Substance Abuse Disorder: Definition, Types, Symptoms, and More

substance use disorder, also known as drug use disorder, is a condition in which using one or more substances produces clinically significant impairment or distress; However, the term substance can refer to any physical matter; the ‘ substance ‘in this context is limited to psychoactive drugs.

Addiction and dependence are components of a substance use disorder, and addiction represents the most severe form of the disease. It involves the excessive use or dependence on a drug that produces effects that are detrimental to the physical and mental health of the individual or to the well-being of others, characterized by a pattern of continued pathological use of a drug, drug, or toxin not indicated medically, which causes repeated adverse social consequences related to drug use, such as non-compliance with work, family or school obligations, interpersonal conflicts or legal problems.

Types of substance use disorder.

A person with this disorder is sometimes obsessed, may form habits, and will often change their social practices to reflect a pattern of abuse.

There are many substances use disorders, and people are generally not treated with the same methods. This also needs to be treated when you have an underlying cause (such as an emotional or personality disorder); highly addictive drugs require withdrawal and detox treatment.

 Alcohol use disorder

Alcohol affects everyone differently, but your chances of injury or accident increase if you drink too much and too often. Heavy alcohol use can also cause liver problems or other health problems, or more severe alcohol disorders.

It affects every organ in the body and is the oldest and most widely used psychoactive substance, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Read more information about Alcohol Use Disorder. (Required item)

Tobacco uses disorder.

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the human body, often leading to lung cancer, respiratory disorders, heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses. Full content: Smoking. (Required item)

Cannabis use disorder.

Marijuana is the most widely used drug after alcohol and tobacco. The immediate effects of marijuana include distorted perception, difficulty thinking and problem-solving, and loss of motor coordination. Long-term use can contribute to respiratory infections, memory problems, and exposure to cancer-causing compounds; excessive marijuana use in young people has also increased the risk of developing mental illness and poorer cognitive functioning.

Some symptoms of cannabis use disorder include interruptions in functioning due to cannabis use, the development of tolerance, cravings for cannabis, and the development of withdrawal symptoms, such as the inability to sleep, restlessness, nervousness, anger, or depression. Learn more about Marijuana or Cannabis (Required article) 

Stimulant use disorder

Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy and raise blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. They include a wide range of medications that have historically been used to treat obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and occasionally depression. Like other prescription drugs, stimulants can be diverted for illegal use.

The most commonly abused stimulants are amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine; they can be synthetic (like amphetamines) or plant origin (like cocaine). They are usually taken orally, inhaled, or intravenously.

Symptoms include stimulant cravings, lack of control when attempted, continued use despite interference with significant obligations or social functioning, use of more substantial amounts over time, development of tolerance, spending a long time obtaining and using stimulants, and withdrawal symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing use, including fatigue, vivid and unpleasant dreams, trouble sleeping, increased appetite, or intermittent problems controlling movement. Learn more about stimulants(Required item)

Hallucinogen Use Disorder

Hallucinogens can be chemically synthesized (as with lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD), or they can occur. Naturally, these drugs can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, feelings of detachment from one’s environment and oneself, and distortions in time and perception.

Symptoms of the disorder include craving for hallucinogens, lack of control of use when attempted, continued use despite interference with significant obligations or social functioning, use of more substantial amounts over time, use in risky situations such as driving, tolerance development, and spending a great deal of time to obtain and use hallucinogens. Learn more about hallucinogens. (Required item)

Opioid use disorder

Opioids reduce the perception of pain but can also cause drowsiness, mental confusion, euphoria, nausea, constipation, and, depending on the amount of drug taken, can depress breathing. Illegal opioid medications such as heroin and legally available pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone can cause serious health effects for those who abuse them.

Some people experience a euphoric response to opioid medications, and it is common for abusers to try to intensify their experience by inhaling or injecting. These methods increase the risk of serious medical complications, including overdose.

Symptoms include an intense craving for opioids, inability to control or reduce use, continued use despite interference with significant obligations or social functioning, use of larger amounts over time, development of tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing use, such as negative mood, nausea or vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, fever, and insomnia.

Substance Abuse Disorder

Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Physical symptoms

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Abrupt weight changes.
  • Bruises, infections, or other physical signs at the drug’s entry site into the body.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance.
  • Abnormal smells on the body, clothing, or breath.
  • Not feeling physically well when you stop taking a substance (nausea, vomiting, anxiety, restlessness, and sleep disturbances).

Behavioral symptoms

  • It increased aggression or irritability.
  • Changes in attitude/personality.
  • Sudden changes in a social network and relationships.
  • Financial problems.
  • Participation in criminal activity.
  • Restlessness.
  • They are behaving in a secret or suspicious manner.
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns.
  • Sudden mood swings and anger
  • Unusual bouts of vertigo, agitation, and energy.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Inexplicable paranoia.

What are the causes and factors of substance use disorder?

