Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

What is Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

Table of Contents

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a medical condition characterized by the inability to abstain from or control the use of alcohol or drugs, despite experiencing significant clinical and functional impairment. This impairment may include health problems, disabilities, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.

SUD causes a person to become obsessed with using drugs or alcohol, even if it causes problems in their life.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

People with SUD may continue to use a substance despite experiencing negative consequences, have difficulty controlling their substance use, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using. These signs and symptoms are consistent with the DSM-5 criteria for SUD, which can help clinicians diagnose the condition and determine the appropriate course of treatment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with Substance Use Disorder (SUD), don’t hesitate to reach out for help and support. At NuView Treatment Center, we specialize in providing comprehensive and personalized treatment for SUD. Our experienced clinicians are here to guide you toward recovery and help you regain control of your life. Call us today at (323) 307-7997, and let us walk with you toward a path of healing and transformation.

The DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association made a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) to help mental health professionals identify different kinds of health problems. According to the DSM-5, a person might have SUD if they have at least two of the following 11 symptoms in one year:

  1. Using more of a substance than planned

  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using but not being able to

  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the substance

  4. Cravings or a strong desire to use the substance

  5. Problems at work, school, or home because of the substance

  6. Continuing to use the substance even when it causes problems in relationships

  7. Giving up important activities because of the substance

  8. Using the substance again and again, even when it’s dangerous

  9. Continuing to use the substance even when you know it’s causing health problems

  10. Needing more of the substance to get the same effect or finding that the substance has less effect over time

  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping the substance

Physical Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

The physical signs of SUD can include things like changes in a person’s brain, developing tolerance to a substance (needing more of it to get the same effect), and having withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance. The person’s physical appearance might change too, like losing weight or having red eyes.

Here’s a more detailed list of common physical symptoms:

  • Changes in Sleep: The person might sleep a lot more or a lot less than they used to.

  • Changes in Appetite: They might eat a lot more or a lot less, leading to weight loss or gain.

  • Looking Unwell: They might look sick often or have a lot of minor illnesses.

  • Lack of Personal Care: They might not take care of themselves as well as before. For example, they may not shower regularly or take care of their teeth.

  • Unusual Injuries: They might have more injuries, accidents, or unexplained marks on their bodies.

  • Tired Eyes: Their eyes might be red or bloodshot, or they might have bags under them from insufficient sleep.

  • Unsteady Walking: They might have trouble with balance, leading to unsteady walking or clumsiness.

  • Frequent Sniffles or Runny Nose: This could be a sign of substance use if not linked to a cold or allergies.

  • Slurred Speech: They might talk in a difficult way like their words are mumbled or mixed up.

  • Shakes or Tremors: They might have shaky hands or a tremor that they didn’t have before.

These signs can also be linked to other health problems, not just SUD. That’s why getting help from a healthcare provider is so important if you or someone you know is showing these signs.

Behavioral Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Behavioral symptoms are changes in how a person acts or behaves. These are some common ones that might happen with SUD:

  • Loss of Control: They might use more drugs or alcohol than they meant to or use them for longer than they intended.

  • Time-Consuming: They might spend a lot of time getting substances, using them, or recovering from their effects.

  • Neglected Activities: They might stop doing things they used to enjoy, like hobbies, sports, or spending time with friends and family, because of their substance use.

  • Continued Use Despite Problems: Even if they know that drugs or alcohol are causing problems in their life -like trouble with friends, family, work, or school- they keep using them.

  • Risk-Taking: They might take risks to get or use substances, like driving while under the influence or stealing to get money for drugs.

  • Trouble with Relationships: Their substance use might cause fights or problems with their friends or family.

  • Failed Attempts to Quit: They might try to quit or cut down on their substance use but can’t.

  • Withdrawal: If they don’t use the substance for a while, they might feel sick or uncomfortable. This is called withdrawal.

  • Tolerance: They need more of the substance to get the same effect. This is called tolerance.

  • Obsession: They might spend a lot of time thinking about the substance, how to get more of it, and when they’ll use it next.

Remember, seeing these signs doesn’t definitely mean someone has SUD, but it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider if you or someone you know is showing these signs.

Signs of Substance Use Disorder in Teenagers

In teenagers, SUD can be harder to spot, as some signs can look like typical teen behavior. However, some key signs include:

  • Changes in behavior, like skipping school, getting lower grades, or losing interest in activities they used to enjoy.

  • Changes in friends, especially if they’re secretive about them.

  • Using substances like alcohol or drugs or having items associated with substance use, like pipes or bottles.

  • Changes in physical appearances, like sudden weight loss or gain, bloodshot eyes, or neglecting personal grooming.

