Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a condition in which a person develops a pattern of uncontrolled substance use that causes harmful effects. People with SUDs suffer from impaired thinking and behavior that can make it difficult for them to function in day-to-day life.
A person with substance use disorder may find it difficult to quit using the substance, even if they want to quit. That’s because SUD causes changes in brain function that affects judgment, learning, behavior, and memory. In some cases, a person may develop a physical dependency on a substance, and they’ll experience severe withdrawal symptoms once they stop using it.
It can be tricky to determine what substance abuse disorder is because the symptoms can range from very mild to severe. Generally, SUD refers to a pattern of harmful behavior rather than an isolated incident.
What Are the Different Types of Substance Use Disorders?
There are a wide range of substance use disorders. Substances that are commonly abused include, but are not limited to:
Marijuana (also known as cannabis)
Nicotine (used in cigarettes and other tobacco products)
Stimulants (drugs that energize or give a high level of focus, like amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine, MDMA, and Adderall)
Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP, mushrooms, etc.)
Inhalants (glues, fuels, and other chemicals or gases that are “sniffed” to produce a high)
Sugar (foods with high amounts of sugar can be highly addictive)
Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
How can you tell whether you or someone you know is suffering from substance use disorder? Here are a few common symptoms of SUD:
Physical dependence: A person with SUD may develop a physical dependency on a substance. They might not be able to go long without using the substance, or they “need” the substance to function normally. In severe cases, a person may suffer from withdrawal symptoms if they go too long without using the substance. Withdrawal symptoms may include shakiness, sweating, nausea, hallucinations, seizures, and insomnia.
Risky use: Most people with substance use disorder have developed a higher tolerance to the substance they’re using, which means they need an increasingly larger amount to feel its effects. This may cause the person to consume high volumes of the substance, thereby increasing the risk of an overdose. A person with SUD is also more likely to use substances in unsafe places. They risk becoming inebriated somewhere with hazardous or predatory people, and put themselves–or others–in harm’s way.
Social problems: Because SUD impairs judgment and behavior, a person with SUD is more likely to cause damage to their personal or professional relationships. Their behavior might be socially unacceptable while they’re under the influence. They might also go to great lengths to obtain the substance they’re hooked on, which can spark unusual behavior that impacts relationships.
Impaired control: A person with substance use disorder may have little or no control over how and when they use the substance. They might have an inability to “say no.” Because SUD can cause changes in brain function and physical dependency, the person might not be able to stop even if they’re aware they have a substance use problem. Quitting is not simply a matter of willpower.
Diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder
According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), you can recognize substance use disorder by the following criteria:
Amount and Tolerance: The person consumes an unusually large amount of the substance and needs greater quantities of the substance to feel its effects.
Time: The person spends an unusually large amount of time consuming the substance or trying to obtain it.
Control: The person shows little control over how much of the substance they use or how often they use the substance.
Social Problems: The person’s substance use causes problems in their personal and professional relationships.
Cravings / Withdrawals: The person frequently has cravings for the substance or experiences withdrawal symptoms after going too long without the substance.
Hazards: The person engages in risky behavior while under the influence of the substance.
How to Help Someone with SUD
Having a loved one struggle with substance use disorder can be a difficult thing to experience. Thankfully, there are many ways to help someone with substance use disorder.
Many people with SUD will be encouraged to seek inpatient treatment, in which they’re provided around-the-clock medical supervision. Inpatient treatment can last from weeks to months, depending on the severity of the SUD. Inpatient treatment may include:
Detoxification: The affected person will stop taking the substance so their body will be entirely rid of it. Medical professionals may prescribe small amounts of the substance so the patient can wane off it without suffering withdrawal symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT is a highly structured type of psychotherapy in which the affected person learns how to examine his or her own thoughts. The goal is to identify emotions and thinking patterns that might have caused the person to develop a substance use problem in the first place.
Medication-Assisted Therapy: In some cases, a person with SUD may be prescribed medication that will counteract changes in brain chemistry caused by the SUD.
Once a person with SUD leaves inpatient treatment, they’re often encouraged to participate in an outpatient program. Outpatient programs may include:
Counseling: A person can participate in individual counseling or they can participate in assertive community treatment (ACT). In ACT, a person recovering from SUD will receive mental health services in a community setting with other people who are recovering from SUDs.
Therapeutic Communities: A therapeutic community is a long-term residential treatment in which people recovering from SUD can develop healthier behaviors and values. A sober-living community is an example of a TC.
It’s important that a person suffering or recovering from substance use disorder receives plenty of support from their friends and family.
Here are some ways you can help someone with substance use disorder:
Address your concerns with the impacted person as soon as possible—suggest they call a helpline or seek mental health treatment, and offer to accompany your loved one to a treatment center
Don’t expect your loved one to change their behavior or seek treatment after a single conversation
Show empathy and listen carefully to your loved one
Take care of yourself, too—helping someone with an SUD can cause grief, stress, or depression
Substance Use Disorder Program at Penny Lane
Do you know someone recovering from SUD in the Los Angeles area? Learn about the Substance Use Disorder Program at Penny Lane Centers. We provide outpatient programs for people recovering from substance use disorder and have 3 locations in LA county. We work with both adolescents and adults (ages 12 and up).
Types of Services in the Substance Use Disorder Program
The Substance Use Disorder Program at Penny Lane Centers includes:
• Both in-person services and online services via telehealth
• Outpatient, Intensive Outpatient and Recovery Support Services
• Individual, group sessions, family therapy and case management services
• English and Spanish-language services for ages 12 and up
Ways to Help Penny Lane Support Individuals with SUD
Even if you don’t personally know someone struggling with SUD, you can still help Penny Lane Centers make a difference:
Volunteer:Become a volunteer and help us with our annual giveaways, fundraising activities, and virtual events.
Mentor:Be a mentor to a young person in need of guidance and support.
By donating your time, money, or experience, you can help Penny Lane Centers make a positive impact on young people and our community.
Penny Lane Centers is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that cares for over 3500 abused and neglected children, youth and families a month. We provide therapeutic services, foster family home placements, adoption services, transitional and affordable housing, family preservation, Intensive Services and mental health services for children youth and families throughout Los Angeles County.