What is substance use disorder (SUD)?

Substance use disorders (SUD) are characterized by the repeated misuse of drugs and/or alcohol. This disorder is present in individuals who are oftentimes also battling a chronic condition, such as mental illness or other chronic pain. Substances are used as a coping mechanism to deal with the overwhelming symptoms of these conditions. Over 9 million U.S. adults experience both mental illness and SUD.

How do I know if I have a SUD?

Individuals with a SUD experience symptoms such as withdrawal from family and friends; sudden changes in behavior; and engagement in risky behavior. They may also develop a high tolerance and withdrawal symptoms from the substance and feel like they need the substance to function.

Because symptoms and severity can vary greatly, individuals and close loved ones should look for the following warning signs: extreme mood changes, confused thinking or problems concentrating, avoiding friends and social activities, and thoughts of suicide.

What is causing my SUD?

The exact cause of SUD is not always known and can be a combination of factors, including a person’s genes, distress, mental health, and peer pressure. Those that develop SUD may have co-occurring conditions such as chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another mental problem. Experiencing a stressful lifestyle and low self-esteem can also contribute to the development of a SUD.

What treatment is available for SUD?

There are many treatments available for SUD. When there is a dual diagnosis, an integrated approach is best. It’s important to understand how one condition affects the other and what treatment can be the most effective.

Treatment options include:

Detoxification: this is the first challenge that individuals with SUD must face and is best done as part of an inpatient rather than outpatient program. These programs are typically 7 days or less. With inpatient treatment, a patient has 24/7 access to trained medical staff who can monitor and administer tapered amounts of the substance (or an alternative), helping to wean the patient and lessen withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient rehabilitation: an individual with dependence and a mental illness can benefit greatly from inpatient treatment where they can receive 24/7 medical and mental health care. Patients undergo therapy and receive support, medical, and health services to address co-occurring conditions.

Psychotherapy: because SUD is a mental illness, psychotherapy is essential to adequately address the root cause(s) of the condition. Various therapies are used, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and these can help the individual better deal with the ineffective behaviors and thought patterns behind their condition.

Medications: there are certain medications, such as buprenorphine, used to help treat SUD, helping patients to ease their withdrawal symptoms while also dealing with their chronic pain. To learn more about buprenorphine as a treatment for co-occurring SUD and chronic pain, visit our buprenorphine page. 

Housing: supportive housing, such as group homes or sober houses, offer individuals with SUD a place to stay when they are newly sober or trying to avoid relapse. It’s important to research these centers and find out if they are run by licensed professionals.

Self-help and support groups: the challenge of dealing with SUD and co-occurring conditions can be overwhelming so it helps to have support. Support groups offer a safe space where individuals can connect with others who are struggling with the same problems, share their frustrations, find encouragement, learn about resources and coping strategies, and celebrate their journey to recovery. Common support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Double Trouble in Recovery, and Smart Recovery.

If you are experiencing symptoms of SUD, consider making an appointment and speaking with one of our licensed providers.

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