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Dr Dan Bunstone

Medically reviewed by:

Dr Dan Bunstone - Medical Officer

Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Next review: Aug 18, 2022
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Whether you're looking for a way to confront and deal with your substance abuse, or you're worried that a friend or relative is showing signs that suggest they have a problem, our GPs are here to help. Our GPs may be able to help with underlying or complicating problems, such as anxiety or depression, and can refer you to specialist support if needed.

You can get confidential, face-to-face advice on your smartphone, tablet or computer from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week.

When someone becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol to get through the day, this is a substance abuse problem.

It's a complex issue that requires very careful treatment. If someone has an issue with substance abuse, it's likely that friends and family will notice before they do.

There are various ways in which a person could display signs of substance misuse.

Physical and behavioural changes are key indicators, however, each substance has its own unique effects. There are still some common signs which are apparent with most substance misuse.

Common signs to watch for include:

Behavioural

  • Noticeable difference in behaviour
  • Changing sleeping patterns
  • Losing interest in personal hobbies
  • Complacent in personal grooming
  • Drop in attendance and performance in work or school
  • Changes in friends
  • Unexplained financial problems

Physical

  • Unusual smells on breath, body or clothing
  • Running nose
  • Red, bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Tremors, slurred speech or poor co-ordination
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Tired appearance, bags under eyes

Psychological

  • Large swings in mood (going from happy to irritable and grumpy quickly)
  • Periods of hyperactivity or agitation
  • Lack of interest in family members and relationships
  • Lack of motivation, appearing spaced out and appearing lethargic
  • Fearful, anxious or paranoid without reason

The misuse of alcohol and other substances should not be ignored. If left untreated, the person could develop drug dependence or alcoholism.

Treatment is often long-term, as addiction is classed as a chronic illness, especially for those who are addicted to drugs/medications.

It generally changes over time and is tailored to the individual. Treatment includes all aspects that are related to the problem such as medical, mental and social problems.

There are many ways in which substance abuse/addiction can be treated, however, some of the most common tactics include:

Detox: Allowing the body rid the system of the substance. This is generally carried out under supervised care to ensure the patient is safe. A gradual reduction in the drug may be required to slowly allow the body to adjust.

Treating withdrawal: Often withdrawal symptoms occur such as fatigue, depression and sleep problems. Specialist doctors may prescribe medications to help minimise the effects and allow the brain to adjust to the absence of the abused substance. Our GPs can refer you to these services if needed.

Behavioural therapy: This type of therapy can make treatment and medications more effective and help people learn how to change the way they think and cope with cravings that may push them towards a relapse.

Substance abuse often begins as a way of dealing with different situations. Initially, users may start as a way of relaxing and may even feel better in the short-term.

However, over time their habit will have a negative effect on areas of their life such as relationships, work, social lives, study and finances.

If the substance they're abusing is illegal, they may even end up in trouble with the police.

A user may begin to feel depressed, anxious, angry and frustrated as they turn to substances to help them manage these feelings. The cycle may continue each time a person is faced with the same situation or feeling.