Addiction is commonly referred to as a substance use disorder. Substance use disorder is a disease that manifests in the brain and behaviors of those affected. Since this disease leads to a lack of control over substance use, whether it be illicit drugs or prescription medications, those who are addicted may continue to abuse substances regardless of the harm it may cause. 


How Substance Use Disorder Develops

There are a variety of ways that a substance use disorder may develop. In addition, a person can also be more likely to develop a substance use disorder if they have any of the risk factors for addiction. Consequently, the more risk factors a person is exposed to, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder.


Risk factors for developing a substance use disorder include:[1]

  • Family history of addiction (genetics play 50% of the role in the development of substance use disorders. Children whose parents suffer from a substance use disorder are more likely to suffer themselves.)
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Poor social skills
  • Peer influences
  • Mental illness
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Experimenting with substances at a young age


Substance use disorders often begin with recreational drug use or experimentation at a young age. In the beginning, many people will use these substances in social settings. As drug use becomes more frequent, many will begin to isolate and use drugs alone.  For others, substance use disorders may begin with prescription medications, like opioids or benzodiazepines. When these medications are taken, an individual may abuse them by taking more than the prescribed dose, crushing, snorting, or injecting their medications. The risk of addiction will vary from person to person, depending on their upbringing, the type of substance they are using, and the dose they are taking. 


If people continue to take a substance for extended periods of time, they will begin to build a tolerance to the substance. As time passes, their bodies will require larger doses or stronger doses to produce a high. As the amount and potency of substance use increases, individuals will begin to find it increasingly difficult to function normally without the drug. When this occurs, a dependence has developed. When a person who is physically dependent on a substance tries to stop taking it, they will experience withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. 


Withdrawals can be so unpleasant that individuals will continue to use to avoid becoming ill. As this becomes a habit, a substance use disorder can develop. These behaviors can become habitual, compulsive, and unable to control. In many cases, these individuals will require professional help if they are ready to quit using. 


Substance Use Disorder Symptoms


Like any other disease, substance use disorders have an array of symptoms that one may experience. Although these may differ from person to person, common symptoms associated with substance use disorders include:[2]

  • Needing more of a substance to produce the desired effect
  • When a substance is not taken withdrawal symptoms occur
  • Feeling intense urges and cravings that drown out other thoughts
  • Spending excessive money on substances
  • Failing to meet work, school, or social obligations
  • Continuing to use the substance even when wanting to stop
  • Risky behaviors, such as stealing, driving under the influences, and other illegal activities
  • Lying to friends and family about substance use
  • Inability to stop using and lack of control over the amount used
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability


Diagnosing Substance Use Disorders


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition is often called the DSM-V or DSM 5. It is the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s text defining and explaining features of every mental illness. The DSM 5 has specific criteria for diagnosing substance use disorders and it is based on decades of scientific research and clinical knowledge. The 11 criteria used to diagnose substance use disorders are:[3]

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for a longer amount of time than intended.
  2. Wanting to stop using or use in moderation but being unable to do so.
  3. Spending increasing amounts of time getting, using, and recovering from substances.
  4. Intense desires or cravings for a substance.
  5. Lack of ability to manage obligations due to substance use.
  6. Continuing to use substances even when substance use is causing relationship problems.
  7. Giving up important or enjoyable activities and hobbies to use.
  8. Continuing to use even if there is danger involved.
  9. A person continues using when physical and psychological problems are worsened by use. 
  10. Increasing tolerance to a substance.
  11. Withdrawal symptoms occur when a substance is not taken. 


If a person experiences less than 2 symptoms, they do not have a substance use disorder. The presence of 2-3 symptoms indicates a mild disorder and 4-5 symptoms indicate a moderate disorder. Lastly, if a person experiences 6 or more of these criteria, they have a severe substance use disorder.[3]


Treating Substance Use Disorders in Palm Beach

At Comprehensive Wellness Centers in Palm Beach, our addiction professionals specialize in treating substance use disorders. Using medication-assisted treatment and comprehensive addiction treatment, we ensure that each of our clients receives unparalleled care during their stay with us. If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder, call our addiction specialists today.