Substance Use Disorder & Addiction

Substance Use Disorder and Addiction Counseling

Substance use disorders and addiction are major problems in the modern world. Millions of people misuse some form of substance on a daily basis, whether it be prescription medications, marijuana, sleeping pills, or any other given drug. And while the reasons for turning to these substances vary from person to person, the result is often the same—a negative effect on every single aspect of life, from work and school to personal relationships and beyond.

If you are currently suffering from substance use disorder, or have in the past, you know one thing for sure—it sucks.

Sure, you might get a temporary high from the use of a drug you know you shouldn’t be taking, but you also know that nothing good will come out of this pattern in the long run: you could lose your job; your friends could grow tired of your habits; you may lose relationships with members of your family; and you could ultimately wind up alone, broke, and with a future that appears to be going nowhere fast.

Substance use disorder is a serious issue, and only when it is treated as such will you get the help you need. If you feel like you are a lost cause at this point, that simply isn’t true—not one bit.

However, it is necessary you take action as soon as possible in order to ensure a brighter future. Because substance abuse and addiction are rarely cured accidentally; rather, it takes a plan, determination, and plenty of support to pull yourself out of that downward spiral.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is among the leading health problems in the United States today. Some substances that are abused include prescription drugs, which do have appropriate uses, as well as other substances that are illegal in all cases. The end result of substance abuse can vary greatly depending on the substance in question, but rarely will SUD lead to any sort of positive outcome. In other words, the sooner you can fix this problem in your life, the better.

To gain a better understanding of what exactly is classified as substance use disorder, we can turn to the DSM 5. The DSM 5 is the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it is the document published by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose and eventually treat patients suffering from a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

According to the DSM 5, there are three levels of substance use disorder that can affect an individual: mild, moderate, and severe. The level of disorder diagnosed will depend on how many symptoms are exhibited by a patient.

There are 11 potential symptoms to look for in an individual with substance use disorder. Naturally, the presence of more symptoms will signify a more significant problem. The symptoms that can be observed in those with substance use problems include the following:

  • Taking a substance for a longer period of time, or in larger amounts, than intended
  • Inability to cut down or stop using a controlled substance even when you want to
  • Investing ample time in the process of obtaining and using the substance, as well as recovering from use
  • Ongoing cravings or urges to use the substance in question
  • Failing to keep up with your responsibilities at work or school due to substance issues
  • Continued use of substance despite negative effects on relationships
  • Missing out on important events as a result of substance use
  • Continuing to use even when that use puts you in danger
  • Using a substance that you know could further other physical or psychological problems that you are dealing with currently
  • An increasing need for larger quantities of the substance; increased tolerance
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when you go without the substance for a period of time

Reading through that list might hit a little close to home. Do you recognize some of those symptoms in your own life currently? Maybe you recognize the majority of those symptoms? If so, there is a good chance that substance use disorder has made its way into your life.

Of course, that probably isn’t a total surprise, as most people understand that they have a problem—even if they don’t want to admit it. However, there is a difference between thinking you have a problem and knowing you do from a clinical standpoint.

According to DSM 5, possessing two or three of the symptoms above indicates mild substance abuse disorder. Four or five symptoms will elevate that into the range of moderate substance use, and six or more points to a severe case. While you can take a look at that list and get an idea of where you might be at this point, it is important to have your symptoms evaluated by a trained professional.

One of the first steps on the road to recovery is getting the help of a professional who can assess your situation from an objective and impartial point of view. There are drug and alcohol counseling programs that can help you in many ways.

How Many People Fight This Battle?

According to a 2014 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 20 million adults in the United State alone suffered from substance use disorder—a number that makes up a shocking 8.4% of the population. Furthermore, about one out of every six young adults (those between the ages of 18 and 25) battled the disorder.

The battle with substance use disorder is a difficult one, but there can be some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. One of the challenges for those who suffer from substance abuse is loneliness—but you should know that you are not the only person who has fallen into this downward spiral, and you will not be the first person to conquer it once you find a path back to good health.

Know and find consolation in the fact that there are millions of others fighting this same battle—maybe even friends, neighbors, or coworkers.

