What is substance use disorder?

If you’re a parent concerned about your young adult child’s dependence on alcohol, drugs, or both, you may be asking, “What is substance use disorder?”

The earlier a teen begins using substances, the higher their chances of continuing to use substances. And the greater their risk is of developing a substance use disorder as they become adults.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder, also referred to as drug addiction, affects a person’s brain and behavior. The disease leads to an inability to control the use of a substance—whether illegal or not.

Alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana are substances also considered drugs. When someone is addicted, they continue using despite the harm the substances cause.

Most drug addiction begins with recreational use in social situations but then becomes more frequent. Some people become dependent on drugs such as opioids after receiving prescribed medications.

The extent of addiction varies by drug. Some—such as opioid painkillers—carry a higher risk of addiction than others.

When abusing drugs, people need more of the drug to get high. Before long, they need the substance just to feel normal. Withdrawal symptoms can make them feel physically ill.

Once someone with substance use disorder gets to this point, they may need help to overcome their addiction and prevent relapse.

What Are the Indications of Addiction?

If you’re not trained to recognize addiction, it can be hard to understand. It’s even harder to distinguish dependency from the typical angst of a young adult.

Signs that your child or family member is suffering from substance use disorder include:

  • Physical health issues — weight loss or gain, lack of motivation
  • Problems at school or work — sudden disinterested in activities, frequently missing obligations
  • Changes in behavior — being secretive about where they go with friends, drastic changes in relationships with family members or friends
  • Neglected appearance — lack of interest in looks, neglected grooming
  • Money issues — your discovery that money is missing or stolen, sudden requests for money without an explanation

Frequently checking in with your child and keeping a lookout for these symptoms can save them from substance use disorders later in life.

Causes of Addiction

Substance use disorder is just like any other mental health disorder in that several risk factors may contribute to the development of addiction.

The leading causes of addiction include environmental factors and genetics.

Environmental factors, such as family beliefs and attitudes, play a significant role in drug misuse. And once someone starts using a drug, genetic traits may speed up the development and progression of addiction.

Repeated use of addictive substances changes the way the brain experiences pleasure. After a while, the drug changes neurons in the brain, which use chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate. Long after using the drug, these changes can remain, altering a person’s personality over time.

Risk Factors

No one is immune to drug addiction—all people of any age, sex, or economic status are at risk. However, certain factors do affect the likelihood of developing substance use disorder.

These factors include:

  • Existing mental health disorder — such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, or PTSD
  • Family history — likely involves genetic predisposition
  • Peer pressure — particularly for young people
  • Taking a highly addictive drug — stimulants can result in a faster progression of addiction
  • Lack of family engagement — including difficult family situations or lacking a bond between family members

If your child exhibits any of the above risk factors, you should watch more closely for signs of addiction, especially during times of stress.

The Effects of Using Addictive Drugs

Using drugs, even for a short time, can have significant short- and long-term effects on the body. Some drugs are riskier than others, especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol, or taken in high doses.

Party drugs such as ecstasy or MDMA can cause an electrolyte imbalance and complications that can include seizures that damage the brain. When bought on the street in powder form, these drugs often contain mystery substances that can be harmful, including other pharmaceutical medications.

Preventing Drug Misuse

The number one way to prevent drug misuse is not to take drugs at all. If your child’s doctor prescribes a medication that’s potentially addictive, monitor them while taking medicine and follow directions provided by the doctor.

Doctors will only prescribe controlled substances at safe doses and should monitor that your child is not given a high dose for too long a time. If you have questions about your child’s treatment or think a dose is too high, talk to the doctor.

To prevent the misuse of drugs by your children:

  • Talk to your children about the risks
  • Be a good listener
  • Be supportive of efforts to resist peer pressure
  • Set a good example — don’t misuse drugs or alcohol yourself
  • Strive to create a strong  bond between you and your child

Once someone is addicted to a substance, they are at high risk of falling into a pattern of addiction. If they start using an addictive drug again after quitting, they’ll likely lose control —no matter how much time has passed since they’ve used the drug.

Help Your Loved One Overcome Addiction

A young adult with drug and alcohol dependence cannot realize their full potential. As a parent, it’s scary to witness your child going down this tumultuous road.

We believe that substance use disorders and mental health concerns are often intertwined. Therefore, they should be addressed at the same time. We emphasize accountability and independence, providing a well-rounded experience to give clients the power they need to achieve sustained sobriety.

Quit searching for the answer to, “What is a substance use disorder?” If you believe your child is suffering from addiction, contact us for admissions information.