Risk Assessment Tool

About Drugs

What is drug abuse?

Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, is a patterned use of a substance (drug) in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others. It is excessive use of a drug (such as alcohol, narcotics, or cocaine): use of a drug without medical justification.

What is meant by Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction, also called substance dependence or chemical dependency, is a disease that is characterized by a destructive pattern of drug abuse that leads to significant problems involving tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance, as well as other problems that use of the substance can cause for the sufferer, either socially or in terms of their work or school performance.

How are various drugs consumed?
  • Orally: One of the simplest ways of taking drugs is through the mouth and allows the drugs to move onto the stomach where they are absorbed by the stomach lining and then enter the bloodstream. The most common drugs to be taken in this way are alcohol, marijuana, opium, amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms.
  • Injecting is a method of introducing a drug into the body with a hollow needle and a syringe which is pierced through the skin into the body (usually intravenous, but also intramuscular or subcutaneous). It often applies to substance dependence and recreational drug use.
  • Snuffing
  • Inhaling are a broad range of intoxicative drugs whose volatile vapours or gases are taken in via the nose and trachea.

Signs and Symptoms

How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?

Symptoms of substance use can often be spotted if risk factors for drug use have been identified. Risk factors for drug use include:

  • Easy availability of drugs
  • Drug users in the family
  • Friends who are drug users
  • An unhappy home
  • A mental illness

Other signs and symptoms of substance use include:

  • Smell of drugs on person and clothing
  • Constant discussion of drugs
  • Pressuring others to do drugs
  • Frequent washing of clothes, showering or spraying room deodorizer to remove drug smells
  • Presence of drug paraphernalia like a pipe, bong or rolling papers
  • Changes in mood such as anxiety or depression
  • Skin that is cool and sweaty or hot and dry
  • Needing more money or unexplained expenses


Medications can be used to help with different aspects of the treatment process.

Medications offer help in suppressing withdrawal symptoms during detoxification. However, medically assisted detoxification is not in itself “treatment”—it is only the first step in the treatment process. Patients who go through medically assisted withdrawal but do not receive any further treatment show drug abuse patterns similar to those who were never treated.

Treatment Medications can be used to help re-establish normal brain function and to prevent relapse and diminish cravings. Currently, we have medications for opioids (heroin, morphine), tobacco (nicotine), and alcohol addiction and are developing others for treating stimulant (cocaine, methamphetamine) and cannabis (marijuana) addiction. Most people with severe addiction problems, however, are poly drug users (users of more than one drug) and will require treatment for all of the substances that they abuse.

Outpatient behavioural treatment encompasses a wide variety of programs for patients who visit a clinic at regular intervals. Most of the programs involve individual or group drug counselling. Some programs also offer other forms of behavioural treatment such as—

  • Cognitive–behavioural therapy, which seeks to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to abuse drugs.
  • Multidimensional family therapy, which was developed for adolescents with drug abuse problems—as well as their families—addresses a range of influences on their drug abuse patterns and is designed to improve overall family functioning.
  • Motivational interviewing, which capitalizes on the readiness of individuals to change their behaviour and enter treatment.
  • Motivational incentives (contingency management), which uses positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence from drugs.