Substance Use Disorder and Addiction Causes

Determining the underlying cause of your substance use disorder can be one of the biggest challenges of all in this process. It is important to understand the ‘why’ in this equation because fixing that underlying issue is often the quickest way to solve the problem. As you likely understand, there is a number of issues that could be at the root of your substance abuse; some of them are relatively obvious, while others may be a bit surprising.

Using a substance just one time doesn’t always lead to a disorder down the line—but it certainly can. In that case, the root cause of a substance use problem can be something as simple as boredom that leads to trying a drug one night with friends.

While that might seem innocent enough to most people, addiction can take hold quickly, and it is oh so powerful when it grabs you. But beyond basic boredom and experimentation, there are plenty of other potential causes for a long-term substance use disorder, including…


This is one of the most common causes of substance use problems, and it is a great example of how a mental illness can lead into a physical addiction. Those who are struggling with depression and depression-like symptoms may decide to ‘self-medicate’ with the abuse of a variety of substances. In some cases, these substances will be prescribed and then used inappropriately, and in other cases it will be illegal drugs that are used to escape the feelings of depression that have taken over everyday life.

Of course, medication is a common treatment for depression and a number of other mental health issues, which can place patients at risk for running into addiction problems. If you have shown an inability to handle medication in a responsible manner, that form of treatment may be ‘off the table’ for you going forward.

A medical professional will not be able to prescribe drugs to treat your depression problems if you already have a substance use disorder ongoing, so other non-medicinal treatments will have to be pursued in an effort to pull you out of your depressed state. At the same time, steps will need to be taken to put a stop to your substance use problems.


Another common reason for turning to drugs of abuse: stress. Everybody needs to relieve stress some way, somehow, but drugs are not the answer. There are other ways—healthy ways—to cope with the pressures that we all face, such as exercising, talking with a friend, playing a sport, or taking time away from work (or any given stressor).

Turning to substance use as a method of relieving stress may seem like a short-term fix, but it can turn into a major problem. Often, those with this issue will tell themselves that they are just going to use ‘one more time’, or just until they ‘get through this part of life.’ Of course, addiction doesn’t work that way in most cases, and the habits that are formed while you are feeling stressed are very likely to carry over into the future.

It is hard, and in some cases impossible, to just start and stop using a controlled substance on-demand as your stress levels rise and fall. So experiment with other stress relief mechanisms instead, such as those listed above.

Relationship Problems

This cause of substance use could be lumped in with stress relief, but it is important enough to warrant its own category. Relationships, specifically romantic relationships, are a big part of life, and they are inherently an emotional experience. If a relationship ends badly—or you remain in an unhealthy relationship for an extended period of time—you may find yourself turning to substance use as a way to cope with the situation.

It is possible that you could begin to use drugs along with your significant other, or you could use it on your own to deal with the stress and pain that the relationship is causing. Either way, this can be a powerful cycle that is unlikely to break until the relationship is behind you.

Learned Behavior

The last cause on our list is particularly troublesome because it lies outside of your control. If you have been raised in a family where drug use or other substance abuse is common—such as a situation where one or both of your parents had/have an addiction – you are likely at a higher risk for facing these same problems yourself.

That doesn’t mean you are destined to go down the same path, but it does mean that you need to be aware of that risk, so you can take steps to avoid that outcome.

Those with this hereditary risk should avoid as many potentially addictive medications as possible. They should stay away from things like pain killers and other drugs that can be abused when taken improperly, as avoidance is one of the best plans to steer clear of a potential addiction.

While the list above is by no means a comprehensive collection of the potential issues that can lead to substance use disorder, it does contain several of the most common problems that lead to addiction. If you are currently fighting your own addiction, there is a good chance that you can find at least part of your underlying issue in one or more of the points above.

What Substances Are Likely to Be Abused?

There are countless substances that can be used improperly. As mentioned above, some of these substances have positive uses in the right hands, while others do not. The list below is just a partial collection of the many various substances that can be abused:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • MDMA
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids
  • Prescription Drugs, Pain Killers

Substance Abuse Withdrawal Symptoms

Many people—mostly those who have never experienced addiction themselves—think that those who are addicted want to keep getting back to that feeling of a ‘high’ as frequently as possible. While that is sometimes a motivation, often an equally motivating factor is the need to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal. Substance withdrawal is very real and very powerful, and it can easily drive someone back toward using that harmful drug. The list below includes some of the commonly seen withdrawal symptoms in substance use disorder cases:

  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness and trembling
  • Jumpiness
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches

You don’t even have to make it through that entire list to gain a clear understanding of why someone would want to get away from those symptoms. It can be a tremendous challenge—especially without the right support structure in place—to deal with those symptoms and not turn back to a drug that you know can ‘solve’ the problem (regardless of how temporary that solution may be).

