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DSST Substance Abuse Study Guide

Updated: Feb 14

DSST Substance Abuse Exam Outline

Are you preparing to take the DSST Substance Abuse exam?

If so, you'll want to check out what you can expect on the test.

Our study guide will help you understand the types of questions that will be asked and the topics covered.

With some preparation, you should be able to ace the DSST Substance Abuse exam!


Table of Contents


1. Overview of Substance Abuse and Dependency Abuse

Man passed out from substance abuse.
Overview of Substance Abuse and Dependency Abuse (10% - 12%)


Substance abuse refers to the habitual use of drugs or alcohol that leads to adverse effects on a person's health, relationships, and daily functioning.

For example, someone who regularly consumes alcohol to the point of neglecting their work or family responsibilities may be considered to have a substance abuse problem.


Theories of Abuse and Dependence

According to psychoanalytic theories, substance abuse can be a result of underlying psychological issues or unresolved conflicts.

For instance, someone who experienced trauma in their past may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their emotions.


Models of Abuse and Dependence

Various models explain how individuals become dependent on substances.

The physical dependence model suggests that repeated use of a substance can lead to changes in the brain's chemistry, resulting in a physical need for the substance.

On the other hand, the reward model posits that the pleasurable effects of drugs or alcohol can reinforce their use, leading to dependence.

For example, someone who experiences a euphoric feeling after using a drug may be more likely to continue using it to replicate that sensation.



In 2010, around 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were reported to be using illicit drugs.

This statistic highlights the widespread nature of substance abuse across different age groups in the United States.


Costs to Society and Associations with Social Problems

Substance abuse contributes to various social issues and has significant economic costs.

For example, it can lead to increased healthcare expenses, lost productivity in the workforce, and criminal justice costs.

These factors can place a strain on society as a whole.


Screening and Diagnosis

Proper diagnosis is crucial, especially when symptoms or physical signs of substance abuse are not immediately apparent.

Screening tools, such as questionnaires or interviews, can help healthcare professionals identify individuals who may be struggling with substance abuse.


DSST Substance Abuse Trivia Question # 347


2. Classification of Drugs

Doctor explaining substance abuse.
Classification of Drugs (5% - 7%)

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was enacted, marking a significant effort to regulate illegal substances in the United States.



The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was a comprehensive legislation in the United States aimed at regulating and controlling the manufacturing, distribution, and possession of certain drugs and substances.

It was a response to the growing concern over drug abuse and the illegal drug trade in the country.


Classification of Substances

The CSA classified substances into five schedules based on their potential for abuse, accepted medical use, and safety or dependence liability.

This classification system helped categorize drugs and substances according to their level of control and regulation.


Regulatory Mechanisms

One of the critical features of the CSA was the establishment of regulatory mechanisms for the legal handling of controlled substances.

This included licensing requirements for manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers, ensuring that these substances were handled and distributed in a controlled and regulated manner.


Penalties and Enforcement

The act imposed strict penalties for drug offenses, including trafficking and possession of controlled substances.

It also provided law enforcement agencies with the tools and authority to combat drug-related crimes effectively.



The CSA had a significant impact on drug policy in the United States, providing a legal framework for the regulation of controlled substances.

It emphasized prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts to address drug abuse and its associated societal problems.



The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 represented a significant shift in drug policy, laying the foundation for the regulation and control of illegal substances in the United States.

It continues to serve as the cornerstone of the country's federal drug laws and policies.


3. Pharmacological and Neurophysiological Principles

Drug factory.
Pharmacological and Neurophysiological Principles (10% - 12%)

Nervous System Impact

Drugs often influence the nervous system by altering synaptic transmission, affecting how nerve cells communicate.

For example, stimulants like amphetamines increase the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, leading to heightened alertness and energy.


Mechanism of Addiction

Many addictive drugs, such as cocaine or opioids, act on the brain's reward system, specifically the mesolimbic pathway.

