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Alcohol and Substance Abuse: The Symptoms, Causes, and Effects

Updated: Jan 15

When you think of someone who struggles with alcohol or substance abuse, you probably picture a homeless man living on the street, or an unkempt woman panhandling for change. You don’t picture someone like you. But the fact is that people from all walks of life struggle with alcohol and substance abuse. That includes successful and smart individuals from all different social classes. Substance abuse doesn’t care about your education, your job, your home ownership status, or anything else; it can affect anyone at any time. To help you understand what it means to have a dependence on alcohol or another substance, we’ve outlined some of the common signs and symptoms of alcohol and substance abuse. If you recognize yourself in any of these points, or you have been ordered by a court to take an alcohol and substance abuse class, go to and enroll in one of our alcohol and substance abuse courses today.

Substance Abuse Basics

First, let’s talk about what substance abuse is, and what it isn’t. When people talk about substance abuse, they’re generally talking about two different things: Substance Abuse and Substance Use Disorders. Let’s break down what each of these terms mean. Substance abuse is the milder form of substance misuse. People who are engaging in substance abuse aren’t necessarily abusing multiple substances, or at least they haven’t been diagnosed with a substance use disorder. It’s also possible that substance abuse is occurring among people who are prescribed medication. For example, if you take pain medication as prescribed but find that you’re taking more than necessary, you may be engaging in substance abuse. Substance use disorders, on the other hand, are more serious. A substance use disorder is diagnosed when someone engages in substance abuse on a repeated basis, and that abuse leads to significant mental or physical harm. Someone who has a substance use disorder also exhibits a persistent desire to engage in substance use, even when that use causes harm to themselves or others.

Alcohol Abuse Symptoms

When someone drinks too much alcohol, they’re drinking in a way that is potentially harmful to their health. But not all heavy drinking is necessarily a sign of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. To be diagnosed with alcohol abuse, you must be drinking at a level that is potentially harmful to your health, and you must be aware of the potential risks of drinking at that level. If you continue to drink heavily even after recognizing these risks, though, you may be misusing alcohol. And if you’re experiencing multiple alcohol abuse symptoms, you may be dealing with a more serious form of substance abuse called alcohol dependence. Some common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include retching or vomiting after drinking, drinking alone, and experiencing blackouts after consuming alcohol. Many people who abuse alcohol also experience cravings for alcohol when they’re not drinking. If you have the desire to drink even when you know that drinking would be unwise, this could be a sign of a serious alcohol abuse problem.

Drug Abuse Symptoms

When someone compulsively misuses drugs, that person is abusing drugs. People who are abusing drugs may not be taking as much as someone who is misusing drugs. However, both situations can lead to an addiction. To be diagnosed with a substance use disorder due to drug abuse, you must have shown signs and symptoms of abusing drugs on a repeated basis. While the specific signs and symptoms of drug abuse will vary depending on the substance(s) in question, some common signs of drug abuse include failing to follow the instructions on your prescription, cravings for drugs, and failing to keep up with important responsibilities because of drug use. If you exhibit several of these signs and symptoms, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Waiting to get help could mean that your drug abuse leads to a substance use disorder, which can be incredibly challenging to overcome.

Co-Occurring Substance and Mental Health Disorders

Certain mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are linked to an increased risk of substance abuse. People who struggle with anxiety or depression may turn to alcohol and drugs to manage their symptoms. In other cases, people who struggle with substance abuse disorders also struggle with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. When you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, it’s important to seek treatment for any co-occurring mental health disorders as well.

How to Tell if You Have a Problem

If you recognize any of the signs and symptoms of alcohol or substance abuse in yourself, you need to get help right away. It’s never too early to seek treatment for an alcohol or substance abuse problem. In fact, the sooner you begin treatment, the more likely it is that you will be successful with your recovery. While you may think that you’re just having some harmless fun with your substance use, you could actually be putting your long-term health at risk.

Has a court ordered you to take an alcohol and substance abuse course?

If you have been required to take a course and to provide certification of your successful completion to the court, Advent eLearning is the solution you’re looking for. Our online alcohol and substance abuse course makes meeting your requirements easy and convenient. ‍

Advent eLearning courses address a variety of topics including:

Alcohol & Substance Abuse

Anger Management

Animal Care

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Conflict Resolution

Corrective Thinking

Defensive Driving

Financial Crimes

Firearm Responsibility


Hunting Responsibility

Impaired Driving

Juvenile Sexting

Life Skills




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Underage Substance

Victim Impact Panel

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