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Substance Use

Now, let's look at substance use as a spectrum, with various stages:


You're not using at all.


You've tried substance(s) a few times, maybe out of curiosity or to see what it's like.


You use substances in social settings, perhaps with friends on the weekend. Your usage is infrequent or irregular.


Substance use is a part of your daily life and regular habits. In this stage, you may begin to develop tolerance or dependence on the substance.


Substance use is getting in the way of  your daily life and it may be negatively affecting both your physical and mental health. You might have developed tolerance or dependence on the substance, and you also might experience withdrawal if you stop using. 

First off, what is a substance/drug and how would it affect me?

Drugs are substances that change our physical or mental state, and they can be grouped based on their effects on our bodies. Stimulants, hallucinogens, and depressants are three categories of drugs; however, some drugs may fall within more than one category. Among teens and young adults, the most commonly used substances are alcohol (a depressant), marijuana (which falls within all three categories), and tobacco (which contains the stimulant nicotine). From the Australian Dept. of Health & the CDC


It's important to know that heavy use of substances while young can have serious effects on our developing brains, both short and long-term. This makes it imperative to recognize if you or a loved one may have a substance use issue, and further, to seek necessary help or treatment.  

Words to keep in mind:
  • Tolerance: If you use a substance often, you may develop a tolerance and need to increasingly use more to feel the same effect.​​

  • Dependence:

    • Physical dependence ​is when you have become tolerant to a substance, and you have negative physical symptoms (withdrawal) when you stop taking it suddenly.

    • Psychological dependence is when you think that you need the substance in order to function properly, but you are not physically dependent. 

  • Withdrawal: When you are physically dependent on a drug and stop taking it suddenly, you may have physical symptoms. However, anyone can feel the withdrawal symptoms after just one use, since our bodies are always trying to stay balanced.

  • Addiction: To some people, addiction means that a person has developed tolerance to a substance and has withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. But not all substances cause tolerance and dependence. People can also become psychologically dependent on a substance, but they do not experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop using. Because of this, it is sometimes tricky to speak of the term addiction. 


From Kelty Mental Health.

Co - Occurrence

Oftentimes, substance use issues co-occur with mental health issues. An example of this could be alcohol dependence and depression.

"As many as 60% to 75% of adolescents with substance use disorders are estimated to have a co-occuring mental illness. In some cases, substance use may begin as a strategy for self-medicating to manage psychiatric symptoms." 

From CA Health Care Foundation

Not sure where to begin? Our anonymous online screening tool is a great starting point:

Local Substance Use Resources

24/7 Suicide and Crisis Hotline: 1-855-278-4204

Confidential SUTS Youth Services Call Center: (408) 272-6518, Monday – Friday 9:00  a.m. – 6:00 p.m. 

Toll-Free Substance Use Services Call Center line (after hours): 1-800-488-9919 

Youth Substance Use Treatment FAQ from Santa Clara County 

Treatment Center Locator:

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