Impacts of Substance Use

Substance use may have negative impacts on health, personal relationships and overall wellbeing. Some of these impacts are viewed by society as being more “normal” or “acceptable,” such as missing work because of a hangover, while other impacts are seen as more serious or unacceptable, such as being charged for a DUI, or losing one’s job.

Individuals living with addictions deserve to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. The WGDS believes that we all play an important role in responding to these issues together. Understanding how substances impact us and making informed choices about the substances we use is critical to our health and wellbeing.

Depressed Drug Addict

What is Substance Dependence or Addiction?

If we use a substance repeatedly, our bodies and brains become habituated to it.  Over  time, if we are using a substance frequently,  to get the desired impact from the drug we need to use more of it. The term for this is “tolerance” – it happens with any substance whether it is legal (alcohol, cannabis, tobacco) or illegal (fentanyl, crystal meth, or cocaine).

Tolerance sets the stage for using more and more of the substance, typically with reduced positive impacts.  Cravings for the substance drive us to use it compulsively, until the point where we no longer experience control over whether or not we consume it. When we are caught in a  problematic cycle of use, it is called substance use dependence or addiction.

After developing dependence on a substance, we go into withdrawal when we don’t use it. In the case of caffeine, withdrawal might look like a headache and lethargy.  However, with some drugs, acute withdrawal is very intense, prolonged, and unpleasant. People who have experienced it typically have no desire to ever do so again, which locks them into a cycle of ongoing use.   In order to avoid withdrawal, the person using the substance, needs to consume it regularly. Taking a day off from substance use is not an option.

If the drug we are dependent on is one that is purchased on the unregulated market and we are locked into using it even though it presents a potentially lethal risk, we are caught in a high-risk cycle of use.  Either that, or we experience withdrawal. It’s a lose/lose situation.

How do people recover from Substance Dependence or Addiction?

Recovery from substance dependence or addiction looks different to different people. But what recovery has in common for everyone is the ability to regain functional control over key areas of their lives, such as work, relationships, parenting and leisure activities.

Some people select to abstain form using a substance or all substances. Others utilize harm reduction practices that moderate their use of one or more substances so that they manage the impacts of the substances they use. Depending on each individual’s goals, either approach can be effective.

If you are interested in obtaining more information about specific drugs, research findings and drug policy we recommend the following reliable sources of information:

To learn about projects that the WGDS and its partners have undertaken in relationship to specific substances, please review the following:

Man opening beer bottle
Alcohol Resources
Woman with pills in hand
Opioids Resources
Dries Marijuana in a Man's Hand
Cannabis Resources
Crystal Meth
Crystal Meth Resources