Understanding Substance Use Disorder: An Overview

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Substance use disorder, frequently referred to as drug abuse, addiction, or dependence, affects millions worldwide. It’s particularly prevalent in the United States, where over 21 million people are dealing with the condition to some extent. Substance use disorder can be a life-altering medical condition with serious health consequences if not treated properly. This post will provide an overview of this condition to help you better understand it.

Substances are anything that can alter the mood and mind. Examples of substances include alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. A substance use disorder happens when individuals develop a dependency on these substances, leading to compulsive and uncontrolled use. The condition has many symptoms, such as the inability to stop using, aggression, irritability, and anxiety. It can also lead to physical symptoms, including an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and respiratory distress.

The individual must meet specific criteria to be diagnosed with substance use disorder. These criteria include the regular use of substances, despite the negative impact on their work, school, or personal life. The severity of the condition can vary from mild to severe, depending on how many criteria the person meets.

A substance use disorder has many consequences, including legal issues, social isolation, financial struggles, and physical and mental health complications. The most concerning health concerns include brain damage, liver disease, HIV/AIDS, and overdose. These challenges can be daunting, making it difficult for people to overcome their addiction and begin treatment.

Treatment options for individuals who struggle with substance use disorder include rehabilitation centers, medication-assisted therapy, and psychiatric support. Rehabilitation centers offer inpatient care, intensive outpatient treatment, and support groups. Medication-assisted therapy involves using methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine to reduce withdrawal symptoms and help recover. Psychiatric support can include counseling, individual and group therapy, and 12-step programs.


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How do I recognize unhealthy substance abuse?

Substance use can be a complex and sensitive topic to discuss with someone you care about. Sometimes, it can be challenging to recognize the signs of substance use. You may notice subtle behaviors that seem harmless. However, trusting your intuition and paying attention to the characters is essential. If you spot some of the habits mentioned below, it could be a red flag that someone you love or you are struggling with drugs or alcohol. It’s crucial to address these behaviors before they progress and cause severe harm to one’s health and relationships. Remember that reaching out for help and support is never a sign of weakness but courage. It can be hard to recognize signs of substance use. After all, you might not think twice about subtle signs that seem innocent. Pay attention to your intuition. If you notice some of the symptoms below, you may be dealing with a loved one with an unhealthy substance relationship. Or, perhaps, you recognize some of these habits in your own life. Some possible signs include:

  • Problems at school or work. Recent estimates suggest that 4-12% of all children have some form of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Research indicates that boys have a significantly higher chance of developing this disorder with the hyperactive or combined type than girls, with boys being two to three times more likely. When children display symptoms of ADHD, families are self or deliberate in their research to learn more about it — particularly when these symptoms start impacting learning, meeting expectations, and undertaking age-appropriate activities. Additionally, many parents notice traces of their histories within their child’s diagnosis, suggesting family similarities in dealing with the condition. Families often find ways to connect, linking in written records of ADHD before prompting formal assessments and seeking professional help to manage the challenges ahead. This helps them gain a better understanding and control in their interactions of how best to address the disorder.
  • Physical health issues. Physical health can manifest in a variety of ways. Most commonly known are a lack of energy and motivation, weight or body composition changes, or visible signs in the eyes such as redness or other discolorations. These all can be indicators that reflect our overall physical health and should not be ignored if experienced. Seeing a doctor for diagnosis and professional advice is the best action to keep your body functioning at its full potential—lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, or red eyes.
  • They neglected appearance or overall health. Failing one’s appearance and overall health can have serious consequences. When someone loses interest in their appearance, they may stop caring about their attire, grooming, and hygiene. Others around them might also notice their lack of effort, leading to a negative reputation. Neglecting physical well-being can result in severe health problems and chronic illnesses. Maintaining good health by practicing self-care and staying physically active is essential. Small changes to daily routines, such as drinking more water and incorporating exercise, can lead to a healthier and happier lifestyle. Remember, taking care of oneself is crucial to living a fulfilling life—lack of interest in clothing, grooming, looks, and physical well-being.
  • Changes in behavior. When a person starts exhibiting drastic changes in behavior or distancing themselves from close friends and family, it can be a cause for concern. One of the most telling signs is when they exaggerate efforts to keep loved ones out of their room or personal space. They may also become more secretive about where they are going or who they are spending time with. This can make it difficult for those around them to offer support or intervene if necessary. It is essential to approach these changes with patience and empathy, as underlying issues may need to be addressed. Seeking professional help or contacting trusted family members or friends for support may be beneficial in these situations. Drastic changes in behavior or relationships with family and friends. Things like, exaggerated efforts to keep family members out of their room and being secretive about where they go with friends.
  • Money issues. Financial issues can be a source of great stress and anxiety for anyone. Still, it can be especially troubling when it involves sudden requests for money from loved ones without an explanation or discovering missing funds or items in your home that may have been sold to support dangerous habits. It’s essential to approach these situations with a level head and gather as much information as possible before taking action. Whether setting boundaries and proposing a repayment plan for loans or seeking professional help in cases of theft or addiction, communication and careful consideration can go a long way in resolving money issues. Sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation, discovering that money may be missing or stolen, or that items may have disappeared from your home that may be sold to support drug use.
  • Substance use patterns. Substance use patterns can be a tricky thing to navigate. Over time, people may need more substances to feel the desired effect. This can be concerning as it can lead to more frequent use and, ultimately, addiction. Additionally, individuals may begin to feel withdrawal symptoms when they cannot use the substance, which can get in the way of their daily life. It’s essential to be aware of these patterns and seek help if they become problematic. Through treatment and support, it is possible to regain control over substance use and reclaim a fulfilling life. They are using more of a substance to get the same effect, using substances more frequently than before, feeling physical symptoms of withdrawal when unable to use a sense, or spending more time trying to get the drift.

