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What is Substance Abuse Disorder?

Substance Abuse Disorder (SAD) is a problem that affects people of all ages. With proper treatment, however, you can overcome your addiction and lead a productive life.

Substance use disorders (SUDs) involve the repeated use of alcohol and/or drugs. Over time, SUDs affect a person's brain and behavior, making it harder to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication. Although addiction can develop from repeated substance abuse, people with SUDs are capable of quitting or changing their unhealthy behaviors. Sometimes, substance abuse starts with using a recreational drug in a social situation. For others, SUDs start with exposure to prescribed medications or receiving medications from a friend who has been prescribed the medication.

If left unchecked, substance use issues can lead to dependence syndrome, which involves a myriad of behavioral, cognitive, and physical dependence symptoms that develop after recurrent substance use. If you or a loved one is living with substance use issues, it's essential to seek help as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Substance Use Disorders

If you're living with substance use issues, you're far from alone. In the United States, about 21.7 million people over the age of 12 experienced substance use issues in 2015, while the number of patients receiving treatment totaled three million. Although SUDs affect everyone differently, they often involve a combination of behavioral, physical, and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Worsened performance at work or school.
  • Changes in personal appearances, such as a lack of personal hygiene.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits, such as weight loss or insomnia.
  • Withdrawal from family members and friends.
  • Engaging in suspicious and secretive behaviors.
  • Intense cravings to use the substance that interferes with daily life.

SUDs often co-occur with other mental health conditions, and the symptoms of co-occurring mental health conditions can be different for everyone. If you notice any warning signs of mental health disorders, such as extreme mood swings, problems concentrating, avoiding social situations, and suicidal thoughts, don't hesitate to seek help.

How To Support a Loved One With Substance Use Disorder

Teen by himself sitting on snow covered windowsill

If a teenager or young adult starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, irritable, or depressed—it could be a sign that they have a substance use problem. Parents and other adults often overlook the warning signs of SUDs in adolescents, dismissing them as a normal part of puberty.

If you think your loved one might have a SUD, it's important to create a safe space for them to be vulnerable. Instead of accusing them of using drugs or alcohol, let them know that you're concerned about their health. There is never a "perfect" time to talk to a loved one about substance use. The conversation might be uncomfortable at first—and that's completely normal.

For adolescents and young adults, recovery should be treated as a family process to ensure the best mental health outcomes. Parents should take an active role in therapy sessions, educational programs, and support groups to create a home environment that encourages long-term sobriety. Family therapy can help youth and their families communicate more effectively, build empathy, and maintain healthy boundaries.

Treatment Options for Substance Use Disorders

There are several different treatment options for SUDs, and it's important to explore different types of treatment to find the best option for you or your loved one’s needs, goals, and preferences. Depending on the nature and severity of the SUD, treatment might involve talk therapy, medication, support groups, or a combination of treatments.

Some helpful resources include:

  • Therapy: Working with a mental health professional, social worker, or human services counselor can help you gain insight into your substance abuse issues and stop using substances. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, is an effective treatment for substance use disorders and their co-occurring mental health conditions, including major depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Social support: Research shows that social support can be a valuable component of the healing process, helping individuals with substance use disorders reduce loneliness while combatting the shame surrounding substance abuse. Group therapy and family therapy can help you maintain healthy relationships and learn valuable communication skills, while support groups can help you meet other people facing the same challenges. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), offer various support group resources.
  • Medical treatment: If you’re experiencing physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms, medical detoxification is the first step toward feeling better. Medical treatment typically begins with a withdrawal process managed by health care professionals, followed by mental health treatment.
  • Hotlines. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, SAMHSA Hotline at 1-800-622-4357, or NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).

Contact Us

Living with substance use issues can be incredibly exhausting, but recognizing the problem is the first step toward feeling better. No matter where you are in your mental health journey, reaching out for professional mental health treatment can help you jumpstart the recovery process.

At Charlie Health, we offer virtual mental health treatment for adolescents, young adults, and families experiencing mental health crises. Our intensive outpatient treatment programs include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and guided psychiatrist support, with a customized treatment plan based on your unique mental health needs. Our supportive mental health professionals are here to listen to your needs, explore your treatment options, and work toward mental wellness and sustainable recovery. We have experts in substance use disorder to create a personalized, evidence-based treatment plan for you or your loved one. We are here for you.

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Reaching out takes courage. We’re here to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and match you with an appropriate treatment plan.

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