When people think of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), they often picture someone who is down on their luck. For example, they might think of someone who is homeless, unemployed, has health problems or is in legal trouble. Unfortunately, these stereotypes fuel the stigma around substance use disorders. In reality, those circumstances make up only a very small percentage of SUD cases. In fact, substance use disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and social classes. Most people tend to function very well at first with limited negative consequences. Most seek help on their own through counseling or self-help groups.
What is a Substance Use Disorder?
When someone is experiencing symptoms resulting from using alcohol or drugs and they continue to use despite experience the following:
Increasing substance use and frequency
In other words, if someone only wanted to drink four beers and they ended up drinking ten. Similarly, if their intention was to stay for one hour and they end up closing the bar down. Further, they miss their daughter’s basketball game.
Wanting to cut down or stop, but not managing to
For example, if they tell themselves they are only going to drink three beers and every time they consume 12 instead. Or, if they tell themselves that they are not going to drink at all and then end up drinking.
Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering
Always thinking about how they are going to get their substance of choice, or recovering from the “night before”. Including missing other obligations to recover.
Prioritizing the substance over other responsibilities
Not managing to do what they should at work, home, or school because of substance use. Or, completely missing work, missing deadlines, not going to family functions, or using instead of studying or going to classes.
Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use. Also, not attending an event because they know that their drug of choice won’t be there.
Continuing to use, even when it puts them in physical danger
If they have a physical or psychological problem and continue to use the substance despite worsening conditions. For instance, if a professional tells them that their liver will continue to be damaged, but they drink anyway.
Cravings and withdrawal
Sometimes those experiencing a substance use disorder can’t stop thinking about it. Even when they are supposed to be thinking about other things. Another example is increasing the amount or frequency to get the effect they want (tolerance). For instance, if it only took five beers to feel drunk in the past, but now it takes 12 beers. In addition, withdrawal symptoms might occur. This includes having tremors or seizures if they don’t drink. When they do drink the tremors or seizures go away.
What are the treatment options?
It can be scary to ask for help. However, it is a very courageous thing to do. One option is treatment from a therapist with experience in substance use disorders. After an initial consultation, the therapist will work with you to come up with a treatment plan. Then they will guide you as you navigate and implement the plan. Additionally, having a great support system is really helpful when overcoming a substance use disorder.
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