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What is Substance Use & Abuse?

The consumption of different types of substances can produce a variety of outcomes. In some cases, that consumption may result in managing some type of physical condition. At other times, the use may be recreational and provide some relief from stress. 

There are also instances in which the continued use of a substance results in negative consequences. Those consequences may be physical in nature or they can be emotional or mental. The conditions may become so severe that attempting to live without them causes more problems. At that point, it’s important to consider what form of treatment is needed

In order to arrive at an accurate diagnosis, a medical professional may determine the patient is suffering with substance abuse or a substance use disorder. Since this distinction has only been made in recent times, some people may wonder what would indicate each condition. Here are some basics that will make it easier to understand the diagnosis. 

A Working Definition of Substance Use

Substance use generally refers to the consumption of anything that has the potential to become physically or mentally addictive. Many people use substances that are legal and easily obtained over the counter. Some of them tend to be overlooked because they are in such common use. 

Using a substance in and of itself does not ensure that dependency will occur. Even if it does, it may be somewhat mild. In that instance, weaning off the substance will take effort, but can often be managed with a minimum of medical supervision. 

Should the dependency become more severe, seeking aid from a rehabilitation clinic is often a good idea. The treatment may be administered on an outpatient basis or the individual may enter a facility for a period of time. 

How About Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is considered different from substance use. With abuse, there is a tendency to overindulge in the substance of choice. In the case of prescription medications, the patient may begin to exceed the dosage prescribed by the medical professional. With the use of substances like alcohol, the individual may move from having the occasional drink to needing several at the end of the day, or possibly feeling the need to overindulge in order to enjoy social events. 

Substance abuse paves the way for dependency that is beyond the ability of the individual to control alone. Other facets of life begin to suffer. As a result, obtaining and using more of the substance takes on increasing significance, even if it means the loss of friends, family, job, or other elements of life that once brought pleasure. 

Understanding the Nature of Substance Use Disorder

With the above in mind, what is a substance use disorder? This is a situation in which the use of a substance begins to negatively impact the emotional and mental health of the individual. Changes in behavior or thought patterns that are considered detrimental are often included in most examples of a substance use disorder definition. When it’s possible to determine that those changes took place as the result of the substance use and not due to some other factor, it becomes possible to treat the disorder directly. 

How is Substance Abuse and Substance Use Disorder Different?

Understanding the nature of a substance use definition as well as the definition for substance abuse demonstrates that while the two conditions have much in common, there are key differences. So what is the difference between substance use disorder and substance abuse? A lot depends on how the substances are used and under what circumstances.

The best resource available today is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5). Released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, this work draws a distinction between treatment that weans the patient off a substance and treatments that focus on dealing with emotional disorders stemming from the substance use as well as helping the patient cease usage. 

What Would Indicate the Presence of Substance Use Disorder According to DSM 5?

There are a number of symptoms that would indicate the individual is suffering from substance use disorder. Changes in the sense of self are one common indication. Simply put, the individual loses confidence in the ability to do things that once seemed so easily. For example, the individual now lacks the confidence to carry on a conversation in a social setting, at least without using the substance of choice first. 

The DSM 5 substance use disorder criteria also lists changes in temperament as a strong indicator. Someone who is normally easy going may become easily agitated and tend to lash out. An inability to concentrate may also be present. Others feel a heightened sense of alertness that doesn’t subside when it’s time to get some rest. There may even be hallucinations present. 

These are only a few examples of substance use disorder symptoms. Since many of them can also be associated with other physical and emotional health issues, a diagnosis by a professional is necessary. 

What Type of Substances Are Most Often Involved?

Most people would readily admit that the use of alcohol or illegal drugs can be involved in both substance use disorder and substance abuse. The fact is that there are a number of other substances that may be involved. That includes any substance or preparation used to treat a disease under a doctors care. 

Simple use of a substance is not grounds for determining any kind of physical or emotional dependency is present. That can only be managed by a medical professional. Even so, it helps to be aware of the wide range of substances that can lead to dependency and ultimately to undermining the quality of life. Here are some examples. 

Substance Use and Abuse: Drug Types, Alcohol, Tobacco, and More

Alcohol is often the first thing that many people think of when they hear of substance abuse. That’s not unreasonable. Alcohol is widely acceptable in most societies and also readily available. Other than laws designed to restrict use among those considered to be under-age, just about anyone can purchase alcohol ranging from beer to wine to hard liquor. 

Tobacco has increasingly been found to lead to addiction. As recently as six decades ago, there were those who touted tobacco as being beneficial for many types of ailments. It’s only been during the last five decades that smoking and other forms of tobacco usage have become less acceptable. Even so, the availability of tobacco products remains high. 

Medications may also be abused. This is true for prescription as well as over the counter medicines. The belief that if a little is good that a lot would be better does not hold well in this instance. Choosing to exceed the recommended dosage of an over the counter product or the dosage described by a medical professional can lead to problems. In like manner, failing to report that the prescribed dosage seems to be producing ill effects and working with a doctor to adjust the dosage or try a different medication can also begin the path to dependency. 

Caffeine is another example of a common substance that can lead to some form of dependency. In some cases, it can exacerbate undetected health issues. Since caffeine is found in many foods as well as beverages, it’s possible for an individual to be consuming more than they think in any given day. 

Treatment Options for Substance Abuse and Substance Use Disorders

Substance abuse and substance use disorder are not to be taken lightly. The details found in the substance use disorder DSM 5 require action to overcome the dependency and treat any emotional issues that have arisen. The exact nature of a substance abuse or substance use disorder treatment depends on the severity of the situation. 

Outpatient programs may be sufficient. In other cases, the patient may need to enter a program that involves living in a facility for an extended period of time. The goal is to do more than ease the physical dependency. Any related issues also receive attention. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that the substance use or abuse ceases to limit the ability of the patient to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. 
Don’t allow substance use and misuse to control your life any longer. If you suspect that there’s any type of dependency on a legal or illegal product, seek help now. A professional can determine if there is an issue and how severe it happens to be. From there, it will be possible to design an effective treatment plan and hopefully help you move on from this phase of your life.



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