  • Changes in mood, like being irritable, anxious, or unusually tired.

Signs of Substance Abuse in Adults

In adults, signs of SUD can vary but often include the following:

  • Spending a lot of time using or recovering from the effects of substances.

  • Struggling to perform at work or home because of substance use.

  • Continuing to use substances even when it causes problems in relationships.

  • Developing tolerance, which means needing more of the substance to get the same effect.

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using the substance.

Signs of Substance Abuse in Pregnant Woman

For pregnant women, substance use can have harmful effects on both the woman and the unborn child. Signs of SUD in pregnant women can include:

  • Missing prenatal appointments.

  • Poor weight gain or nutrition.

  • Physical signs of drug use or withdrawal.

  • Problems with the baby, like low birth weight or signs of withdrawal after birth.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

Understanding the causes and risk factors of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can be helpful in prevention and treatment. There’s no single cause of SUD. Rather, it is usually the result of a combination of genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

What Causes Substance Use Disorder?

SUD is often caused by a variety of factors such as genetics, environment, and psychological factors.

  • Genes: A person’s genes, or the traits they inherit from their parents, can make them more likely to develop SUD.

  • Environment: Where a person lives, who they hang out with, and what they experience can all affect their risk of SUD.

  • Behavior: The choices a person makes can also contribute to SUD. For example, using drugs or alcohol at a young age can increase the risk.

Factors That Can Contribute to Substance Use Disorder

Many things can make a person more likely to develop SUD. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Family History: Having a family member with substance use or other mental disorders can increase a person’s risk.

  • Stress: Experiencing a lot of stress or not having healthy ways to cope with stress can make a person more likely to use substances.

  • Peer Influence: Being around others who use substances can increase a person’s risk. This is especially true for young people, who might face peer pressure to use substances.

  • Mental Health Disorders: Having a mental health disorder can make a person more likely to develop SUD. This is because some people use substances to try to feel better or to cope with symptoms of their mental health condition.

  • Lack of Family Involvement: Not having strong, healthy relationships with family members can also increase a person’s risk of SUD.

  • Early Use: Starting to use substances at a young age can increase a person’s risk of SUD. This is partly because substances can harm the developing brain.

Remember, just because a person has these risk factors doesn’t mean they will develop SUD. But knowing these factors can help people make healthier choices and seek help if they need it.

What is the Connection Between Substance Use and Co-occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders happen when a person has a substance use disorder and another mental health disorder at the same time. For example, a person might have both alcohol use disorder and depression.

The Link Between Mental Health Disorders and Substance Use Disorders

There is a significant connection between mental health disorders and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), often referred to as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis. Research shows that people with mental health disorders are more likely to experience drug or alcohol misuse. This can be due to a variety of factors, including self-medication, genetic vulnerability, and environmental triggers.

People with mental health disorders may use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. For example, a person with anxiety might use alcohol to calm their nerves, or someone with depression might use illegal drugs to feel happier. However, substance use can also exacerbate mental health conditions, creating a problematic cycle.

Explanation of Co-occurring Disorders

When a person has two or more disorders at the same time, they’re called co-occurring disorders. This can make both disorders harder to treat, but many people with co-occurring disorders can get better with the right treatment.

Types of Co-occurring Disorders

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, co-occurring disorders can be any combination of two or more mental health or substance use disorders. Some common examples include depression and alcohol abuse, anxiety and cocaine use disorder, and schizophrenia with cannabis misuse.

The Impact of Co-occurring Disorders on Substance Abuse Treatment

Co-occurring disorders can complicate the treatment of substance abuse. For instance, symptoms of mental disorders can be similar to those of substance misuse, making it harder for healthcare providers to diagnose and treat these conditions.

The most severe form of SUD often occurs in people with co-occurring mental disorders. This can lead to a problematic pattern of drug use, with patients sometimes misusing drugs to control symptoms of their mental disorders.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders and Substance Use Disorder

Dual diagnosis treatment is often used when it comes to treating co-occurring disorders and SUD. This treatment addresses both mental health and substance use disorders at the same time. It typically involves a mix of addiction treatment, behavioral therapies, and mental health services. The goal is to help the person develop healthier behaviors and learn how to manage both conditions effectively.

Behavioral Therapies for Co-occurring Disorders and Substance Use Disorder

Treatment for co-occurring disorders often involves a combination of mental health services and addiction treatment. This can include behavioral therapies, medication, and support from healthcare providers and peer groups.

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management, can help people change their thinking and behavior around substance use. These therapies can also help people develop new and healthier values and behaviors, which can support staying drug-free.

