Understanding Substance Use Disorder

The Facts on Substance Use & Addiction

                                                                                                        *Statistics from (1)

Understanding Alcohol Abuse Disorder

Alcohol use disorder can look very different from person to person, which is why doctors and other health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition to make their diagnosis. This manual defines 11 different characteristics common amongst alcoholics, as seen below.

  1. Drinking alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than you had originally intended
  2. Wanting or trying to cut back or control your alcohol use but struggle to do so successfully
  3. Spending much of your time on activities related to alcohol – this includes the drinking itself, recovering from hangovers, and the physical side-effects of drinking
  4. Craving alcohol so badly that it consumes all of your thoughts
  5. Dealing with alcohol or hangovers that interfere with work, family, or other responsibilities
  6. Continuing to drink alcohol even though it causes problems with your family or friends
  7. Giving up on important activities or interesting hobbies that you once liked in order to drink alcohol
  8. Getting into unsafe or risky situations while or after drinking, such as walking in a dangerous area, fighting, swimming, driving, or having unsafe sex
  9. Drinking even though it makes you feel depressed or anxious, causes memory loss from blackouts, or contributes to any other health problems
  10. Drinking much more to get the effect you want or noticing that your usual number of drinks has less of an effect over time
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like insomnia, irritable mood, upset stomach, or even a seizure, after the alcohol wears off

Depending on how many of the previous criteria are applicable to you, you are then categorized into specific severities of alcohol use disorder.

  • Mild Alcohol-Use Disorder: 2-3 of the above criteria.
  • Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder: 4-5 of the above criteria.
  • Severe Alcohol Use Disorder: 6+ of the above criteria.

The earlier you are able to recognize your issue, the better. Mild abuse, unfortunately, can spiral into more severe cases that are much harder to shake off and can have more severe health consequences. Are you concerned about your alcohol use? Take this assessment on substance use.

Understanding Drug Abuse & Addiction

Drug use and abuse affects and looks different in every person.

Commonly Abused Drugs

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamines
  • “Steroids”
  • Marijuana
  •  Prescription drugs
    • Painkillers, Xanax, Adderal, etc.
  • Inhalants
  • Club Drugs
    • Molly, Ecstasy, etc

While the sheer use of many of the drugs listed here is considered abuse simply due to the fact that they are illegal, there are others that fall into a different category. Prescription drugs, steroids, and marijuana all have use-cases in medicine. When these drugs are taken outside of their intended use, it is considered abuse.  Examples of this include:

  • Steroids: Steroids are used to help with growth issues and muscle preservation, but they are often abused in athletics to enhance muscle growth. They are often obtained illegally, without a prescription, and can lead to addiction and dependency.
  • Prescription drugs: Prescription drugs, like opioids, are regularly prescribed by doctors for a number of uses.
    • Opioids: Opioids are used to manage pain.
    • Xanax: Xanax, or benzodiazepines, help manage anxiety.
    • Adderall: Adderall enables those with ADD and ADHD to focus more effectively.
  • Marijuana: Helps individuals with cancer treatment, anxiety, pain, etc.

Use of drugs turns into abuse when these drugs are used outside their intended and directed use. For example…

  • Taking medication that isn’t yours
  • Taking more than what was prescribed
  • Using/consuming it in a different way than directed (crushing, snorting, injecting)
  • Using the medicine for the purpose of getting high

Continued abuse leads to altered brain chemistry that impacts how your brain, body, and mind function. These actions and consequences can lead to addiction.

Behavioral Signs of a Drug Problem

  • Craving drugs daily or multiple times a day
  • Buying drugs even when you cannot afford them
  • Always having drugs with you
  • Needing to consume more for the same effect
  • Doing things you would not normally do to get drugs (lie, cheat, steal)
  • Partaking in risky actions while under the influence (driving or unsafe sex)
  • Continued use despite the familial conflict it may cause
  • Taking more drugs than you wanted to and for longer than you intended
  • Much of your time is spent getting, using, or recovering from use
  • Feeling sick when you try to quit

Concerning Behavior Changes to Be Aware of

  • Spending more time alone
  • A lot of changes in your friends
  • Loss of interest in your regular activities/hobbies
  • Poor hygiene because you no longer care about appearance (not showering, brushing teeth, etc.)
  • Mood swings that include increased irritability, tiredness, or sadness
  • Changes to sleep pattern
  • Changes to appetite
  • Forgetting or actively missing appointments or normal weekly activities

Changes to Physical and Mental Health to Look Out for

  • Speech changes: you or someone else constantly slurs, rambles on, or talks fast.
  • Sweats, shakes, or vomiting (withdrawal)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Significant weight changes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Constantly sick or injured
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm

Concerned About Your Drug Use?

Who is Most At-Risk for Addiction

Treatments for Addiction

  • Detox: Quitting the drug, under the supervision of a medical professional, to allow your body to work it out of your system.
  • Medications:  There are medications that are used to help with addiction.
  • Therapy: There are a number of highly qualified, medical professionals that can assist you with you desire to be clean and sober.

Additional Resources