Addiction Treatment: Substance Abuse Addiction Counseling

This is often where treatment begins for those with substance use disorder, and in many cases, this is as far as treatment needs to go. Counseling—either in an individual or group setting—can be highly effective, and it often leads to positive results.

The specific path that the counseling takes will depend on the needs of the patient, but it frequently revolves around teaching the patient the skills they need to deal with their addiction in the ‘real world.’ By learning to identify harmful thinking and behavior patterns, the individual may be able to stop themselves from falling back into an old habit.

While there is a lot to be said for individual counseling—and that is the option that will be the right choice in a number of situations—group counseling can also have a powerful effect by establishing a peer group for support and accountability. As mentioned previously, those who are addicted to a substance typically feel alone in the recovery process.

However, when surrounded by a supportive group of people dealing with the same issues, that sense of loneliness can quickly dissipate. An individual may also become close with others in the counseling sessions, and in turn, feel more driven to work toward and achieve sobriety.

For most people, it makes sense to start out with this kind of treatment. It is true that more intensive treatment options could be required, but it is smart to start with the easiest potential fix and work down the list from there. Hopefully, working with a quality counselor to gain the skills needed to overcome the addiction is all that will be required. If not, other treatments can quickly be undertaken.

Online Addiction Counseling

In addition to traditional in-person substance abuse treatment programs, online drug counseling and online alcohol counseling can prove to be very beneficial. By choosing online drug therapy and online alcohol therapy, you’re choosing:

  1. Convenience: Talk to your addiction counselor on any day, wherever you are. You won’t have to worry about finding a gap in your schedule to commute to an appointment in order to prioritize your mental health.
  2. Comfort: Some people find greater comfort in working with an online counselor versus in person. These people have an easier time opening up about their feelings and struggles without the fear of pressure associated with traditional therapy.

If you’re looking for substance abuse counseling that gives you more freedom and flexibility, online addiction counseling might be the right fit for you.

Inpatient Facilities

An inpatient setting, which is commonly known as rehab, is a significant commitment and intensive way of dealing with substance use disorder. Oftentimes, the terms of the stay are determined by the severity of the addiction, the type of substances being abused, and the history of the patient.

That being said, inpatient treatment can last as short as just a day or two, or it can last for months on end. But regardless of the duration, the goal is the same—for patients to walk out of the facility free of their addiction.

A big part of inpatient rehab is often the detoxification process. As mentioned above, it can be difficult to work through painful and uncomfortable withdrawals all on your own, which is why going to rehab while trying to detox is a common strategy. Being surrounded by professionals in a rehab setting will force you to ride out the withdrawal process without reverting back to your addiction for a quick fix. 

Going through this process in an inpatient setting doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, and it certainly doesn’t make it fun, but it does give you a good chance of coming out successfully on the other side without relapse.

Medication for Substance Abuse

Treating substance use disorder with medication, which is commonly known as MAT or Medication-Assisted Treatment, can be somewhat of a slippery slope—it may also, however, prove successful if done correctly. There are specific drugs that can be used to deal with withdrawal symptoms, for instance, which will make it easier to get through that phase of the process.

As you might expect, using medication to address substance abuse problems is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Instead, you must find the right medication for the given situation and individual. There are medications designed specifically to treat addictions to alcohol, tobacco, opioids, etc. An experienced professional who works in this field will be able to analyze the situation and work with the individual to develop a treatment plan that is most likely to succeed.

Additional Recovery and Support Services

Along with the various treatments used to address substance use disorder, there are also recovery support services available, which make it easier for an individual to get back on the right track. Life is complicated, and it often can’t just be ‘stopped’—the person affected must actively move on from their addiction. And recovery support services can help them do so. Available services often include:

  • Employment support
  • Transportation service to help patients get to treatment and other activities
  • Spiritual support
  • Support groups, peer services
  • Drop-in centers and crisis services
  • Education on wellness and recovery topics

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