Long-term residential treatment and intensive outpatient programs can provide a supportive environment for recovery. These programs often include group therapy and therapeutic communities, where people can learn from and support each other.

Assertive community treatment is another approach for people with severe forms of mental health disorders and SUD. This treatment includes help from a team of healthcare providers who work with the person in their community.

Medications for Co-occurring Disorders and Substance Use Disorder

Certain medications can be helpful in treating co-occurring disorders and SUD. Some medications can help control cravings for drugs or alcohol, while others can help manage symptoms of mental disorders.

It’s important to note that medications should be used as part of a broader treatment plan, not as the sole treatment approach. A formal assessment by a healthcare provider can determine the best medication strategy for each individual.

Recovery and Maintenance for Co-occurring Disorders and Substance Use Disorder

Recovery and maintenance are crucial parts of managing co-occurring disorders and SUD. This often involves ongoing therapy and support from groups like Narcotics Anonymous. The person may also need to learn new ways to cope with stress, avoid triggers for drug use, and maintain their mental health. Remember, recovery is a long-term process, and it’s normal to have ups and downs along the way.

What are the Types of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

There are seven different types of Substance Use Disorder (SUD), each related to a specific substance. These include alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, and stimulants.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder, often called alcoholism, happens when someone’s use of alcohol leads to health problems or troubles at work, school, or home. People with this disorder may drink more alcohol for a longer time than they plan to or have trouble controlling their drinking. This disorder, diagnosed by healthcare providers, can lead to chronic diseases like liver disease.

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid Use Disorder is a type of SUD linked to the use of opioids. Opioids are drugs that include prescription medicines like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin. People with this disorder may misuse these drugs in a way that is not intended by doctors. This can lead to a drug overdose, which can be life-threatening.

Stimulant Use Disorder

Stimulant Use Disorder is related to the use of stimulant drugs. These can include prescription medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or illegal drugs like cocaine. People with this disorder might use more of the drug than they should or use it in ways that are risky or harmful.

Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

This disorder is linked to drug misuse that makes people feel calm or sleepy. These drugs, known as sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics, are often prescribed for anxiety or sleep problems. Misuse can happen when people take more than their prescribed dose or use these drugs without a prescription.

Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis Use Disorder involves the misuse of cannabis, also known as marijuana. People with this disorder might use cannabis in larger amounts or over a longer time than they meant to. They might also have a strong desire to use cannabis and may lose control over their use.

Inhalant Use Disorder

Inhalant Use Disorder is a SUD related to the misuse of substances that give off fumes or vapors. These can include things like glue, paint thinner, or aerosol sprays. People with this disorder might inhale these substances to feel high.

Hallucinogen Use Disorder

Hallucinogen Use Disorder involves the misuse of drugs that cause people to see, hear, or feel things that are not real, known as hallucinations. These drugs can include substances like LSD or magic mushrooms.

Each of these disorders can lead to serious problems, but help is available. If you or a family member is struggling with SUD, it’s important to seek treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers resources and information about drug addiction treatment options.

What is the Diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

To diagnose SUD, a healthcare professional assesses a person’s substance use pattern and resulting symptoms. They may also screen for psychiatric symptoms and review the person’s substance use history. To receive a diagnosis of SUD, an individual must meet at least 2 out of 11 criteria outlined in the DSM-5.

The Process of Diagnosing Substance Use Disorder

When a healthcare provider thinks a person might have SUD, they usually start with a “screening.” This is like a basic check-up, but instead of checking physical health, it checks for signs of problems with drugs or alcohol. During this screening, the person answers questions about their substance use, which could include how often and how much they use drugs or alcohol.

After the screening, if the healthcare provider thinks the person might have SUD, they do a more detailed assessment. This is when the healthcare provider checks for “clinically significant impairment” or how the person’s drug or alcohol use is causing major problems in their life. These problems could be at work, at school, with family, or with friends.

The healthcare provider will also check if the person’s substance use is “problematic” or if the person might be using drugs or alcohol in a way that isn’t healthy or safe. They might also be using more of a substance than they want to, or they might have tried to stop using but can’t.

Screening and Assessment Tools for Substance Use Disorder

There are many tools that doctors and other healthcare providers use to check if a person might have Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Here are a few of the most common ones:

  • CAGE Questionnaire: This tool asks four simple questions about a person’s feelings and behaviors related to alcohol. The name “CAGE” comes from the first letter of each question’s main idea: Cutting down, Annoyance by criticism, Guilty feeling, and Eye-openers.

  • Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT): This tool uses 10 questions to check for signs of alcohol misuse. It asks about things like how much a person drinks, how often they drink, and if they’ve ever gotten hurt because of drinking.

  • Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST): This tool uses questions to check for signs of drug misuse. It asks about things like if a person has ever felt guilty about their drug use, or if they’ve ever had problems at work or at home because of drugs.

  • Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI): This tool uses questions to check if a person might have a substance use disorder. It’s called “subtle” because it can often pick up on signs of SUD that might not be obvious.

  • Addiction Severity Index (ASI): This tool uses questions to figure out how severe a person’s substance use disorder might be. It asks about things like how much a person’s substance use is affecting their life, including their health, their relationships, and their work.

  • Substance Abuse Mental Illness Symptoms Screener (SAMISS): This tool is used to identify symptoms of mental health disorders in people who are already known to have a substance use problem. It helps in understanding if a person might have a dual diagnosis, which means they have a mental health disorder along with SUD.

These tools are just the first step in diagnosing SUD. If a person’s answers suggest they might have SUD, their healthcare provider will usually do a more detailed assessment.

The Importance of Seeking Professional Help

Seeking professional help is crucial for individuals who may be dealing with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Healthcare providers are equipped to identify if drug misuse or problematic substance use is causing significant difficulties in important areas of life like work or school. They can also help manage and control substance use, fostering the development of healthier behaviors and addressing any underlying addictive disorders.

Furthermore, Substance Use Disorder often involves multiple factors, which may include mental health problems. A professional is capable of addressing all these interconnected issues simultaneously. In essence, professional help provides the necessary guidance and support for individuals to regain control of their lives, navigate the complexities of SUD, and work towards a healthier future.

How does Substance Abuse Treatment Work?

Substance abuse treatment is like a roadmap that guides people to a healthier life away from drug misuse. It’s not just about stopping the use of drugs or alcohol but also about learning new habits and skills to stay drug-free.
Embark on the path to a healthier, drug-free life with our comprehensive substance abuse treatment program. Let us guide you toward lasting recovery and equip you with the tools for a brighter future. Call us today and take the first step: (323) 307-7997

Treatment for SUD usually involves a mix of medication and therapy. This can help a person stop using substances and live healthier.

Levels of Substance Abuse Treatment

There are different levels of treatment for SUD, depending on how severe the disorder is. Some people might need to stay in a treatment center for a while, while others can get treatment while living at home.

Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment

Inpatient treatment involves staying at a facility for a period of time to receive intensive treatment. This can help a person focus on their recovery without distractions.

Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment

Outpatient treatment is where people don’t have to stay in a treatment center. Instead, they visit a health clinic or a mental health professional’s office for sessions. This could be once a week or every day, depending on what the person needs. The goal of this treatment is to help people change their unhealthy behaviors and develop desired behaviors that don’t involve drug misuse.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

In Dual Diagnosis Treatment, the person might work with a team of professionals. This could include a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication, a psychologist or therapist who provides counseling, and a case manager who helps coordinate care. The treatment might involve medication to manage symptoms, therapy to help the person understand and change their behaviors, and support groups where they can learn from others with similar experiences.

Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities

Substance Abuse Treatment Centers are places where people can go to get help for SUD. They offer different kinds of treatment, like therapy, medication, and support groups.

Finding Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities Near You

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a tool on its website where you can find treatment centers near you.

When looking for a substance abuse treatment facility, it’s important to find one that’s close to your home or work. This will make it easier for you to attend appointments and stay committed to your treatment plan. You can start by talking to your doctor or mental health professional to get recommendations for treatment centers in your area. You can also search online for treatment centers that specialize in substance abuse.

Choosing the Right Substance Abuse Treatment Center

When choosing a substance abuse treatment center, it’s important to find one that meets your specific needs. This may include factors such as the type of treatment offered, the location of the facility, and the cost of treatment. It’s also important to consider the staff’s qualifications, the program’s success rates, and the treatment center’s overall philosophy. By doing your research and choosing a treatment center that’s a good fit for you, you can increase your chances of success in overcoming your addiction and living a healthier life.


Substance Use Disorder is a serious but treatable health problem. It’s important to seek help if you or someone you know might have SUD. Remember, it’s never too late to start on the path to a healthier, substance-free life. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if needed. You’re not alone, and there are people and resources that can help you.

Don’t Delay. Seek Help Today.

Substance abuse disorder can lead to severe consequences, which is why it’s crucial to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier someone seeks help, the greater their chances of achieving a successful recovery.

Contact us now to take that important first step towards healing and reclaiming your life from substance abuse. Our dedicated team at (323) 307-7997 is ready to provide the support and resources you need for a successful recovery journey.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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