abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful
use of any substance for mood-altering purposes.
Medline's medical encyclopedia defines drug abuse as
"the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of
prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes
other than those for which they are indicated or in a
manner or in quantities other than directed."
But the broad range of substance abuse in today's
society is not that simple.
There are substances that can be abused for their
mood-altering effects that are not drugs at all --
inhalants and solvents -- and there are drugs that can
be abused that have no mood-altering or intoxication
properties, such as anabolic
most people talk about substance abuse, they are
referring to the use of illegal drugs.
professionals in the field of drug abuse prevention
argue that any use of illegal drugs is by definition
abuse. Those drugs got to be illegal in the first
place because they are potentially
addictive or can cause severe
negative health effects; therefore, any use of
illegal substances is dangerous and abusive.
Others argue that casual, recreational use of some
drugs is not harmful and is merely use, not abuse. The
most vocal of the proponents of recreational drug use
are those who smoke marijuana. They argue that
marijuana is not addictive and has many beneficial
qualities, unlike the "harder" drugs.
But recent research has shown that even marijuana may
have more harmful
physical, mental, and psychomotor effects than
first believed, and the National Institute on Drug
Abuse reports that marijuana users can become
psychologically dependent, and therefore addicted.
Illegal drugs are not the
only substances that can be abused. Alcohol, prescription
and over-the-counter medications, inhalants
and solvents, and even coffee and cigarettes, can all be
used to harmful excess. Theoretically, almost any substance
can be abused.
For many substances, the line between use and abuse is not
clear. Is having a couple of drinks every day after work to
unwind use or abuse? Is drinking two pots of coffee in the
morning to get your day Sritarted use or abuse? Generally in
these situations, only the individual himself can determine
where use ends and abuse begins. See Are
When it comes to illegal substances, society has
determined that their use is harmful, and has placed legal
prohibitions on their use in order to protect the individual
and to protect society from the costs involved with
healthcare resources, lost productivity, the spread of
diseases, crime and homelessness.
For a look at the drugs that are most often abused, how they
are used, their street names, and their intoxicating and
health effects see Commonly
Abused Drugs. For more detailed information and
frequently asked questions, see our section on Drugs