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Substance Use Disorder

Developing a physical dependency on drugs or alcohol could mean you have a substance use disorder.  Breaking the cycle of addiction is difficult, and can require medical intervention. Although not easy to overcome, thousands of people each year successfully break their addictive habits and move forward to healthy lives.

People develop addictions due to a variety of factors; some are genetically predisposed,  while others develop dependence due to recreational overuse of alcohol or drugs. Some individuals use substances to self-medicate medical or psychological conditions, while others develop addictions to the prescription drugs. Regardless of the causes, substance abuse can impair all aspects of an individual’s life including school, work and interpersonal relationships.

Because the effects of alcohol and drugs differ, the list of symptoms will vary according to the chemical of choice. Below are some of the common indicators that someone may be suffering from a substance use disorder:

  • Mood Swings
  • Irritability
  • Lying
  • Hiding
  • Always Broke
  • Not following through on commitments
  • Drastic change in friends
  • Argumentative
  • Dropping out of school
  • Flunking a semester
  • Failure to transition to adulthood
  • Avoiding family
  • Disappearing for periods of time
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Sleeping for abnormally long periods of time

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists four categories of classification of use. Of those four, Social Impairment is when most people enter addiction treatment programs or commonly referred to as drug rehabilitation programs. Often, this is the time when those closest to the person with the addiction recognize that something is wrong.  It is essential to intercede at this point to help protect your loved one from more physical and emotional damage due to substance abuse.

Below is a list of the four categories, as indicated in the DSM-5.

  • Impaired Control– Taking large amounts of substances over a longer period than intended. Unsuccessful attempts to cut down and/or ongoing cravings or urges to use.
  • Social Impairment– Because of substance abuse, your loved one has failed to fulfill roles such as work, school, and employment. Increased interpersonal problems such as withdrawal from family and giving up social and recreational activities.
  • Risky Use– Using substances is physically hazardous, and your loved one continues to use, despite knowledge of negative consequences. Failure to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
  • Pharmacological– Tolerance has been built, needing more substances to obtain effects. Withdrawal symptoms are present when the substance effects wear off, indicating physical dependence.

The possibility of relapse is high, and multiple interventions and residential treatment may be needed to ensure long-term success. Substance use disorders can be treated successfully but must be individualized based on the causes and symptoms. Substance use disorders are usually treated with a combination of the following interventions:

  • Detoxification to rid the body of the substance
  • Behavioral Therapy to develop coping strategies to combat the drug/alcohol cravings and to avoid relapse
  • Cognitive Therapy to change unproductive thinking patterns that lead to chemical abuse
  • Medication to eliminate the symptoms caused by chemical imbalances in the body, to “wean” the individual off the drug, or to treat co-occurring disorders

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have a chemical dependency problem, please contact a professional mental health provider for diagnosis and treatment.