These substances increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, leading to the reinforcement of drug-seeking behavior.


Drug Interactions

Various factors, including other drugs or substances in the body, can influence the effects of drugs.

Drug interactions occur when one drug affects the activity of another drug, altering its effectiveness or toxicity.

For instance, combining alcohol with certain medications can lead to dangerous interactions and adverse effects.


4. Alcohol

Person drinking alcohol.
Alcohol (11% - 13%)

Alcohol Production and History

Alcoholic beverages have been part of human culture since ancient times, with evidence of their production dating back to early civilizations.


Blood Alcohol Level Determinants

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in a person's bloodstream, usually expressed as a percentage.

Factors such as the amount and rate of alcohol consumption, body weight, and metabolism affect BAC levels.


Effects of Alcohol

The effects of alcohol vary depending on the BAC percentage.

At lower levels, alcohol can cause relaxation and lowered inhibitions, while higher levels can lead to impaired coordination, slurred speech, and impaired judgment.


Administration and Consumption

Alcohol is typically consumed orally in its original form or mixed with other beverages.

The method of administration can affect the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream.


Tolerance, Withdrawal, and Overdose

Prolonged alcohol use can lead to tolerance, where the body requires higher doses to achieve the same effects.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when alcohol use is stopped, and in severe cases, overdose can lead to alcohol poisoning.


Dependency Issues and Progression

Alcohol dependency can develop over time, with individuals experiencing more severe effects as the dependency progresses.

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to serious health issues and impact various aspects of life.


Prevention and Treatment

Prevention strategies for alcohol abuse include education, responsible drinking practices, and avoiding high-risk situations.

Treatment options for alcohol dependency may include therapy, support groups, and medication.


DSST Substance Abuse Trivia Question # 226


5. Anti-anxiety and Sedative Hypnotics

Woman taking prescription pills.
Anti-anxiety and Sedative Hypnotics (5% - 7%)

Anti-Anxiety and Sedative-Hypnotics

These medications, such as Xanax and Valium, are designed to reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, tension, and dysphoria, promoting relaxation and sedation.


Effects, Use, and Administration

The effects of these medications, when properly prescribed, can be beneficial for managing anxiety disorders.

They are typically taken orally, either as needed or on a regular schedule, as prescribed by a healthcare provider.



With prolonged use, individuals may develop tolerance to these medications, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects.

For example, someone taking Xanax for an extended period may find that they need to increase their dosage to experience the same level of anxiety relief.


Prevention and Treatment

Prevention of misuse or dependency involves using these medications as prescribed and avoiding excessive or prolonged use.

Treatment for dependency may include therapy, medication management, and support groups.

For example, someone who has become dependent on Valium may benefit from therapy to address underlying issues contributing to their dependency.


Dependency Issues

Chronic use of anti-anxiety and sedative-hypnotic medications can lead to dependency, where individuals rely on the medication to function normally.

This can have serious health and social consequences, such as impaired cognitive function and increased risk of accidents.


6. Inhaled Substances

Two men getting high.
Inhaled Substances (3% - 5%)

Inhaled Substances

The use of inhaled substances has a long history, dating back to ancient times when various cultures used vapors for rituals and medicinal purposes.

In modern times, inhalants encompass a range of substances, including volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites.


Effects, Use, and Administration

Inhalants produce a rapid but short-lived high, leading to feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

They are typically administered by inhaling fumes from a container or soaked cloth.

For example, people may inhale the fumes from glue, paint thinner, or nitrous oxide for their intoxicating effects.



Regular use of inhalants can lead to tolerance, requiring individuals to use larger amounts to achieve the desired effects.

This can increase the risk of overdose and other health complications.


Prevention and Treatment

Prevention efforts focus on education and awareness about the dangers of inhalant use, particularly among young people.

Treatment for inhalant dependency may include behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups.

For example, therapy may help individuals address underlying issues contributing to their substance use.


