Mayo Clinic defines substance use disorder as, “a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication.”  

Substance use disorder (SUD) rarely, if ever, becomes a reality through choice. Typically it begins with an introduction to the legal or illegal substance either recreationally or through controlled prescription medication (as in the case of Oxycontin or Vicodin), and because of the effect these substances have on the brain, they become increasingly difficult to stop using voluntarily. Substance use moves past the categorization of habit and changes instead into a disorder when usage drastically impacts the routines of daily life.

What is substance use disorder?

Substances are traditionally defined as, “any psychoactive compound with the potential to cause health and social problems, including addiction.” There are seven categories of substances most often at the root of a disorder:

  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Cannabinoids
  • Opioids
  • Depressants
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens

“[P]rolonged, repeated use of any of these substances at high doses and/or high frequencies (quantity/frequency thresholds vary across substances) can produce . . . a separate, independent, diagnosable illness that significantly impairs health and function and may require special treatment. This illness is called a substance use disorder.” 

In other words, constant use of any of these substances often leads to a physical and mental sickness which requires not only a detox process to heal but mental health interventions as well.

Substance use disorder causes

As with many mental disorders, it’s a challenge to pinpoint the exact cause of substance use. It may be linked to the person’s genes, the addictive behavior of the substance itself within the body or external factors causing the person much distress such as anxiety or depression. It may also be linked to an environmental factor such as chaotic home life or intense stress in the workplace.

Additionally, studies show that children exposed to drugs and alcohol at an early age, including those who battle unsupported mental health disorders like ADHD, are more likely to use substances in the future. Adults who combat PTSD, ADD and bipolar disorder, among others, are more likely to struggle with a SUD in addition to the mental health disorder.

It’s important to note that because an individual experience one of the above symptoms does not mean they are guaranteed to develop a substance use disorder. However, for someone already battling a SUD, it’s helpful to understand what the potential underlying causes might have been. 

When should I seek substance use disorder treatment?

There are three levels of identifying the extent of a SUD — mild, moderate and severe. The category of severity is apparent when certain criteria for substance use disorder are met. The 11 criteria according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) are:

  1. Using higher doses of the substance for long periods of time than initially planned
  2. Hoping to lessen or stop usage but being incapable of doing so
  3. Much time is spent acquiring, using and recovering from the substance
  4. Experiencing cravings and obsessive urges to consume/use the substance
  5. Other priorities – school, job, home life – become neglected
  6. The usage persists despite problems in both personal and professional relationships
  7. Substances are chosen over social and/or communal activities
  8. Choosing substances consistently, even though it is dangerous
  9. Using even though one is fully aware of potential physical or mental health problems caused or worsened by the substances
  10. Building such a tolerance that one needs more and more of the substance to acquire the same effect/high
  11. Withdrawal symptoms develop, which are alleviated by more of the substance

Mild cases of SUD meet 1-to-3 criteria, moderate cases meet 4-to-5 criteria and severe cases of SUD meet six or more. It goes without saying that even mild cases of substance use disorder require clinical attention, as the disorder can quickly move through the levels of criteria if left unmanaged. 

Substance use disorder treatment

When left to its own devices a substance use disorder can ultimately lead to fatal consequences, including overdose. For this reason, if you or someone you know struggles with a substance use disorder it’s vital to take important steps to get help today. 

Recovering from a substance use disorder is a long process, but treatment services such as those offered through Real Recovery, not only provide mental health counseling but whole-body recovery. After all, drugs and alcohol affect the whole person, body, mind and spirit, and to provide entire healing all these aspects of the person undergo extensive, yet intentionally personal, treatment. 

Get in touch with someone at Real Recovery to start your recovery journey today at (855) 363-7325.