Substance Use Disorder and Addiction
Substance use disorder (SUD) and addictions are complex and challenging conditions. But recovery is possible with the right treatment plan.
Substance use disorder (SUD) and addiction affect all people, independent of their age, gender, or economic or social status — no population is above it.
In fact, more than 20 million Americans ages 12 and older had a SUD in 2018.
You may know someone who started taking pain relievers like opioids they were prescribed after an injury. Then, as their body experienced dependence, efforts to cut back or quit on their own proved to be extremely painful — or next to impossible.
Regardless of how substance use begins, recovery is possible. Most people with moderate to severe addiction need additional help, however, as it’s not easily overcome on your own.
What is substance use disorder?
Substance use disorder is a complex condition stemming from the recurrent use of alcohol or other substances despite the harmful life and health consequences it may cause.
A SUD can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Addiction often occurs when the substance overactivates the brain’s reward center, which involves an abnormally high release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Continued use of the substance results in changes to the brain’s function and structure, which eventually leads to cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when the substance isn’t used.
What are the different types of SUD?
Substances for which a person may form a SUD include:
- Hallucinogens(including LSD and PCP)
- Opioids (including heroin and prescription medication)
sedatives, hypnotics (sleep meds), or anxiolytics (anti-anxiety meds)
- Stimulants (like amphetamines or cocaine)
Is addiction and SUD the same?
An addiction is the compulsive and repeated use of a substance, or any behavior or activity that a person feels helpless to stop.
Addictions that don’t involve drugs or alcohol may include:
- Sex or Pornography
- Internet or Social Media
- Video Games
Note that of these, only gambling disorder and internet gaming disorder are recognized behavioral addictions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Still, even though they’re not recognized diagnoses in the DSM-5, these other behaviors — like sex, social media, and shopping — many cause problems when done in excess or compulsively. No matter your concern, it’s valid and you can seek professional help to address it.
Substance use disorder is an addiction that involves a habit-forming substance. This can include alcohol or any prescription or illegal drug.
What causes substance use disorder?
The exact causes of SUD are unknown. Some influencing factors include:
- Personality traits
- Substance’s action
- Family history of use
- Peer pressure
- Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Exposure to trauma, especially in childhood, is strongly associated with substance use as well. In fact, SUDs are commonly seen in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Among veterans getting first-time care within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system, nearly 11%Trusted Source meet criteria for a SUD diagnosis.
Studies with twins and families have shown that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in developing SUD.
Research in twinsTrusted Source found that environmental factors play a larger role than genetics when it comes to adolescent alcohol use. But by early adulthood, the role of genetics on drinking patterns increases significantly.
For example, genetics played a role in first-time alcohol use in 18%Trusted Source of girls (but 0% of boys) at age 14. That number increased to 33% for both sexes by age 16 and 50% by age 18.
The results of another review of twin studies also suggests that addiction runs in the family, with 40% to 60%Trusted Source heritability.
What are the signs and symptoms of substance use disorder and addiction?
Signs and symptoms of substance use and addiction vary widely from person to person and depend on:
- the substance or behavior
- the length and severity of use
- the user’s personality
Below are the general symptoms of substance use and addiction:
- continued use even though it may affect health, relationships, or other aspects of life negatively
- craving the substance or behavior
- regular overconsumption
worrying about overuse
- using in situations that may not be safe, such as driving under the influence, using a syringe that’s not sterile, or having sex without condoms or other barrier methods
- giving up previously enjoyed activities due to use
- spending a lot of time using or trying to use and recovering
- neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
- building up a tolerance
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit