit longer because you will need to split your treatment up.

With intensive outpatient programs, you are able to keep somewhat of your outside life normal, being able to go to work and take care of your family while undergoing treatment. This gives you the best of both worlds.

Getting Help with Soba

If you or a loved one are interested in entering a drug rehab facility, consider calling a representative from Soba Recovery Centers.

With two separate locations, Mesa, AZ, and San Antonio, TX, you can get addiction help when you need it and however best it will work for you. You can discuss with our staff what kind of treatment might be best for you before making any decisions.

After you go through the intake process, we will have a better understanding of what your needs are. We can craft a treatment plan with you catered to your individual needs so that you have the best shot of recovery.

Throughout your treatment, you will have our support and resources available to you at all times. With insightful group therapy, meaningful individual therapy, medically-assisted therapy (MAT), and full detoxification, Soba Recovery can help you achieve and maintain the life you deserve.

Addiction recovery can be a long and scary journey, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. You can find help from people who are trained to assist you and want to see you thrive. With help from Soba Recovery Centers, you can get your life back into your control.


NIMH » Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders | NIMH

Pharmacological Strategies For Detoxification | NCBI

Benefits Of Peer Support Groups In The Treatment Of Addiction | NCBI