Individuals with substance use disorder usually have a chemical dependency (also called ‘drug dependence’) on their substance of choice. When someone has a chemical dependency, their body will go into withdrawal when they are not using the substance – their body has developed a physiological need for that substance. Withdrawal is an unpleasant physical state with a lot of negative side effects. The side effects of withdrawal can include fatigue, irritability, nausea, sweating, insomnia, headaches, and other uncomfortable physical and psychological effects. 

Individuals can have both a physical dependence on a substance and a psychological dependence on a substance. When someone has a psychological dependence on a substance, they have ‘emotional-motivational’ withdrawal symptoms. They may feel uncomfortable or uneasy, have a lowered capability to feel pleasure, anxiety, or may experience other psychological effects.

Types of Substance Use Disorder

There are different levels of severity for substance use disorder. Each level of severity is correlated with the number of diagnostic criteria met:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

The different types of substance use disorder are:

  • Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Cannabis Use Disorder
  • Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
  • Tobacco Use Disorder
  • Opioid Use Disorder
  • Hallucinogen Use Disorder
  • Stimulant Use Disorder

Symptoms

You should speak to a doctor right away to get treatment for a substance use disorder. Some common symptoms that may indicate a substance use disorder include:

  • Prioritizing obtaining and using the substance above all other things
  • Having less money than usual, or money missing with no explanation from accounts or savings
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Secretive behavior, suspiciousness, and paranoia
  • Avoiding friends and family and suddenly developing new friends
  • Problems keeping a job or a schedule
  • A lack of attention to personal care or home care
  • Shaking, sweating, stammering, or acting nervous
  • Keeping a hidden supply of the substance
  • Irritability or hostility when asked about substance use
  • Continued use of the substance even when it is negatively impacting work, health, and relationships
  • Decreased performance at, or absence from, work or school
  • Losing interest in activities that were once fun or exciting due to substance use
  • Physically needing the substance in order to function
  • Using substances secretly, when alone, or making excuses to use substances
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

Causes and Risk Factors

No single factor causes a substance use disorder, but these risk factors can make you more likely to develop one:

  • A family history of substance use disorders
  • A past history of misusing substances
  • A recent traumatic life event, like a death in the family, job loss, or breakup
  • Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Childhood trauma including mental, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Experiencing a personal trauma, like rape or violence
  • Dependence on a substance to control pain or another physical reaction to being without it

Treatment

Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are worried that you need help to address your substance use. You and your doctor can come up with the right treatment plan that meets your needs. 

Individuals experiencing an overdose due to substance use need immediate medical attention – if you suspect that someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Substance use disorder can often be treated successfully with therapy and support; some individuals may benefit from medication to ease the symptoms of withdrawal as well. Withdrawal from some illicit substances may require inpatient hospitalization.

Therapy: A therapist can help you find and implement coping strategies and learn ways to address your cravings. 

Education: Learning more about substance use disorder and other mental health conditions can help you recognize them and their triggers. Visit the Psych-lopedia to learn more about mental health conditions.

Support: Getting the support that you need can help you feel better faster. Locate a support group at Sheppard Pratt. 

Medication: Depending on the substance with which an individual has a problem, certain medication may help ease the side effects of withdrawal. Speak with a medical professional to learn more about medication options.