Since 2015, the American Psychiatric Association has been using the term “substance use disorder” (SUD) for the disease that was previously known as substance addiction and substance abuse. The change came with the publication of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition). There are many disorders that fall under the umbrella of substance use disorder that are based on the substance being used (e.g. alcohol use disorder, heroin use disorder, etc.).
As substance use disorder has been misunderstood and stigmatized for decades, the change reinforced hopes that the stigma could be reduced. Indeed, the bigger hope is to raise more of an accurate understanding of SUD overall. A substance use disorder is defined by the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”
In contrast to casual substance use, substance use disorder is a loss of choice and a lack of control over the substance. Once substance use disorder sets in, being under the influence of the substance becomes the body’s and/or mind’s new homeostasis. If the sufferers do not use the substance, they will feel physical and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms. The substance starts to interfere with the sufferers’ lives.
Substance use disorder should be diagnosed by a medical professional. However, some degree of self-diagnosis is acceptable (or by the individuals around the person suffering). This can be discerned based on the frequency of substance use and/or if the substance use is interfering with aspects of the individual’s life (e.g. work, school, children, sports, etc.).
The lines between casual use and a substance disorder are often blurred to the general population. However, when the behaviors are examined, the difference becomes more evident. It is at this point that residential treatment should be considered.
The individual loses the control over the frequency and amount that they use. The individuals may continue to use regardless of the consequences.
The individuals’ substance use interferes with school, work, recreational activities, relationships, and other social situations. They may use in private and may prioritize keeping their substance use a secret from others due to shame of the loss of control.
The individuals’ may continue to use regardless of the physical, emotional, and legal risks. For example, they may have been arrested or told by a doctor that their health is declining due to the substance use, but they still continue to use.
Withdrawals will occur if a person with a substance use disorder stops using for a period of time. Tolerance levels and withdrawals typically work in concert with one another. If a person becomes tolerant to the effects of drugs or alcohol, their body has begun to need/expect the chemicals produced by the substance.
In the next article, we will cover the 11 symptoms of substance use disorder to further understand the complexity of addiction and its power over individuals.
If believe you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder based on behaviors, there is no stigma here at First Steps Recovery. Our first priority is to get you the help you need. We understand the many contributing factors to the disease of addiction and are ready to help guide you through to full recovery. Please call one of our addiction specialists today: 1-844-244-7837.