What is substance abuse disorder?

What is substance abuse disorder?                      


Substance abuse is not the same as addiction and does not affect everyone the same way. Some of the more commonly abused substances include alcohol, heroin and prescription drugs.

What is substance abuse?           

Substance abuse is a term used to describe incorrect use of substances like alcohol, drugs, and may involve any illegal or legal substance. It’s when the wrong substances are taken or taken in the wrong way that problems can emerge. Substance abuse is different than addiction. Addiction is much harder to stop, much more ingrained in a person’s behavior. With substance abuse, often, people can self-correct destructive behavior with lifestyle changes and outpatient treatment. However, with addiction, higher levels of care like detox are often needed.

What substances are most often abused?                        

Some of the more commonly abused substances include alcohol, prescription medicine, and heroin.                                      


The prevalence of drinking in the U.S. is high, with over 85% of adults in the U.S. reported drinking alcohol at some point in their life, according to a 2019 NSDUH national survey. According to the same survey, almost 70% reported drinking in the past year.

Prescription Medicine  

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Most people who are prescribed medication will take it as prescribed. But for some, prescribed medication can lead to substance abuse, and even addiction. In fact, in 2017, an estimated 18 million people abused a prescribed medication. A 2017 survey showed about 2 million Americans abusing prescribed pain medication.


The number of heroin using Americans has been increasing, primarily driven by young adults aged 18-25. Trends in its usage reflect this with the number of people using heroin for the first time nearly doubling between 2006 and 2016.

What causes substance abuse

Like many mental health disorders, several factors may contribute to the development of substance abuse and drug addiction. The main factors are environmental and genetic. Environmentally, people who have many friends who abuse substances are at a higher risk for the same behavior. Genetically, your inherited traits can make you more at risk for developing an addiction by altering the course of addiction.

Symptoms of substance abuse                

Signs you may have a drug problem:

  • You continue to take a drug or medicine even after it’s no longer medically justified (not being used to treat a medical illness).
  • You have noticed the buildup of tolerance and need more of the substance to get the full effects.
  • You have symptoms of withdrawal after the substance wears off. You might feel strange, shaky, depressed, or have other physical symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
  • You find yourself using the substance even when you don’t want to.
  • You continue to abuse one or more substances even after experiencing significant adverse consequences.
  • You spend a lot of time on substance use, including substance acquisition, use, and recovery.
  • It’s challenging to keep your substance abuse within self-set limits.
  • Your appearance has begun to change: red bloodshot eyes, bad breath, body odor, etc.
  • Your everyday functioning is affected.
  • Spending too little time sleeping or too much time sleeping
  • You go to multiple doctors to get prescriptions for the same drug or problem.
  • You look in other people’s medicine cabinets for drugs to take.
  • You mix prescribed medications with other drugs or alcohol.
road to recovery sign

What can you do to prevent relapse?                  

These six tips can help you avoid relapse in the future:

  1. Receive treatment for substance abuse
  2. Read staying sober by Terrance Gorski
  3. Build a new support network
  4. Attend 12-step meetings after treatment
  5. Make lifestyle changes: Limit caffeine, eat a healthy & balanced diet, and get plenty of exercise
  6. Avoid people who use drugs and places where they are available

Understanding substance abuse            

People begin abusing substances for many reasons. Continuing substance abuse can push many people over the invisible line of addiction. It happens slowly at first, and then rapidly.

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