Substance use disorder (or drug addiction) is a psychiatric disorder in people. In the disorder, people uncontrollably use a substance (legal or illegal drugs or medications) despite harmful consequences.
Substance use disorder (or drug addiction) is a psychiatric disorder in people. In the disorder, people uncontrollably use a substance (legal or illegal drugs or medications) despite harmful consequences.

Substance use disorder (or drug addiction) is a psychiatric disorder in people. In this condition, people uncontrollably use a substance (legal or illegal drugs or medications) despite harmful consequences. The excessive use of the substance by a person disrupts their normal functioning at school, home or work. These addiction-causing substances include recreational drugs or illegal drugs, tobacco, alcohol and even some prescription drugs.

Initially, a person may start using a particular substance for fun, such as experiencing something for the first time or for managing symptoms, such as pain (as seen in opioid abuse). As time passes, the usage of the substance may increase so much that they get addicted to it.

Not everyone who indulges in activities such as drinking or smoking ends up developing substance use disorder. The exact cause of substance use disorder remains unknown. However, studies show that people who have peers and family members with attitudes or behaviors that encourage the use of substances and who inherit related genes from their parents are more likely to develop the condition.

Many who develop a substance use disorder are seen to be already suffering from depression, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or another psychiatric problem.

A stressful lifestyle and low self-esteem may also give rise to an addiction.

How do you recognize someone with substance use disorder?

If someone close to you is going through substance use disorder, you may be able to notice one or more of the signs and symptoms, including

  • Having a strong urge to use the substance several times a day
  • Ensuring that there is an adequate supply of the substance
  • Getting restless if they do not find the substance when the urge arises
  • Needing more of the drug to produce the same effect
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing the substance
  • Displaying a readiness to do anything (even criminal activities) to get the drug in case there is no money to buy it
  • Indulging in risky behaviors under the influence of the substance
  • Engaging in secretive behavior to hide drug use
  • Feeling helpless in several attempts to quit the substance use
  • Displaying episodes of violence
  • Continuing to use the substance even when they know it is affecting their daily life and responsibilities
  • Neglecting how they look
  • Avoiding social gatherings and other recreational activities due to substance use
  • Lacking energy or motivation
  • Displaying confusion
  • Losing weight or having an emaciated look

Other than these symptoms, you may also notice some other signs in the person depending on the substance. For example, marijuana and hashish may cause red eyes, slowed reaction and paranoid thinking.

Which substances can lead to substance use disorder?

Most people diagnosed with substance use disorder are seen to be addicted to one or more of the following substances:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Stimulants
  • Opioids include illegal substances, such as heroin and prescriptions drugs, including
  • Cannabis (commonly referred to as marijuana)
  • Hallucinogens are substances that cause hallucinations, which are distorted perceptions of reality.
    • MDMA (also called Ecstasy)
    • Phencyclidine (PCP)
    • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)

The risk and the speed of addiction depend on the drug. Some drugs, such as opioids, pose a greater risk and potential to cause addiction faster than others.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/21/2021
References
Mayo Clinic: "Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)." https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112