Drug dependence and substance abuse

The causes of drug dependence are many and varied and frequently include psychological factors, problems or disorders.


The causes of drug dependence are many and varied and frequently include psychological factors, problems or disorders. It is characterised by an irresistible craving for a specific substance, withdrawal symptoms and the development of a high tolerance for the substance in question. Drug users and their families are advised to contact a counselling centre.


Drug high
  • False perceptions (delusions and hallucinations)
  • Various physical symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, movement disorders
  • “Horror trip” with anxiety, delirium, painful muscle cramps, heart arrhythmia and breathing problems
  • Irresistible craving for a substance
  • Problems with self-control
  • Can develop after just a short time
  • Continued use in spite of causing obvious harm
Withdrawal symptoms
  • Sweating attacks, racing heart, muscle cramps
  • Sleep disorders, fears, terrifying fantasies/hallucinations
  • Vicious circle (treatment of withdrawal symptoms by renewed use of substance
  • Tolerance development
  • Increased amounts are needed to achieve the desired effect
Physical and psychological consequences
  • Depression, lack of interest, loss of motivation, anxiety disorders
  • Physical (depending on the substance, its degree of impurity and social status)
  • Social
    • Loss of job and interpersonal contact
    • Drop in social status
    • Drug-related crime and prostitution

Causes and treatment


The causes of drug dependence are multi-faceted and frequently include psychological factors, problems or disorders:

  • To reduce frustration or boredom
  • To enjoy ecstatic feelings of freedom or power
  • To expand consciousness or improve performance capacity
  • To escape into a fantasy world and forget everyday problems
  • Copying others, group dynamics (“peer pressure”)
  • Pain, sleep disorders, anxiety or fatigue

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • General physical examination
  • Blood test (incl. blood salts, liver/kidney function, measurement of drug level if necessary)
Possible therapies
  • Controlled administration of the substance or a replacement substance
  • Withdrawal and subsequent weaning
  • Treatment of physical, psychological and social problems

What can I do myself?

  • Categorically refuse to use drugs
  • Visit a counselling centre for drug users and their families
  • Support young people and their families during difficult periods in their lives
  • Set a good example as a parent
  • Provide educational information about drugs, their risks, dangers and consequences
  • Attend self-help groups

When to see a doctor?

  • Generally for dependence, in particular if there are withdrawal symptoms
  • If you wish therapy and are motivated to change
  • Acute and severe poisoning (immediate emergency help is needed)

Further information

Selbsthilfe Schweiz (Self-Help Support Switzerland)

Addiction prevention and counselling services in all cantons

Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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