Am I at risk of substance use disorder?

Falling into unhealthy habits with substances can happen to anyone, and there are many reasons why someone may find themselves dependent. Mental health struggles such as anxiety or depression can lead to substance use as self-medication. Coping with a traumatic event, such as losing a loved one or a job, can also trigger a reliance on substances to numb the pain. Additionally, it’s too common to become physically dependent on prescription medication after surgery or injury. Identifying a problem with substance use can be difficult, and admitting it takes courage. However, taking that first step is crucial. The following questions can help you explore your relationship with substance use or offer insight into a loved one’s behavior.

  • Do I keep my use a secret from others?
  • Are friends, family, or co-workers concerned?
  • Do I find any excuse to drink or use?
  • Do I use substances to change the way I’m feeling?
  • Is my substance use increasing?
  • Do I promise to stop or cut back but never follow through?
  • Do I tell myself my problem isn’t that bad?
  • Have I ever had a blackout (memory lapse) after using it?
  • Do I feel regret or shame after using?
  • Do I spend more money than I can afford on alcohol or drugs?
  • Am I at risk of physical danger or financial loss?
  • Do I look forward to using alcohol or drugs?

What are some recommended treatments?

Effective treatment for substance use disorder is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual’s needs must be addressed according to their unique situation. A licensed clinician can provide a thorough assessment considering various factors. These may include the person’s substance use history, mental and physical health needs, social support system, and social determinants of health. With this information, a personalized treatment strategy can be designed to meet the individual’s needs. A customized approach to substance use disorder treatment can significantly increase the chances of success and overall well-being. When it comes to substance use disorder treatments, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Different people may have different needs. An individualized treatment strategy starts with an assessment by a licensed clinician. They may take into account a person’s substance use, mental and physical health needs, social supports and social determinants of health. Treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Detoxification (for some substances)
  • Local, short-term, intensive residential treatment
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Individual substance use disorder counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Outpatient therapy
  • Community recovery services (like peer support services and self-help groups)

In conclusion, substance use disorder can have severe physical, mental, and social impacts on individuals. This is a medical condition that affects many people around the world, and recognizing the symptoms is critical. Substance use disorder is treatable, and many options are available to help individuals recover. Education and support are vital to overcoming addiction, and it’s essential to approach the condition with empathy and understanding rather than judgment. If you or someone you care about is dealing with a substance use disorder, the sooner you seek help, the sooner you can start recovery.

Contact us today at 816.708.0508 or schedule your appointment online.


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