Substance Abuse

Substance use disorders generally involve behavior patterns in which people continue to use a substance despite having problems caused by its use.

The substances involved tend to be members of the 10 classes of drug that typically cause substance-related disorders:

These substances all directly activate the brain’s reward system and produce feelings of pleasure. The activation may be so strong that people intensely crave the substance. They may neglect normal activities to obtain and use the drug.

During treatment of medical illness or following surgical or dental procedures, people are routinely prescribed opioids. If people do not take the whole amount prescribed, the drugs sometimes end up in the hands of people who wish to use them recreationally. Because the use of these drugs for nonmedical purposes has become such a large problem, many health care providers have responded by

  • Prescribing lower amounts of opioid drugs
  • Encouraging people to safely store or dispose of any leftover drugs

Expanding prescription take-back programs


  • Varies depending on substance and circumstances

Chronic Pain Does More Than Just Hurt

Specific treatment depends on the drug being used, but it typically involves counseling and sometimes involves use of other drugs. Family support and support groups help people remain committed to stopping use of the drug.

Because sharing needles is a common cause of HIV infection, a harm-reduction movement was started. Its purpose is to reduce the harm of drug use in users who cannot stop. Thus, users are provided clean needles and syringes so they do not reuse others’ needles. This strategy helps reduce the spread (and the cost to society) of HIV infection and hepatitis.