Dependency Issues

Inhalants can be highly addictive, and chronic use can lead to physical and psychological dependency.

Dependency can have serious health consequences and may require professional intervention for management.


7. Tobacco and Nicotine

Nicotine factory.
Tobacco and Nicotine (6% - 8%)

Tobacco and Nicotine

Tobacco, derived from the Nicotiana plant, is commonly consumed in various forms, such as cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco products like snuff and chewing tobacco.

Nicotine, a highly addictive chemical in tobacco, contributes to its addictive nature.



Tobacco use is linked to numerous health issues, including cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems.

Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine, producing a pleasurable sensation, leading to addiction.


Use and Administration

Tobacco products are typically smoked, chewed, or inhaled.

Smoking involves burning the tobacco, while smokeless products are either chewed or placed inside the mouth.

For example, cigarettes are a common form of tobacco consumption through smoking.



Regular tobacco use can lead to tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects.

This can increase the risk of addiction and health complications.


Prevention and Treatment

Prevention efforts include education on the risks of tobacco use and policies to reduce accessibility.

Treatment options for tobacco dependence include counseling, nicotine replacement therapy, and medications to manage withdrawal symptoms.

For instance, counseling can help individuals develop strategies to quit smoking.


Dependency Issues

Nicotine dependency is common among tobacco users, leading to withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.

Long-term tobacco use can result in severe addiction and significant health consequences.


8. Psychomotor Stimulants

Person holding cocain.
Psychomotor Stimulants (8% - 10%)

Psychomotor Stimulants

Psychomotor stimulants enhance brain activity, increasing alertness, energy, and elevated mood.

They are commonly used to treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy but are also abused for their euphoric effects.



The effects of psychomotor stimulants include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, decreased appetite, and improved focus and alertness.

However, misuse can lead to anxiety, paranoia, and insomnia.


Use and Administration

Psychomotor stimulants are typically taken orally or inhaled.

Prescription stimulants are taken in controlled doses under medical supervision, while illicit use often involves higher doses or alternative routes of administration.



Regular use can develop tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects. This can increase the risk of dependence and overdose.


Prevention and Treatment

Prevention efforts focus on educating individuals about the risks of stimulant misuse and promoting responsible use.

Treatment for stimulant dependence may include behavioral therapies, counseling, and medications to manage withdrawal symptoms.


Dependency Issues

Prolonged use of psychomotor stimulants can lead to dependence, characterized by a strong desire to continue using the drug despite negative consequences.

Dependency can be challenging to overcome and may require professional intervention.


9. Opioids

Employee stocking pills.
Opioids (8% - 11%)


Opium, derived from the poppy plant Papaver somniferum, has been used for its medicinal properties and euphoric effects for millennia.



Opioids encompass a range of substances, including natural opiates like morphine and codeine, semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.



Opium's use dates back to ancient civilizations, with its cultivation and spread influencing cultures and economies worldwide.



Opioids act on the nervous system to produce pain relief, sedation, and euphoria.

However, they can also cause respiratory depression, constipation, and dependence.


Use and Administration

Opioids are often prescribed for pain management and can be taken orally, injected, or inhaled.

Illicit use involves non-medical consumption, often through injection or snorting.



Chronic use can lead to tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects, increasing the risk of overdose.


Prevention and Treatment

Strategies to prevent opioid misuse include prescription monitoring programs and education on safe use.

Treatment for opioid dependence may involve medication-assisted therapy, counseling, and support groups.


10. Cannabinoids

Scientist holding opium oil.
Cannabinoids (8% - 10%)


Cannabis, derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, has a long history of medicinal and recreational use.



The medicinal use of cannabis dates back to ancient China, where it was used for various ailments and as an anesthetic.



Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis, including THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which have different effects on the body.



Cannabis can produce a range of effects, including relaxation, altered perception, and increased appetite.

It can also cause anxiety, paranoia, and impaired memory.