Typically, people go from experimentation to occasional use, heavy use, and sometimes substance use disorder. This progression is complex and only partially understood; the process depends on the interactions between the drug, the user, and the environment.

The exact cause of the disorder is not known. A person’s genes, drug action, peer pressure, emotional distress, anxietydepression, and environmental stress can all be factors. Many who develop a substance use problem have attention deficit disorderpost-traumatic stress disorder, or another mental problem. A stressful or chaotic lifestyle and low self-esteem are also typical.

Children who grow up watching their parents use drugs may be at high risk of developing substance use problems for environmental and genetic reasons.

Risk factor’s

Several factors can increase the likelihood that a young person will develop a substance use disorder. They include the following:

Related to the individual.

  • Tendency to uninhibited behavior (for example, involved in risky behaviors in childhood)
  • The young age of first use (for example, the risk of alcohol dependence is four times higher for people who first tried alcohol before age 15, compared to before age 20)
  • Personal beliefs (for example, beliefs that substance use does not hurt health or lack of confidence in conformity or moral order)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor performance in school or low commitment to school
  • Traumatic experiences (for example, being abused as a child or being bullied)
  • Poor coping skills (for example, responding to interpersonal conflicts aggressively).


  • Parents or family members have a substance use disorder (the heritability of substance dependence is 30-60%).
  • Parents’ attitude towards drugs and alcohol.
  • Under parental control or discipline.
  • Low-income family cohesion.
  • Negative communication patterns in the family.

Related to the community and society:

  • Peers use drugs or alcohol.
  • Acceptability of substance use.

Diagnosis of substance use disorder.

  • A doctor’s evaluation.
  • Sometimes a person’s self-report.

Sometimes a substance use disorder is diagnosed when people see a health professional because they want help to get out of it. Other people try to hide their drug use, and doctors may suspect problems only when they notice changes in a person’s mood or behavior.

Doctors discover signs of substance use during a physical exam. For example, they may find trace marks caused by repeated injection of drugs into a vein, which are lines of small dark dots (needle sticks) surrounded by an area of ​​darkened or discolored skin. Injecting medications under the skin causes scars or circular ulcers. People can say other reasons for the marks, such as frequent blood donations, insect bites, or other injuries.

Health professionals also use other methods (such as questionnaires) to identify a substance use disorder, urine and sometimes blood tests may be done to check for drugs.

Substance use disorder treatment.

It generally includes group therapy, one or more types of counseling, and drug education. A 12-step program is often part of treatment and continues afterward as part of your recovery.

Treatment deals with drugs, but it also helps you take control of your life so that you do not have to depend on them; you will learn good reasons to stop taking them; staying drug-free is a lifelong process that requires commitment and effort.

It can start with your doctor entering a treatment center, or a friend could take you to a self-help group, such as Narcotics Anonymous, or enter a clinic that deals with drug abuse.

You may be asked questions about your drug use, health problems, work, and life situation, be open and honest to get the best possible treatment. Your team can write a plan, which includes your treatment goals and ways to reach those goals.


Your doctor may decide that you need medical attention to control withdrawal symptoms when you first stop using drugs. This is sometimes called a detox.

People dependent on drugs have to go to a hospital or treatment center. Detoxification is usually done under the care of a doctor because withdrawal can be dangerous without medical attention. A doctor can prescribe medications to help with withdrawal symptoms.


Treatment for a drug problem usually involves one or more types of therapy.

  • In group therapy, you talk about your recovery with other people trying to quit smoking.
  • In cognitive-behavioral therapy, you learn to change the thoughts and actions that make you more likely to use drugs.
  • With the motivational interview, you resolve the mixed feelings about quitting smoking and receiving treatment.
  • Motivational therapy enhancement uses motivational interviewing to help you find the motivation to quit and start recovering.
  • Couples or family counseling can help you stop using drugs, stay free, and improve your relationships with your partner and family.

Treatment usually includes going to a support group, such as Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Your family members may also want to attend a support group.

Difference between drug abuse and addiction

While both concepts exist on a similar continuum, a distinction must be made between substance dependence or addiction and drug abuse. According to some versions, addiction begins as a result of using a substance (drugs or drugs) that has a measurable impact on the reward center of the brain but does not end there.

Repeated stimulation of this reward center is sufficient to effect a change in the brain’s functionality, for the process of stimulating the reward circuits, so to speak, takes on paramount importance above all other aspects of a brain. Eating, sleeping, and even sexual activity can be a secondary place to obtain and use drugs in everyday life.

Drug abuse can lead to addiction, but as a non-clinical concept, “abuse” encompasses any use of illicit substances or inappropriate use of medications (such as taking higher doses than prescribed). As we mentioned earlier, not everyone who uses drugs (or abuses them, for that matter) becomes addicted to them. There are various levels or stages of problems and addiction, and to some extent, we have talked about the multifactorial causes of addiction. However, to be sure, abuse always precedes addiction, and statistics show that many people who suffer from drug abuse tend to progress to addiction.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.