Substance Abuse

substance abuse treatment san diego

Substance abuse is the act of illicit drugs or using legal substances in a harmful manner. It’s not necessarily the same as addiction. Individuals who abuse substances can change their unhealthy behaviors and quit abusing substances. Addiction is a disease, meaning it has no cure, and a person can’t stop even when it is causing great harm. The one thing they have in common is that treatment is the best course of action to change the harmful behaviors. 

Facts About Substance Abuse in San Diego

Illicit drugs are widely available in San Diego, mainly because Mexico is only 17 miles away. People often smuggle drugs in from Mexico and South America, making drug trafficking prevalent in the city. In the 1990’s San Diego was known as the “meth capital of the world”. With education, prevention, and treatment, the numbers started decreasing. 

But, over the last five years, meth use has been on the rise. Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin are other commonly smuggled drugs into San Diego. Alcohol, methamphetamines, heroin, and marijuana are the four top addictions treated in San Diego. 

Methamphetamines killed 483 individuals in San Diego in 2018. That is an increase in fatalities from the 2016 fatality total of 377. Reports show that methamphetamines are stronger, cheaper, and still infiltrating San Diego. 

In 2016, there were 253 opiate overdose deaths in San Diego. Deaths increased to 285 in 2017. Fentanyl’s increase on the streets is rising fatal overdoses because Fentanyl is 30 to 100 times more potent than heroin. 

San Diego is known as the “Booziest City in America” because more money is spent on alcohol per household than any other city in America. In 2016 an average of $850 per household was spent on alcohol, and in 2017 it went up to $1112. That’s a 30% increase. 110 people died due to alcohol abuse in 2016. 

Prescription drug abuse in 2018 caused 246 fatalities. Of those overdose fatalities, 210 of them were caused by prescription opiates. Emergency medical personnel in San Diego administered Naloxone (an opioid overdose antidote) 2,113 times in 2018. The numbers are on the rise from 1,903 times in 2017. 

Commonly Abused Substances

Abused substances produce a form of intoxication that alters a person’s judgment, perception, attention, and physical control. Many substances have withdrawal effects when consumption decreases or stops. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from mild anxiety to seizures and hallucinations. Drug overdoses can be fatal or can leave a person mentally and physically impaired. 

Nearly all abused drugs can lead to tolerance, which causes a person to use more of the drug to produce the original effects. The more a person uses, and the longer a person uses drugs, the higher the tolerance. This can quickly lead to substance abuse and the downward spiral of addiction. The following is a list of commonly abused substances:


Many people have a drink after a long day as a “pick me up,’ but alcohol depresses the brain. Alcohol lessens inhibitions, slurs speech, and decreases muscle control and coordination. Prolonged use of alcohol can lead to addiction and serious health issues. 

Withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

The combination of withdrawal and malnutrition can lead to a life-threatening condition called delirium tremens (DTs). The abuse of alcohol is the leading cause of liver failure in the United States. Alcohol can also cause an enlarged heart and cancer of the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas. Beyond the health impact of alcohol, it is blamed for nearly half of all fatal motor vehicle accidents. 


Heroin, also called dope or smack, is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine. This drug can be a white or brown powder or can be a sticky black tar. Most individuals smoke or snort heroin, but some people inject it. Consumption by injection is the most dangerous way to consume it. Injecting heroin can make it easier to overdose or catch a disease from a dirty needle. 

Heroin travels to the brain quickly, no matter how it is consumed. This makes it highly addictive even after a couple of uses. After a person uses heroin, they get a rush of happiness, and the world slows down. The effects of heroin can last for hours. Effects can include:

Withdrawal symptoms can begin a few hours after the last dose. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

Significant symptoms of withdrawal typically peak within 48 hours and fade away after a week. Though some individuals report lasting withdrawal symptoms for months and even years, heroin addiction can grab ahold of an individual and control every minute of their day.


The street names for cocaine include crack, coke, snow, bow, or rock. Cocaine is derived from the coca plant in South America. Cocaine can be swallowed, smoked, snorted, or injected. The intensity and duration of the euphoric effects of cocaine depend on the way it is consumed.

The desired effects of cocaine include pleasure and alertness. The effects of cocaine include:

Acute withdrawal symptoms from cocaine can last 7 to 10 days and can cause cravings years after recovery. Cocaine withdrawals can cause physical discomfort, but the withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological. Withdrawal symptoms can include:


Methamphetamines have street names like meth, crank, ice, speed, and crystal meth. The use of meth has continued to rise over the years, especially in the west. Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that gives a sensation of pleasure, increases alertness, and decreases appetite. 

