Substance abuse can be a complex or a very simple subject, depending on who you talk to. It seems very obvious to most of us when we see it, but any closer examination will reveal that there are indeed multiple variations that lead very quickly into complexity. We’ll look at some very general definitions of substance abuse so we can get a sense of what some of the generally accepted notions really are. This should help open up some ideas about treatment and help for those who fall into the category of abusers.
On a very simple level, then, ‘what is substance abuse’ would be the use of an illicit drug or other substance for purposes other than which is was intended. This includes the continued use after there are dangers to the user, or the people around them. This is a very basic definition that has multiple problems. It would seem, of course, that many illicit drugs are intended for illicit purposes, and under this framework, then, there would seem to be no problem. However, the point of endangerment is really the crux of the issue, and this is where so much attention is placed on the issue of drugs and alcohol abuse. It wouldn’t be the problem that it is if there weren’t obvious negative effects on society at large. This gives some weight to the other side of the argument that the addict is only harming herself or himself, when it’s obvious that this is simply not true.
It’s perhaps more difficult than it needs to be if we keep the word substance as a general term that can be rather innocuous. Because we are all radically affected by chemistry in many forms, and because we are composed of chemicals ourselves, then anything that we use for any purpose could be considered a substance. This can be food, spices, scents, and even water. It might seem, then, that anything could hold potential for abuse. Perhaps that’s true, and under these definitions, water could be abused if someone were to drink it to the point where they were drowning themselves. Somewhere, a line gets crossed, and the line can be fuzzy, but it’s difficult to deny it once you have crossed it, and that’s the point where it’s necessary to get help.