August 13, 2020

Jem Fundano

Substance Use Disorder: What is it?

Whenever we talk about addiction there is a tendency to conclude that you might be dealing with alcohol, nicotine, or drug abuse; but what you have to understand is that Substance Use Disorder doesn’t only cover those substances. There are certain identified addictive substances you may be using regularly in your daily life and you might think it is harmless.

What Are the Different Types of Substances?

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Cannabis
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Opioids
  • Sedatives
  • Hypnotics
  • Anxiolytics
  • Stimulants
  • Tobacco
  • Other or Unknown Substances

Definition of a Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is a cluster of specific mental disorders under the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders from the DSM-V that indicates a condition if you’re someone who excessively takes substances that were identified above. Substance use disorder means that despite how taking substances are negatively affecting or risking your way of thinking, behavior, and your body, you continue to use it.

Of course, as the definition of a substance use disorder highlights ‘excessive use’, how much is too much? How can you tell if you or your loved one is excessively using a substance? A diagnostic criterion for substance use disorder was created to help mental health professionals gauge and assess what type of substance use disorder you are experiencing and how severe is your substance use. Here are the Diagnostic Criteria for Substance Use Disorder:

Impaired Control

An impairment in control means you are struggling to put a stop in the consumption of the substance. This may cause you to take the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period to feel the effects. Impaired Control can be identified if you are spending most of your time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.

For severe substance use disorder, one diagnostic criterion is cravings. Craving manifests through impulsive thoughts about the said substance. Wanting to take the substance can be triggered by places, actions, and words that trigger you from taking the substance.

Social Impairment

Taking substances like alcohol and drinking enough alcohol where you get hangovers which makes you unproductive or absent in work or school is an example of social impairment. If you fail to fulfill obligations in your social life as an effect of a substance, it is also social impairment. Taking substances like drugs can affect your behavior and it can affect your relationships. Social Impairment may also be observed if you replace important work, social, or school activities with substance use. With these actions, you lose friends and family.

Risky Use

Other diagnostic criteria of substance use disorder are continuous substance use despite the psychological, emotional, or physiological effects you are experiencing because of the substance. Risky use means that even with the experience or knowledge you have about how the substance is affecting you negatively, you still consume it. It may mean you’re putting yourself or others in danger; Driving under the influence, increasing intake even with the risk of overdose, and having bad reactions with the substance because of cardiac illness are examples of risky use.

Tolerance and Withdrawal

These pharmacological diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder is another way of gauging the severity of substance use. Those found to have severe SUD experience tolerance and withdrawal.

Tolerance means you increase the dosage of a substance so you can successfully feel the desired effect you want to experience. Tolerance is a subtle action you rarely observe when you’re having fun. For example, the first time you drank alcohol, you were already feeling intoxicated with only 3-4 drinks. The second time you decide to drink, you increase your intake with 1 or more drinks until it gets to a point where occasional drinking escalates to regular drinking.

Withdrawal is a diagnostic criterion for substance use disorder which is your body and mind’s response whenever your body recognizes that there is no more substance --the one you’ve been taking-- left in your body. In different types of drugs, withdrawal can range from having intrusive thoughts or cravings to severe withdrawals like hallucinating, vomiting, or having hot flashes. It is a tendency to relieve themselves of withdrawal through getting proper treatment or going back in taking the said substance.

Is It Causing You or Your Loved One Harm?

There’s a thin line between using and abusing and that thin line may not be clear. In these situations, only you can assess where you fall and decide if this is the end of an unhealthy habit. If you think you can’t stop or if you think it is causing harm, then it is best to reach out for help to mental health professionals who can clarify the situation for you.

Related Article: Do I Need Therapy?

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