Substance abuse and substance use disorder

Substance use disorders result from substance abuse. Substance abuse happens when you drink too much alcohol or take too many drugs. Your use of drugs and alcohol hurts your body and affects your life in bad ways.

young people in group counseling session
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In the USA, people say “abusing” drugs or alcohol when they mean using them too much, or badly. Substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and substance use disorder are ways of saying you drink too much alcohol or take too many drugs.

Substance use disorder affects your health and life. When you are dependent on drugs or alcohol, you feel like you cannot live without them.

Symptoms of substance abuse

Symptoms are the feelings and changes you have because of the illness. Some of the symptoms of substance use disorder are:

  • Tolerance of alcohol or drugs
    Tolerance means you have to drink more alcohol or take more drugs to feel the effects.
  • Problems with withdrawal
    Withdrawal is when you feel sick because you stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs. You feel sick because your body is used to having the alcohol or drugs in it.
  • Problems saying no to drugs and alcohol
    It is difficult for you to not drink a lot or take a lot of drugs.
  • Not taking part in your normal life
    You stop going to important activities (family, work, sports) because of your alcohol or drug use.
  • Not stopping even when things are bad
    You continue to drink alcohol or take drugs even though you know it is having a negative effect on your life. Negative effects are when something makes something worse. For example, drinking too much alcohol makes you feel very sick but you continue to drink anyway.

If you have a substance use disorder, you can have many problems. Some of these problems are:

  • You can hurt yourself or someone else.
  • You begin to have health problems. For example, if you drink a lot of alcohol you can have problems with your liver, brain, heart, or stomach.
  • Your use of alcohol or drugs makes you stop doing normal activities. For example, you stop going to your child’s sports games because of your alcohol or drug use.
  • Your use of alcohol or drugs affects your work and your family. For example, you do not go to work because of your alcohol or drug use.

Reasons for substance use disorders

There are many reasons why you can have a substance use disorder. Some of these reasons are:

  • Alcohol and drugs are very available where you live. For example, cities in the United States have many bars. Many people like to go to bars with their friends. Drinking alcohol is something that people think is fun, and it is legal. It is easy to get alcohol because it is a part of life.
  • If one of your parents has or had a substance use disorder, it is easier for you to have one.
  • You make it a habit. A habit is something you do regularly like brushing your teeth before you go to sleep. For example, if drinking alcohol makes you feel less stressed and makes you feel happier, you might start to drink more often because you like the way it feels.
  • Having another mental health challenge. If you have another mental health illness, you might use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Self-medicate is when you use alcohol or drugs to feel better.