What are substance use disorders?
The use of some substances (like certain drugs) causes feelings of pleasure. The pleasure makes you want to keep using the substance. The substances can be legal drugs such as alcohol Alcohol Use Alcohol (ethanol) is a depressant (it slows down brain and nervous system functioning). Consuming large amounts rapidly or regularly can cause health problems, including organ damage, coma,... read more and tobacco Smoking People smoke tobacco in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Tobacco smoke has many harmful chemicals that cause problems in your whole body, not just your lungs. Smoking is addictive because tobacco... read more , illegal drugs, or prescription drugs. Some people are able to get prescription drugs, such as opioids, illegally.
A substance use disorder is when you keep using a substance even though using it causes you problems at home or at work.
People with a substance use disorder aren't able to control their use of the substance
A substance use disorder can happen with legal or illegal substances
There's no specific personality type that's more likely to get a substance use disorder
Using a substance doesn’t always mean you have a substance use disorder
Doctors treat these disorders with counseling and sometimes medicine
What causes a substance use disorder?
Not everyone who uses a substance has a substance use disorder. Although almost anyone can develop a substance use disorder, your risk is greater if:
The substance is very pleasurable and easy to get
You don't believe the substance is that dangerous
You often feel sad, lonely, or anxious
You have certain psychiatric disorders, such as some personality disorders or major depression
Your family members or friends use substances (this is especially true for adolescents Substance Use and Abuse in Adolescents Substance use in adolescents is a teen's use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs (including prescription medicines without a prescription). Such use could be occasional experimenting or regular and... read more )
Your risk also is increased if you take prescription opioid painkillers for a painful injury or chronic pain. Opioids, though a legitimate way to control pain, are highly addictive.
What are the symptoms of a substance use disorder?
With a substance use disorder, you may:
Not be able to control use of the substance: You take it even when you know it's bad for you
Have tolerance to the substance: You need to use more and more of it to get the same effect
Experience withdrawal: You get unpleasant symptoms when you stop using the substance
How can doctors tell if someone has a substance use disorder?
Sometimes people tell their doctor they're having a problem. Or doctors may suspect you have a substance use disorder if you:
Spend a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance
Want to stop using the substance but can't
Have a strong craving to use the substance
Can't meet your responsibilities at work, school, or home because of the substance
Use the substance in dangerous situations, such as when driving
Give up social or work activities because of the substance
Tolerance and withdrawal also are signs of substance use disorder, unless they develop while you're using the substance legitimately. For example, you may have opioid withdrawal after taking opioids for less than a week, which may be necessary for certain painful injuries, such as severe burns.
Although urine and blood drug tests can tell if you have drugs in your system, they can't tell if you have a substance use disorder.
How do doctors treat substance use disorders?
Treatment depends on the substance. Doctors may treat substance use disorders using:
Specific substance use disorders, for example alcohol use disorder Alcohol Use Alcohol (ethanol) is a depressant (it slows down brain and nervous system functioning). Consuming large amounts rapidly or regularly can cause health problems, including organ damage, coma,... read more and opioid use disorder Opioids Opioids, a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy (including synthetic variations), are pain relievers with a high potential for misuse. Opioids are used to relieve pain, but they also... read more , have different treatments.
Where can I get more information about substance use disorders?
Al-Anon Family Groups (al-anon.org/)
Alcoholics Anonymous (aa.org)
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (hazelden.org)
Narcotics Anonymous (na.org)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org)