Imagine Health

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

For many people, having a drink is a nice way to relax at the end of a long day or is enjoyed in the company of friends. For others, drinking alcohol can be more problematic. Alcohol and/or substance abuse occurs when a person consumes these substances in such amounts or in such a way that is harmful to themselves or to others.  In addition, other substances may include cannabis, cocaine, opioids or benzodiazepines. In extreme cases, a person may find that they are losing control over their lives, relationships break down, they lose their jobs or even become homeless. While in other cases, the symptoms of substance abuse are not always obvious or apparent, but the effects are just as damaging.

What leads to alcohol and substance abuse?

When someone ingests a drug, the communication systems within their brain are disrupted. This can have a number of effects, depending on what the drug is. In many cases, the drug influences the “reward circuit” of the brain. Since the brain is very vulnerable to these substances, alcohol and substance abuse is a complex issue and there are often a variety of reasons behind it. In many cases there are a number of factors at play, including biological, social, psychological and genetic factors.

Once a person begins abusing substances, a viscous circle forms. Over time, biological changes can result in a physical dependency on the substance. This can result in withdrawal symptoms, which are often alleviated by consuming higher quantities of the substance. This can then lead to additional problems in the person’s life. The substance can sometimes be a coping mechanism for people. A key issue at present is binge drinking among younger age groups. This is where individuals consume a large quantity of alcohol in a short space of time. Binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse. Although it may seem harmless, there a number of potentially harmful effects which may result, especially if it occurs frequently. Such abuse can often be associated with mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, binge drinking results in disinhibited behaviour, and therefore increases the risks of engaging in potentially dangerous behaviour.

Seeking help

If you find that others are worried about your habits, or that you yourself are worried or feel guilty, then it may be helpful to seek out help and support. There are a number of support services available, depending on the nature of the substance abuse or addiction.

Sometimes, the first step to take may be simply reaching out to someone you trust, like a friend or relative. A psychologist trained and experienced in the field of alcohol and substance abuse may be beneficial. The individual can identify the causes of their behaviour and set out to change these behaviour patterns. A tailored program to the individual may explore different approaches and interventions which can help them develop appropriate coping skills and support systems. Social supports within the community such as Alcoholics Anonymous, show to be very effective in reducing alcohol abuse among participants. For more information and support services, checkout the list below.


Written by Shane Mac Sweeney