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Substance Abuse
5 minutes

Different Types of Substance Abuse & How To Get Help With a Substance Abuse Disorder

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: July 5, 2022
Glass of alcohol

Updated on

2 Jul, 2022

People often use substances to relax, unwind, or otherwise enjoy themselves, and this presents a danger when hazardous and illegal substances are used. But more and more people every day are developing a substance abuse disorder with any number of legal substances as well.

While not always obvious, there are some things that you can remember that may help you identify when someone you know or love may have developed or may be developing, a substance abuse disorder.

What Are the Different Types of Substance Abuse?

There are many types of substance abuse in the US. There are as many types as there are potentially abused substances. While some are the well-known illegal and sometimes sinister substances we all learn about in school, many commonly abused substances are sold in regular stores.

Some of the most common substances that lead to addiction include:

  • Alcohol – This is one of the most common of all substance abuse disorders. Despite being legal, it has a high potential for abuse. Alcohol abuse can result in an increased risk of several serious health issues, such as brain damage, liver damage, heart disease, and hypertension. Abuse can also lead to serious health issues related to withdrawal and behavior while intoxicated.
  • Tobacco –  Tobacco is a substance whose use goes back thousands of years, and even with all of the known dangers surrounding tobacco use, thousands of people die from tobacco abuse every year. This leafy plant contains nicotine and is the cause of most of the preventable disease and death in the U.S. Using tobacco even raises the risk of cancer and countless other diseases. Nicotine detox can be very uncomfortable, which makes it difficult to stop using tobacco.
  • Opioids – Opioids are one of the most commonly abused legal and illegal substances. Opioids are a class of depressants and pain relievers.  It is abused in both illicit forms like heroin, but also in its legal form as opiate pharmaceuticals. They include codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. The physical dependence created by opioids can be incredibly severe and abuse can cause respiratory depression and death.
  • Stimulants – This group of substances includes amphetamines and cocaine. These drugs are commonly abused by those looking for more energy, alertness, or productivity. They can even be misused dietary prescriptions. Abuse leads to hyperthermia, hostility, mood swings, seizures, psychosis, and heart failure.
  • Hallucinogens – Hallucinogens are substances that alter the perception of reality, and distort the sense of the user. This type of substance includes illegal drugs such as MDMA, PCP, LSD, DMT, as well as in mushrooms, cacti, and trees in the natural world. Hallucinogen and designer drug side effects include dissociative episodes, unpredictability, and upon withdrawals, depression.
  • Cannabis – Found in many legal medicinal and recreational markets across the country, cannabis is largely becoming as accepted as alcohol and tobacco. Cannabis abuse can lead to loss of motivation and changes in perception and cognition.

Types of Behavior Associated With Substance Abuse

Substance abuse disorders can vary significantly but are made up of not only the use of illegal, illicit, or otherwise controlled substances, but also the misuse or abuse of legal substances like nicotine, alcohol, and legitimately prescribed pharmaceuticals. The official symptoms of Substance Abuse Disorders as given by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) are:

  1. Having a strong urge to use a given substance
  2. Spending large amounts of time either obtaining, using, or recovering from the use of the substance
  3. Developing a tolerance for the substance, where increasingly large amounts of the substance are needed to accomplish the same effect
  4. Stopping or heavily decreasing social, work, or recreational activities due to the substance use
  5. Using larger amounts over a longer time than intended
  6. Continuing to use despite it harming interpersonal relationships
  7. Using the substance in situations where it is risky or even dangerous
  8. Continuing use even when it threatens work, school, or home-related activities or duties
  9. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms during periods of extended non-use
  10. Continuing use of the substance after knowing that it has caused or worsened a physical or psychological condition
  11. Having a persistent drive to stop using the substance, and trying to reduce or control its use

While it may seem difficult to evaluate all of those conditions, there are other ways to tell if addiction may be at play.

Some signs of addiction may include:

  • Sudden changes in personality or regular behavior. This can include agitation, irritability, lack of motivation, or mood swings.
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Frequent bloody noses
  • Tremors, shakes, or other lack of muscular control
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in long time routines
  • Falling standards of hygiene
  • Loss of previously steady employment
  • Need for money or other financial problems
  • Suddenly having new or different friends, and not maintaining the relationships with their other friends

How to Get Help with Different Types of Substance Abuse

If you or someone you know or love may have an issue with substance abuse, there are likely underlying physical or mental issues that may need to be addressed before any long-term treatment will be effective. The first step to getting help for someone with a substance abuse problem is to have them talk to someone about the issue. This can be a family member, a medical professional, or even a close friend.

Often, simply talking openly and honestly about the substance abuse issue at hand can be the event that convinces them to take action and seek help. This understanding can also pay dividends during treatment since treatment is always more effective if the patient understands and agrees with the need for it.

Working with an inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment facility like Infinite Recovery can also be incredibly helpful in both treating the physical and psychological addiction, as well as helping to determine any possible root cause for abusive tendencies. They can help you work through your substance abuse in a healthy way that facilitates long-term success.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, the time to get help is now. Reach out to us today, and we can answer any questions you may have and help point you in the direction of a more fulfilling future free from addiction, right now.


Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Hartney E. The Symptoms Used to Diagnose Substance Use Disorders. Verywell Mind. Published March 21, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2022.
  2. Scott PS. Signs of Drug Addiction. WebMD. Published January 27, 2021. Accessed July 5, 2022.

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Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being a mother to two beautiful children.

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