Use and Administration

Cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, or ingested.

It is often used recreationally but is also used medicinally for pain relief, nausea, and other conditions.



Regular use of cannabis can lead to tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects.


Prevention and Treatment

Preventing cannabis misuse involves education and regulation.

Treatment for cannabis dependence may include counseling and support groups.


11. Hallucinogens

Person picking mushrooms.
Hallucinogens (3% - 5%)


Hallucinogens are diverse drugs that alter perception, thoughts, and feelings.

They can be naturally occurring, such as psilocybin mushrooms, or synthetic, like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).



Hallucinogens have been used for centuries in various cultural and religious practices for their perceived spiritual or mystical properties.



The effects of hallucinogens can vary widely but often include visual and auditory hallucinations, altered perception of time and space, and profound changes in thought patterns and emotions.


Use and Administration

Hallucinogens are typically ingested orally, although some can be smoked, snorted, or injected.



Tolerance to hallucinogens can develop rapidly, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects.


Prevention and Treatment

Prevention efforts focus on education and awareness of the risks associated with hallucinogen use.

Treatment for hallucinogen dependence may include therapy and support groups.


12. Other Drugs of Abuse

Person making drugs.
Other Drugs of Abuse (4% - 6%)

Anabolic Steroids

Synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone are often used illegally to enhance athletic performance or muscle growth.


Over-the-counter (OTC) Substances

Medications such as pain relievers, cold medicines, and antacids can be purchased without a prescription.


Herbal Substances

Natural products derived from plants, herbs, or botanicals are often used for medicinal purposes but can be abused or misused.


Club Drugs

A group of psychoactive drugs often used at parties, clubs, or raves, including MDMA (ecstasy), ketamine, and GHB.


Other Prescription Drugs of Interest

Prescription medications that are abused or misused, such as opioid painkillers, stimulants, and sedatives.


13. Antipsychotic Drugs

Doctor holding up pills.
Antipsychotic Drugs (3% - 5%)

Antipsychotic Drugs

Medications were introduced in the 1950s to help patients with psychosis manage symptoms like hallucinations and delusions, allowing for a more stable and fulfilling life.



Antipsychotic drugs can help reduce or eliminate hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms of psychosis.

They can also help improve some patients' mood, thinking, and behavior.



These drugs are primarily used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

They may also be used to treat other conditions, such as severe depression or certain types of anxiety disorders.



Antipsychotic drugs are typically taken orally in the form of tablets or capsules.

In some cases, they may be given as injections, particularly for patients who have difficulty taking medication orally.

The dosage and frequency of administration vary depending on the specific drug and the patient's condition.


14. Antidepressants and Mood Stabilizers

Woman taking medication.
Antidepressants and Mood Stabilizers (3% - 5%)

Antidepressants and Mood Stabilizers

These medications play a crucial role in managing mood disorders and stabilizing emotions.


Discovery of Antidepressants

The first antidepressant was discovered in the 1950s by researchers seeking treatment for schizophrenia.

While studying a drug's effects on neurotransmitters, they inadvertently discovered its mood-lifting properties, leading to the development of modern antidepressants.


Impact of Antidepressants

Antidepressants can help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which are involved in mood regulation.

They are commonly used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, and certain other conditions.


Mood Stabilizers

These medications are primarily used to treat bipolar disorder, helping to stabilize mood swings between mania and depression.

They work by moderating the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin.


15. Conclusion

Image of pill drugs.

DSST Substance Abuse

The DSST Substance Abuse exam is a comprehensive assessment that delves into critical aspects such as the terminology, theories, demographics, and social implications of substance misuse.

If you're seeking a thorough understanding of these topics, our Substance Abuse preparation course is the perfect resource.

With structured modules and practice exams tailored to the exam's content, our course will equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to ace your test.

Don't wait any longer – start studying today and take a step closer to passing your DSST Substance Abuse exam!


16. Student Resources


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