Meth can be smoked, eaten, snorted, or injected. Meth and cocaine share the same toxic effects. These effects include heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. Methamphetamines can cause severe and sometimes fatal withdrawal symptoms that include:


Inhalants are substances, including solvents, that emit vapors that cause intoxication when inhaled. Individuals who use inhalants breathe in the vapors either directly from the container, from a bag, or from a rag soaked in the substance. Intoxication from inhalants comes on quickly but leaves just as quick. 

The abuse of inhalants is called “huffing.” 58% of those who abuse inhalants, reported their first use was in 9th grade. Teens who abuse inhalants are six times more likely to develop dependence than those who start later in life. 

Symptoms of inhalant intoxication are similar to that of alcohol and include:

Inhalant abuse can result in chemical burns, withdrawal symptoms, mental illness, and death. Long-term use can cause damage to the brain, nerves, heart, liver, and kidneys. It is vital to seek help for inhalant abuse immediately to reduce the damage to the brain and the body.


Marijuana is also known as grass, pot, weed, and herb. This substance is the most commonly used federally illegal drug abused in America. The active ingredient is the Cannabis plant is called THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and causes the euphoric effects of marijuana. Hashish or marijuana resin contains a higher concentration of THC.

Individuals who use marijuana usually smoke it. But this drug can also be eaten. In states like California, where it is legal, a person can obtain marijuana in various forms. Common effects of marijuana include pleasure, relaxation, and impaired memory and coordination. 

Marijuana is often the first drug an individual tries. At one time, people thought that marijuana use led to a more serious drug problem. But research has shown that theory is highly debatable. 

Synthetic marijuana or K2 can be consumed like marijuana. The health risks are much higher with synthetic marijuana. Some synthetic marijuana can be more potent and lead to a higher risk of delirium, strokes, and seizures. 

Club Drugs

The club scene and rave parties have popularized an assortment of drugs. Young people believe these drugs are safe since they only use them when they are partying. The following are the most common club drugs plaguing the party scene. 


Ecstasy is a stimulant and hallucinogen. Some may refer to it as MDMA, X, E, and Adam. Individuals use this substance to improve their mood and maintain energy. Even using one time can lead to seizure inducing fevers. Long-term use damages the brain’s ability to regulate sleep, pain, memory, and emotions. 


Also called Liquid XTC, G, and blue nitro, GHB was once sold in health food stores. Depending on the amount consumed, effects can vary from mild relaxation to coma or death. People commonly refer to GHB as the “date rape” drug because it is colorless, odorless, and is a strong sedative. 


Rohypnol is known as roofies, which is also used as a “date rape” drug. Effects include dizziness, low blood pressure, stomach cramps, confusion, and impaired memory. 


Special K or Ketamine is an anesthetic that can be injected or taken orally. Ketamine can impair memory and attention. Higher doses can cause hallucinations, paranoia, amnesia, depression, and difficulty breathing. 


LSD, or acid and mushrooms, became popular in the 1960s. Their popularity is growing again due to the club scene. The effects of LSD and mushrooms include:


PCP is also called angel dust, hog, and love boat. The effects of PCP are similar to Ketamine but much stronger. The anesthetic effects are so powerful that a person can break their arm and not feel it. 

Prescription Drugs

The abuse of prescription drugs is taking more medication than prescribed or taking a medication without a prescription. It is estimated that over 18 million people 12 and over abused prescription drugs. That is more than 6% of the US population. 


Studies on the abuse of prescription stimulants show more than 5 million Americans misuse prescription stimulants. Stimulants can be taken orally, snorted, or injected. Stimulants work by increasing the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The increase in these chemicals improves concentration and reduces fatigue in individuals with ADHD.

Some well-known prescription stimulants include:
The effects of prescription stimulants include:

Withdrawal symptoms from prescription stimulants can be both physical and psychological and can vary from moderate to severe. The psychological symptoms of withdrawal can be extremely severe, causing individuals to be violent or suicidal. It is strongly recommended to seek a medical detox program to reduce the symptoms of stimulant withdrawal. 

Symptoms include:

Sleeping Pills 

Many people treat short-term insomnia with sleeping pills without any issues. But, some individuals become dependent on sleeping pills and can become addicted. People who use sleeping pills assume they are safe even though they can’t sleep without them. 

Common sleeping pills include: 

When a person stops taking sleeping pills, then withdrawal symptoms begin. Common symptoms of sleeping pill withdrawal include:


Opiates or opioid painkillers include hydrocodone, Fentanyl, and morphine. Some prescription opiates are derived right from the poppy plant while others are made in a lab. Individuals use prescription opioids to treat moderate to severe pain. Common prescription opioids include:

Opioids also make people feel relaxed and “high,” making them a high risk for addiction. Besides helping with pain, opioids can have some harmful effects, including:

People who are addicted to opioids and who stop taking the drug can have severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can start just a few hours after the last dose and can include the following. 

A medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program is highly beneficial for individuals in a successful recovery. 


Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are prescribed for a variety of mental health disorders. Benzos treat anxiety, panic attacks, epileptic seizures, and even for alcohol withdrawal. When a person can’t get a prescription or used all their pills before the refill date can easily find benzos on the street. 

Common benzodiazepines include:

Many people who abuse benzos crush and snort their pills; this can increase the potency and increase the likelihood of overdose. Common symptoms of benzo overdose include seizures and coma. 

Withdrawal symptoms can affect those who take benzos as prescribed as well as those who abuse them. It is extremely dangerous to stop benzos “cold-turkey.” Withdrawal symptoms can be physically and psychologically painful and even life-threatening. Symptoms will vary depending on the amount taken and the length of use. 

The most common symptoms of benzo withdrawal include:

Causes and Risk Factors of Substance Abuse

The use and abuse of drugs and alcohol can start as early as childhood or teen years. There is a variety of factors that can lead a person to abuse substances. 

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

An individual’s friends and family members may be the first to see the signs of substance abuse. The earlier substance abuse is recognized and treated, the higher the chance of continued sobriety. Signs and symptoms of substance abuse include the following:

When to Seek Help for Substance Abuse

If you or someone you love is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, it is vital to seek help. A doctor can help find community addiction resources. The doctor may also be able to prescribe medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. A call to the doctor is recommended if any of the following symptoms occur.

It is crucial to seek emergency help if an overdose is expected. Symptoms that need emergency attention include:

Assessment for Substance Abuse Treatment

There is no one test to establish a diagnosis of substance abuse, but there are screening tools. Healthcare professionals assess the results of mental health, medical, and family history. Some assessments include a physical exam, including bloodwork, to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may mimic a mental health disorder. 

It is common for mental health disorders to be present in those with substance abuse disorder. Assessment for substance abuse will include screening for the following mental health disorders.

When individuals suffer both a mental health disorder and an addiction, it is called a dual diagnosis. It is crucial to recovery that the whole person is treated. Without treating the co-occurring conditions, the chances of relapse are high.

About Treatment for Substance Abuse

Many individuals who abuse substances genuinely believe they can quit on their own. But, the majority of those people are not successful. Many substances that are abused have horrible withdrawal symptoms, some of them even fatal. 

Because of the risks of withdrawal from substances such as opiates and alcohol, a medical detox program is often the initial stage of the recovery process. A medical detox program can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and reduce the cravings that can lead to relapse. This type of program typically lasts 7 to 10 days and is commonly performed in an inpatient environment.

After the completion of medical detox, it is crucial to enter a drug treatment program. There are different treatment options based on personal needs and the substance that is being abused. Inpatient treatment may be the best option for those battling chronic addiction and those with co-occurring disorders. Individuals live at the treatment facility and are under 24/7 supervision. 

Outpatient treatment can be delivered in a doctor’s office or other clinical settings. This type of treatment is the least intensive form of treatment and is usually the last stage of treatment. Individuals can stay in outpatient treatment for years to support their recovery.

Types of Treatment

Intensive Outpatient Treatment is more intensive than outpatient treatment. Individuals spend approximately 4 to 6 hours a day in individual and group therapies. 

Research shows that long-term substance abuse alters brain functions and produces ongoing cravings that can last weeks, months, and even years. Even after years in recovery, cravings can get strong enough to cause a relapse. The main focus of any treatment is preventing relapse. 

Treatment of substance abuse and co-occurring disorders often requires treatment in an inpatient treatment program. Many factors are taken into consideration when choosing between inpatient and outpatient treatment, including the substance that was abused and the risk of relapse. In treatment, a therapist or psychologist will provide strategies and tools to cope with stressors and cravings without relapsing.  

Therapies Used in Substance Abuse Treatment

Treatment for substance abuse typically consists of individual and group therapy sessions. The sessions focus on the skills needed to stay sober and avoid triggers that can lead to relapse. Behavioral therapies are the most common treatment component of recovery. There are a variety of behavioral therapies that are used in substance abuse treatment. 

Drug Treatment in San Diego at Refresh Recovery

There is a multitude of drug treatment centers in San Diego. At Refresh Recovery in San Diego, we stand out for our revolutionary approach to substance abuse. We offer evidence-based treatment led by addiction and mental health professionals.

Our drug treatment center in San Diego offers various treatments, including holistic techniques, psychological therapies, and medical care, to treat a range of addictions. If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse or co-occurring disorders, it is crucial to seek treatment. Contact us today and find out how Refresh Recovery in San Diego can help you obtain and maintain a life of sobriety.