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What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) occurs when a person’s brain and behaviors limit their ability to control their use of legal or illegal substances. People with SUD may have issues with alcohol, recreational, “street,” or synthetic drugs, and even prescribed medications.

Often SUD is accompanied by other co-occurrences of mental health stressors, conditions, or disorders. In many instances, their substance use is a contributing factor to a mental health issue.

1 in 4 people with SUD have a diagnosis of a serious mental illness.  Research suggests that almost half of people who seek treatment for nonmedical use of prescription painkillers have a formal diagnosis or display symptoms of mental health disorders.

What’s The Difference Between Substance Use Disorder And Substance Abuse?

At Elite DNA Behavioral Health, we choose to use the term substance use disorder because we believe words matter. Stigma around mental health conditions can keep people from seeking and receiving the treatment they need and deserve.

“Substance use” risks defining people by their disease, instead we choose to recognize them as a person with a medical condition.

Showing compassion and support in for someone with a substance abuse disorder

What Are Some Of The Signs Or Symptoms Of SUD?

The signs and symptoms of substance use disorder can be physical, psychological, or behavioral. Because the symptoms can vary depending on the substance being used, if you notice one or more of the following, it may be time to explore treatment options.

Physical Symptoms

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Change in weight 
  • Runny nose or constant sniffling
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden lack of coordination 
  • Tremors
  • Neglect of personal hygiene or grooming habits
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Unusual odors or bad breath

Psychological Symptoms

  • Fearfulness, paranoia, or new or worsening anxiety
  • Moodiness, angry outbursts, or irritability
  • Lack of motivation to engage in activities, sports, or school
  • Change in personality or attitude
  • Experiencing significant differences in energy levels or mental stability

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Sudden change in friend group or lack of desire to hang out with old friends
  • Difficulties with interpersonal or family relationships
  • Experiencing financial troubles or always looking to borrow money
  • Abandoning enjoyable activities like hobbies to use drugs or alcohol
  • Taking more substances to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased tolerance levels
  • Becoming secretive
  • Struggling with legal issues like fighting, accidents, or driving while under the influence
  • Impaired judgment

Beyond these symptoms, a primary sign someone is struggling with substance use disorder is continuing to use the substance even if it’s causing harm to their physical, emotional, or mental health.

What Are The Causes Of SUD? Who Is At Greatest Risk?

The cause of substance abuse disorder is not known.

There are some indications that genetics, peer pressure, the “action” of the drug itself, and emotional or environmental stress may be contributing factors.

Nearly 43% of all people with substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health condition. Common comorbidities are depressionanxietyschizophreniaPTSD, and neurobehavioral conditions like ADHD.

Are Adolescents At Greater Risk Of SUD?

According to the Harvard Health blog, adolescence is a time where the brain is essentially wired for engaging in risk taking behaviors. For some teens, that can manifest as experimenting with drugs and alcohol. 

Teens seek out rewarding behaviors because the impulse control portion of the brain doesn’t fully develop until a person reaches their 20’s.

Parents are right to be concerned and to seek to have open communication with their children about drugs. Research suggests that teens who use drugs have an increased risk for developing substance use disorders later in life.

Is Family Therapy Helpful For Teens With SUD?

Studies show that family-focused therapy is very effective when treating adolescents with substance use issues. Other therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or trauma-informed care.

What Are The Treatment Options For SUD?

Most substance use treatment plan will include:

  • Behavioral talk therapy 
  • Psychiatry and medication management 
  • Group therapy if appropriate
  • Family focused counseling 
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Long term follow up to avoid relapsing behavior
  • Evaluation and treatment for other co-occurring mental health issues

At Elite DNA, we take a holistic approach to developing your treatment plan. 

We look at everything such as your sleeping habits, lifestyle, and what your body and mind are experiencing. We also take appropriate steps to treat other co-occurring mental health disorders you may be experiencing as a result of, or that have developed from, your substance use.

Our mental health professionals will address all these areas with you. 

People do recover and we can help provide the support you and your family need.

Typically, a tailored treatment plan for substance use disorder will include therapy, psychiatry services and, as needed, medication.

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